The charred ruins of the Virginia Military Institute Barracks in Lexington, Virginia, remain behind in the aftermath of the Civil War. For four days in June 1864, Union troops under the command of General David Hunter occupied the small Shenandoah Valley town, burning the home of former Virginia governor John Letcher and destroying most of the buildings at the military school. The superintendent of VMI, Francis H. Smith, wrote to Confederate adjutant general William Richardson about the devastation: "On Sunday the 12 June all the public buildings of the Institute were burnt by the order of Major General D. Hunter, except my quarters and the quarters of the ordnance Sergeant. The peculiar condition of my daughter, with a child only 48 hours old, induced my wife [Sarah Henderson Smith] to throw herself upon the courtesy of the commanding General. The appeal was not in vain; and I acknowledge with pleasure, this relaxation of the devastation which was unsparingly applied to every species of property owned by the state at the V.Mil. Institute, which we were unable to remove…. [W]hen the clouds of heaven reflected the conflagration lighted by the torch of the invader, every eye was moistened that the home of the V.M.I. cadet was gone!"
The distinctive Gothic Revival Barracks used by the cadets had been designed by the renowned New York architect Alexander Jackson Davis in 1851. The building also included classrooms, one of which was used before the Civil War by then-Major Thomas J. Jackson who was a professor of Natural Philosophy at the school. In addition to damaging the Barracks and other VMI buildings, Union troops looted the town. Among the war trophies carted off was VMI's prized statue of George Washington which was taken by Union troops to Wheeling, West Virginia. (The statue was returned in 1866.) In the wake of the destruction VMI was temporarily headquartered in Richmond; in October 1865, VMI re-opened in Lexington and the Barracks were subsequently rebuilt.