- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 26, 2009

LEXINGTON, Va. (AP) | The family of a Union officer who helped destroy the Virginia Military Institute, then aided the rebuilding of the Lexington campus after the Civil War, has dedicated a plaque honoring their ancestor.

Former Delaware Gov. Pete du Pont represented his family at the unveiling of a plaque honoring his great-great-uncle, Henry Algernon du Pont.

The ceremony in Jackson Memorial Hall on Tuesday came nearly 145 years after du Pont participated in VMI’s destruction and 95 years after he secured federal funding to help rebuild the campus.

In 1864, Capt. du Pont, then a U.S. Army artillery captain, shelled VMI on the order of Gen. David Hunter, destroying most of the buildings.

Years later, as a U.S. senator, Capt. du Pont introduced a bill to compensate VMI for the destruction.

The bill, signed into law in 1914 by Staunton-born President Woodrow Wilson awarded VMI $100,000, which funded the construction of Jackson Memorial Hall.

The building was first used in 1916, according to VMI.

Mr. du Pont said his ancestor was a great leader.

“He knew he’d made a mistake, but he was simply following the order of a general. In 1914, he repaid the debt he owed to VMI from 1864. I think it’s extraordinary that he got the job done after so many years,” Mr. du Pont said.

The plaque bears what the former governor called a “good likeness” of Henry du Pont, and notes that he was an officer, scholar, statesman and recipient of the Medal of Honor.

Capt. Du Pont received the Medal of Honor for his role in the battle of Cedar Creek at Middletown in October 1864 under the command of Gen. Philip Sheridan.

According to the Medal of Honor citation, the 26-year-old Capt. du Pont “by his distinguished gallantry, and voluntary exposure to the enemy’s fire at a critical moment, when the Union line had been broken, encouraged his men to stand to their guns, checked the advance of the enemy, and brought off most of his pieces.”

Union forces regrouped and swept the Confederates from the field later the same day.

Commanding artillery, Capt. du Pont’s service in the Shenandoah Valley also included a key role in the battle of New Market in May 1864.

Serving under Gen. Franz Sigel, Capt. du Pont’s guns helped give federal forces a chance to escape from charging Confederates, including VMI’s Corps of Cadets.

With a change in federal command in the Valley, Capt. du Pont became part of Gen. Hunter’s army that passed south through Harrisonburg and Rockingham County.

Days later, in June 1864 at the battle of Piedmont in Augusta County, Capt. du Pont’s guns helped pummel Confederate lines. The Union victory opened Staunton to federal occupation.

Capt. du Pont’s family also contributed to the war effort by producing an average of 1 million pounds of powder per year, according to the company Web site.

According to Jack Kelly’s book “Gunpowder - Alchemy, Bombards & Pyrotechnics: The History of the Explosive that Changed the World,” the du Pont family produced half the nation’s gunpowder from its plant in Wilmington, Del. During the war, Delaware was a border slavery state.

Col. Keith Gibson, executive director of the VMI Museum, gave the Civil War veteran’s descendant a tour.

VMI’s first superintendent, Francis H. Smith, had been a lifelong friend of Henry du Pont’s father beginning before the military institute was founded in 1839. Both were graduates of West Point, according to VMI.

“It is a remarkable story in the annals of a school that is not short of remarkable stories,” Col. Gibson said.

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