Charles L.C. Minor, 1835-1903, was the first president of Virginia Tech. A Virginian and former Confederate officer, Minor took a keen interest in education. In 1872, he arrived in Blacksburg to launch Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College. Minor found success building the campus and student body, but his clashes with faculty (including a fistfight) over military training led to his departure in late 1879.
The colorful stories about the tenure of Virginia Tech’s first president have appeared in several books and articles, but less is known about his career after leaving Blacksburg. In 2013, Special Collections acquired a unique acquisition related to Virginia Tech’s first president, which gets us closer to understanding the “real” Charles Minor.
After leaving Virginia Tech, Minor continued as an educator. In 1880, he purchased the Shenandoah Valley Academy in Winchester, Virginia. In 1888, he moved to Baltimore to direct the St. Paul’s School. He also served as associate principal of the Episcopal high school in Alexandria, Virginia.
In the 1890s, Charles Minor retired from teaching and began writing essays on the Civil War. The consummate educator, Minor wanted to record his recollections of the 1860s so students could better understand that crucial decade. He published several newspaper articles and other pieces that criticized the character, leadership, accomplishments, and personality of Abraham Lincoln. For the basis of his research, Minor focused on the words and actions of a number of Lincoln’s associates.
Minor’s writings attracted the attention of Kate Mason Rowland, an early member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the author of several historical works. She compiled Minor’s articles and other research into The Real Lincoln, a pamphlet published in 1901. It also included an anti-Lincoln essay written by Lyon Gardiner Tyler, son of President John Tyler and President of William and Mary College from 1888-1919. In the pamphlet, Minor asserted that biographers deified Lincoln and evaluated him only through the lens of the northern perspective on the Civil War. Readers with “Lost Cause” sympathies embraced the pamphlet, while others criticized Minor for only focusing on the negative aspects of Lincoln’s presidency. Minor continued his research on Lincoln and planned to publish a book on the topic.
Minor began his revisions by working from the published 1901 pamphlet, by literally cutting and annotating the printed text. In 2013, a book dealer contacted Special Collections with a unique find—Charles Minor’s annotated copy of the 1901 pamphlet. The item, marked on the front and back as property of Charles L.C. Minor, included handwritten notes, cut-out sections of the text, references to other sources, and other annotations. These markings formed the basis for his expanded version of the book. The annotated pamphlet revealed the author’s editorial process and his thinking about what to include in the new version. Special Collections acquired the item (MS 2013-057) and made it available for researchers.
By early July 1903, Minor completed the draft of the book on Lincoln. Nearly four times longer than the pamphlet, the manuscript provided details on how northern eulogists bestowed excessive honor, or apotheosis, on Lincoln and his legacy. On July 13, 1903, Charles Minor died at “Beaulieu,” the home of his sister, Kate Mead Minor, and her husband, Richard M. Fontaine, in Albemarle County, Virginia, leaving behind a nearly completed manuscript. Charles Minor’s brother, Berkeley Minor, and sister, Mary Willis Minor, edited the manuscript and added a biographical note about the author. In 1904, Everett Waddey and Company in Richmond published a revised and enlarged edition of The Real Lincoln.
In addition to Minor’s handwritten version of the 1901 pamphlet, Special Collections has another item that relates to the story. There are two copies of Minor’s The Real Lincoln from 1904 in Special Collections. One of those copies was inscribed as a gift from Berkley Minor (who worked with his sister to publish the posthumous version of The Real Lincoln in 1904) to his niece Louise B. Fontaine in the late 1920s. This copy contains a significant number of handwritten notes made by Berkeley Minor, a letter to the editor of the Staunton Spectator in March 1909 regarding Lincoln’s character, and other loose papers. Berkley Minor’s annotations in the 1904 volume included new references, additions of text, clarifications of events, and small grammatical changes. This annotated volume served as the basis for the revised and enlarged edition of the book in 1928, which was edited by Berkeley Minor and M.D. Carter. The book itself came to Special Collections in the 1980s from the grand-daughter of Kate Mead Minor and Richard M. Fontaine.
Only a handful of Charles Minor’s letters and papers have survived, so having an annotated version of his book in his own hand is an extraordinary resource. But even more unique is to also have the subsequent annotated version of the book in the hand of his brother Berkeley Minor. Charles Minor’s writings on Lincoln from the early twentieth century continue to have relevance in the early twenty-first century. In fact, today’s readers can download an e-book version of The Real Lincoln from 1904 or order a reprint of the text. But, Special Collections at Virginia Tech remains the only place where readers can see how the work evolved through the handwritten notes of the author and his family.