For more than 20 years leading up to the founding of Virginia Military Institute (VMI) on Nov. 11, 1839, the Commonwealth of Virginia used an arsenal building at Lexington to store Richmond-manufactured arms in the western part of the state. Arms included the U.S. Model 1795 and the Model 1816 muskets from Harpers Ferry Armory and Springfield Armory.
Once VMI was formed, the institution obtained rifles that were reduced scale and shortened for virtue of a student’s young age. These variants would eventually be described as Cadet rifles and were purchased by many military schools.
In 1864, 257 VMI cadets marched 85 miles and fought to victory at the Battle of New Market, where 55 cadets were wounded and 10 cadets were killed. Two hundred cadets were issued Austrian Lorenz rifles, and approximately 50 cadets carried the Springfield Model 1851.
Following the Civil War, cadets have been issued service rifles, including various Springfield Cadet Model Trapdoor rifles, Krag-Jørgensen carbines, the Model 1903 and M1 Garand. During World War II, the need for M1 Garands rose to a point that VMI turned in its M1s for the M1917 Enfield until the war’s end. By 1972, the Institute exchanged the M1 Garand once again for the M14, which is still issued. Today, cadets store their M14s in their rooms and carry them during guard duty and parades. VMI issues the M14 for its ergonmic advantages as a parade rifle over the M16s and M4s that have replaced it as America’s standard-issue service rifle.
Cadet M14s are functional, reliable and accurate. However, firing pins have been removed and are stored with magazines within VMI’s armory until live-fire familiarization and field training exercises require their use.
As an undergraduate institution, VMI is second only to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, in producing commissioned officers upon graduation. Among its list of 270 general and flag officers are Gen. George C. Marshall, class of 1901; Gen. J. H. Binford Peay III, ‘62, VMI superintendent; Gen. John P. Jumper, ‘66, former Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force; and Gen. Darren W. McDew, ‘82, commander of U.S. Transportation Command.
Collectors of former cadet rifles encountering examples marked “VMI” on the stock should beware. VMI never marked or stamped its rifles.