General Marshall: Man of the Gridiron

From a profile of George C. Marshall by A. J. Liebling that appeared in the New Yorker on October 26, 1940 [emphasis and links added]:

George Marshall was just a fair student—he stood fifteenth in his class when he was graduated—and his V. M.I. legend has been complicated by the fact that he had a namesake in his class who stood No. 1. The namesake, St. Julien Marshall, was only a substitute end on the football team, however, while the future Chief of Staff was what is called by sportswriters a tower of strength in the line. His teammates considered this particularly remarkable because he did not go out for the team until his senior year, after he had already won his place as ranking officer of the Cadet Corps. The military part of college life always came first with him. It took him only a few weeks to learn everything then known about tackle play—the captain of that 1900 team, a Mr. Roller, says that “George always was a strategist”—and after that he outplayed his opponent on every eleven V.M.I. met. His team defeated Washington and Lee and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and tied the University of Virginia, which was a much larger school. Marshall weighed only a hundred and sixty-five pounds, but all his classmates agree that he played rings around a gigantic Virginia tackle named Lloyd, in V.M.I. retrospect perhaps the largest man ever to play football. Marshall’s prestige at V.M.I. was a result of character rather than brilliance; pierced by the bayonet, he seemed to pride himself on building an Indian indifference to pain. Once he inveigled a roommate, a Mr. Leonard Nicholson, who is now publisher of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, to take a thirty-mile hike with him on Jefferson Davis’s birthday, which was a full holiday at V.M.I. After they had started out, Nicholson learned that Marshall intended to march the thirty miles at a parade-ground pace and without stopping. Marshall did.
The Confederate dream has lived on at V.M.I., and the tradition has always been strong. The whole corps of cadets fought as a unit in the Civil War battle of Newmarket, in Virginia, and twenty per cent of them were killed or wounded. The General, in fact, was the only cadet graduated in his year who came from above the Mason and Dixon line. He was, perhaps for that reason, especially impressed by legends of the war. He used to hike over old battlefields near the school and memorize the positions occupied by units of both armies, a habit which became so strong that years afterward, when he was an instructor at the Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, he was sometimes assigned to come East with parties of officers and take them over the ground covered by the Federal Army of the Potomac and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, conducting a sort of ambulant seminar on the War Between the States. Even now, when General Marshall is motoring through Virginia, he sometimes has the car stopped while he explains to a companion how A. P. Hill’s corps came out of the woods past a crossroads store and fell upon the hapless flank of some Northern general who had forgotten to post pickets.

PREVIOUSLY: Virginia loses to Vanderbilt at Lambeth Field, 1919.
IMAGES: George C. Marshall, Virginia Military Institute, Class of 1901 (Virginia Historical Society); University of Virginia Football Game by Rufus. W. Holsinger (Holsinger Studio Collection, Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, University of Virginia). The information about this particular Holsinger print suggests that it was taken on September 17, 1910, in a game against V.M.I.; however, the College Football Reference suggests that in 1910, the Cavaliers played the cadets on October 29, winning 28–0.


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