VMI cadets and alumni played instrumental roles in the American Civil War. On 14 occasions, the Confederacy called cadets into active military engagements. VMI is authorized battle streamers for each one of these engagements but chooses to carry only one: the battle streamer for New Market. Many VMI Cadets were ordered to Camp Lee, at Richmond, to train recruits under General Stonewall Jackson. VMI alumni were regarded among the best officers of the South and several distinguished themselves in the Union forces as well. Fifteen graduates rose to the rank of general in the Confederate Army, and one rose to this rank in the Union Army. Just before his famous flank attack at the Battle of Chancellorsville, Jackson looked at his division and brigade commanders, noted the high number of VMI graduates and said, "The Institute will be heard from today." Three of Jackson's four division commanders at Chancellorsville, Generals James Lane, Robert Rodes, and Raleigh Colston, were VMI graduates as were more than twenty of his brigadiers and colonels.
On 14 May 1864, the Governor of Virginia once again called upon the cadets from VMI to participate in the American Civil War. After marching overnight 80 miles from Lexington to New Market, on 15 May 1864, 247 members of the VMI Corps of Cadets fought at the Battle of New Market. This event marks the only time in U.S. history wherein the student body of an operating college fought as an organized unit in pitched combat in battle (as recognized by the American Battlefield Trust). This event was the 14th time VMI Cadets were called into action during the Civil War.
At New Market, in a matter of minutes, VMI suffered fifty-five casualties with ten cadets killed; the cadets were led into battle by the Commandant of Cadets and future VMI Superintendent Colonel Scott Shipp. Shipp was also wounded during the battle. Six of the ten fallen cadets are buried on VMI grounds behind the statue "Virginia Mourning Her Dead" by sculptor Moses Ezekiel, a VMI graduate who was also wounded in the Battle of New Market.
General John C. Breckinridge, the commanding Southern general, held the cadets in reserve and did not use them until Union troops broke through the Confederate lines. Upon seeing the tide of battle turning in favor of the Union forces, Breckinridge stated, "Put the boys in...and may God forgive me for the order." The VMI cadets held the line and eventually pushed forward across an open muddy field, capturing a Union artillery emplacement, and securing victory for the Confederates. The Union troops were withdrawn and Confederate troops under General Breckinridge held the Shenandoah Valley.
On 12 June 1864 Union forces under the command of General David Hunter shelled and burned the Institute as part of the Valley Campaigns of 1864. The destruction was almost complete and VMI had to temporarily hold classes at the Alms House in Richmond, Virginia. In April 1865 Richmond was evacuated due to the impending fall of Petersburg and the VMI Corps of Cadets was disbanded. The Lexington campus reopened for classes on 17 October 1865. One of the reasons that Confederate General Jubal A. Early burned the town of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania was in retaliation for the shelling of VMI. Following the war, Matthew Fontaine Maury, the pioneering oceanographer known as the "Pathfinder of the Seas", accepted a teaching position at VMI, holding the physics chair. Following the war, David Hunter Strother, who was chief of staff to General Hunter and had advised the destruction of the Institute, served as Adjutant General of the Virginia Militia and member of the VMI Board of Visitors; in that position he promoted and worked actively for the reconstruction.
The above information is from Wikipedia.