David J. Coles


Most students of the Civil War are familiar with the role the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) cadets played in the 1864 Battle of New Market. The young soldiers fought valiantly in that southern victory and suffered more than fifty casualties, including ten dead or mortally wounded. Cadets from the South Carolina Military Academy in Charleston also saw active service, as did those from the Georgia Military Institute and the University of Alabama. Though lesser known than these famous schools, Florida’s Seminary West of the Suwannee was one of only a handful of such schools still operating at the war’s close, and its cadets were perhaps the last to surrender of any Confederate military school. A company of West Florida Seminary cadets fought in the Battle of Natural Bridge in March 1865, later earning a battle streamer for combat service. Though the cadets did not play a critical role in this eleventh-hour Confederate victory, the mere participation in battle of such young combatants provided a sobering indication of the impending southern collapse. After the war the cadets served as powerful symbols of the Lost Cause. For decades Floridians celebrated the cadets’ victory at Natural Bridge and exaggerated their efforts out of proportion to their actual service. White southerners needed heroes, and the young boys who helped save Tallahassee in March 1865 seemed obvious candidates.1