Author: Ervin L. Jordan

an associate professor and research archivist at the University of Virginia's Small Special Collections Library. He writes about Civil War Virginia and African American history

University of Virginia During the Civil War, The

The University of Virginia, near Charlottesville, remained open during the American Civil War (1861–1865), graduating few students and struggling to maintain its facilities. At the start of the war, its students strongly supported secession, and more than 500 of the school’s 600 enrollees in 1861 eventually served in the Confederate military. More than 2,000 alumni joined them, and by 1865, 500 men associated with the university had died in the conflict. A few graduates fought for the Union, including Bernard Gaines Farrar Jr., who became a general of U.S. volunteers. Only a few dozen students attended the university in any given year during the war, and the university was unsuccessful in preventing some of those from being drafted into Confederate service in 1863. The university’s facilities, meanwhile, suffered from lack of use and upkeep. The Rotunda building briefly held patients of the Charlottesville General Hospital, a military medical center whose superintendent, J. L. Cabell, was a faculty member. In March 1865, Union cavalrymen under George A. Custer briefly occupied the university, but damage proved minimal. After the war, enrollment levels took decades to recover, while the university did much to honor those students who had fought and died for the Confederacy. By contrast, Unionists were largely ignored.


Jesse Dungey (ca. 1820–1884)

Jesse Dungey served one term in the House of Delegates (1871–1873). A skilled laborer, he was born free and began acquiring land in 1847. He owned 248 acres by the time of his death. The Freedmen’s Bureau recognized him as a community leader after the American Civil War (1861–1865), noting his work in building a school and church for African Americans. Elected in 1871 as a Republican to represent King William County, Dungey sided with the Readjusters in debates and early votes over how to settle Virginia’s crippling pre-war debt. After his term in office he served as a minister and census enumerator for the county. He died in King William County in 1884.


Henry Cox (1832–after 1910)

Henry Cox served as a member of the House of Delegates for eight years. He was born in Powhatan County, whether free or enslaved is not certain. The 1870 census listed him as a farmer who was able to read and write. Cox represented Powhatan and Chesterfield counties in the House of Delegates beginning in 1869 and, following a redistricting of the assembly, won three more consecutive terms as the sole delegate from Powhatan County. In 1872 he was part of a multistate delegation that met with President Ulysses S. Grant to discuss federal civil rights legislation. When his fourth term ended, Cox did not seek reelection. He moved to Washington, D.C., about 1881, and last appears in public records in 1910.


Charlottesville during the Civil War

Charlottesville provided the Confederate war effort with swords, uniforms, and artificial limbs during the American Civil War (1861–1865). It was also home to a 500-bed military hospital that employed hundreds of the town’s residents, cared for more than 22,000 patients, and was superintended by Dr. J. L. Cabell, a professor of medicine at the nearby University of Virginia. In the summer of 1861, the 19th Virginia Infantry Regiment was organized, recruiting most of its members from Charlottesville and Albemarle County. The unit served with the Army of Northern Virginia all the way through to the Appomattox Campaign (1865), including at Pickett’s Charge (1863), where it lost 60 percent of its men. African Americans, both enslaved and free, who composed a majority of the town and county’s population, were the subject of heightened white fears of violence, their movements controlled by a curfew. In 1863, black members of the biracial First Baptist Church established the Charlottesville African Church. Although the war’s fighting stayed mostly to the east and west, a raid led by Union general George A. Custer was stopped just north of the city in the spring of 1864. Early the next year, town leaders surrendered Charlottesville to Custer, preventing the community’s destruction.


J. W. D. Bland (1844–1870)

J. W. D. Bland was a highly respected African American politician during his brief career. Born free and educated, voters in Appomattox and Prince Edward counties elected him one of their delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1867–1868. He served on three major committees and reached out to conservative whites by opposing test oaths and disfranchisement for former Confederates. He was elected to the Senate of Virginia in 1869, where he became a conciliatory figure in a racially volatile era. Focusing on education, he sponsored a successful bill that established Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute (later Hampton University). The next year Bland was among a large crowd attending a session of the Supreme Court of Appeals in the State Capitol. The floor collapsed, killing him and about sixty other observers.