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Storming Buffalo

A little over 20 years after its establishment, the leadership of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute decided to take its show on the road with a corps of cadets' visit to the Pan-American Exposition at Buffalo, New York. This World's Fair ran from May 1 through November 2, 1901, and is known as the location of the assassination of President William McKinley. The corps was not in attendance at that time; their week-long visit started on June 6.

The Richmond Times reported on the trip on April 14, 1901, stating that "Dr. McBryde has mailed a circular letter to all the parents of the cadets, giving full information about the proposed trip, and requesting their permission for them to attend. Arrangements have been made with the Norfolk and Western Railway Company for transportation, which will cost each cadet ten dollars, and the entire trip is guaranteed not to cost them over fifteen dollars each, including admission to the Exposition."

The Roanoke Times also mentioned the trip on April 14, mentioning that "The college steward will accompany the cadets and the meals served there very much the same as if the men were in the mess here instead of on the exposition grounds, which will mean a great saving for those who attend."

The story also reported that "The corps which will leave Blacksburg on the morning of May 6th, will consist of four full companies of infantry, one light battery of artillery, the cadet band of thirty-five pieces, the colonel’s staff of officers and the signal corps."

As plans changed the trip was moved to June, with departure on the 6th. The Staunton Daily News on June 7 reported that the cadets had completed their exams before departing for Buffalo. "They marched yesterday to Christiansburg, eight miles, to take the train." That same day, the Richmond Times said, "Their train consisted of eight coaches, and was one of the handsomest the Norfolk and Western Railway Company ever sent out. A number of the faculty, their wives and daughters, accompanied the 250 cadets."

The Richmond Dispatch on June 8 reported on the arrival of the corps at the Exposition the day before.

"The cadets arrived at the grounds at 12:30 o'clock, and took possession of Camp Buchanan; at the Lincoln Parkway gate, where they will remain for a week.

They were met at the Belt Line station by the St. John's [Military School] cadets, who were departing, their week in camp having come to an end.

The St. John's cadets presented arms as the new arrivals stepped to the platform.

The Virginia boys number 247. There are twenty officers, four companies of infantry, a battery of artillery, and a band of twenty pieces. They wear the regulation cadet uniform.

G. S. A. Johnson is commander, and the senior cadet is Captain Mann."

The article also gave a foreshadowing of the impact the V.P.I. cadets would have on the Exposition. "The cadets will drill each day at 3:30 o'clock P. M. To-night they drilled at 7 o'clock on the Esplanade, and received an enthusiastic reception."

In a story on June 11, the Richmond Dispatch covered the trip of the corps to nearby Niagara Falls. "The cold weather has caused much discomfort among them, and while to-day was a little warmer than Saturday, still overcoats were not uncomfortable. The Virginians were much pleased with the wonderful cataract, and counted it a great treat to be able to visit it as a part of their itinerary."

The story also covered the naming of the V.P.I. encampment. "Each detachment of military that spends any time at the Exposition camp has the right to christen the camp in honors of any one they choose. The St. John's Military School cadets called it Camp Buchanan, in honor of Director-General Buchanan, of Exposition, and the Virginian cadets yesterday christened it Camp McBryde, in honor of the head of the Polytechnic Institute."

During their week at the Exposition, the cadets did have time to take in the sights and exhibits in between their demonstrations. The Dispatch story said "The following is the daily programme of the Virginians: Reveille; first call, 5:45 A.M.; sick call and police duty, 6:30 A. M.; breakfast roll-call, 7 A. M.; dinner, 12 M.; supper 6 P. M.; parade, 7 P. M.; tattoo, 10:45 P. M.; taps 11 P. M."

The demonstrations included "a battalion sabre drill and dress parade in the Esplanade. The battalion wore their white dress uniforms, and made fine appearance. They were well drilled, and won enthusiastic applause. The cavalry detachment is armed with sabres but did not bring their horses to Buffalo. The artillery branch will give drills with guns borrowed from the government exhibits."

The daily drill demonstrations were much improved when the weather warmed up. The Richmond Dispatch reported that "the boys were in fine fettle for their martial manoeuvres. These they went through cleverly, executing the difficult tactics of the manual in a manner which won the hearty admiration and applause of the spectators. His Honor, Mayor Diehl, reviewed the drill by the cadets, and was much pleased. To-morrow the boys will pass in review before Secretary-of-War Elihu Root and party."

In its wrap-up of its coverage of the visit, the Richmond Dispatch reported:

BUFFALO, N. Y., June 11.— (Special.)— The cadets of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute leave the Pan-American Exposition to-morrow night after spending six most enjoyable days at Camp McBryde, the military headquarters. Not only have the cadets enjoyed their stay in Buffalo, but they have given exposition visitors a treat in military tactics and drill. At every appearance of the cadets hundreds of interested spectators have watched the masterly way in which the military orders were executed. President McBryde and Colonel Johnson have been complimented by persons from all parts of the world on the wonderful training and general bearing of the young soldiers, and the exposition authorities regret that the stay of the Virginia boys is almost over. One of the highest officials of the exposition, in speaking of the Virginia cadets to-night said: "They have made an enviable record at the exposition, both in point of military attainments and general behavior. I have never seen a better class of young men together, and the principal and teachers of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute are to be congratulated upon the masterly way in which the boys have been drilled not only in a military direction, but as well-nigh model young men."

The cadets are unanimous in declaring their stay at the exposition most instructive and entertaining, and wish it could last until the end of the exposition period.

The Roanoke Times on June 15 reported on the return of the cadets to Blacksburg and their readiness for commencement.

"The corps of cadets from the Virginia Polytechnic Institute who went to Buffalo to the exposition, have returned. They had a delightful trip and one from which they will derive considerable benefit. The commencement exercises of the institution will take place this week. The sham battle attracts a large crowd every year. It is one of the events of the season in Montgomery county."

The trip made an impact on those who traveled north. In the Senior History in the 1902 Bugle, the event was noted:

After the final examinations came the trip to the Pan-American Exposition at Buffalo, where we were quite an attraction, as is evidenced by the press notices of that date. ''The great cadets from Virginia"--as we were called--gave either a dress parade or battalion drill every evening, which was witnessed by large and appreciative crowds. Of course we all took in Niagara Falls and the far-famed power plant. At the end of a week's stay we were all loath to leave, the whole corps being unanimous in proclaiming it a most instructive and enjoyable trip.