Thomas Nelson Conrad

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Thomas Nelson Conrad
Thomas Nelson Conrad.jpg
3rd President of Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College
In office
January 17, 1882 – July 1, 1886
Preceded by John Lee Buchanan
Succeeded by Lunsford L. Lomax
Personal details
Born August 1, 1837
Fairfax Court House, Virginia
Died January 5, 1905(1905-01-05) (aged 67)
Washington, D.C.
Spouse(s) Emma T. Ball (1845 - 1900, her death)
Children 7
Occupation Educator, soldier, chaplain, journalist, mayor
Military service
Allegiance  Confederate States of America
Service/branch  Confederate States Army

Thomas Nelson Conrad (August 1, 1837 – January 5, 1905) of Fairfax Court House, Virginia was the third president of Virginia Tech (then Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College).[1][2] He played an active role in influencing Blacksburg as the location of choice for the new college. Prior to his presidency, he taught at Preston and Olin Institute in 1871.

Conrad received his bachelor's degree from Dickinson College. He fought for the Confederate States during the Civil War.

In 1890, Conrad resigned the college and accepted a position with the Census Office. [3]

Civil War[edit]

At the outbreak of the War, Conrad attended the Georgetown Institute in Georgetown, District of Columbia and openly expressed his sympathy for the Confederacy. A few days after commencement, he was arrested and placed in the Old Capitol Prison in June 1861.[4]:55

Conrad was given a letter of recommendation from General Stuart to President Jefferson Davis to spy for the Confederate Secret Service. He met Davis, who endorsed the letter and referred him to other members of the Confederate government. Conrad received gold from Judah Benjamin and his “name placed on the rolls of the secret service bureau”. He then saw Secretary of War Seddon for “papers and outfit”. Davis invited Conrad to his executive mansion to hear his plans.[5]:93–95

Captain Conrad went to Washington with his Dickinson roommate and Phi Kappa Sigma fraternity brother Daniel Mountjoy Cloud and M. B. “Tippie” Ruggles, son of General Daniel Ruggles as couriers. His slave William also accompanied them[5]:95

In September 1864, Conrad and a team went to Washington to kidnap President Abraham Lincoln. The members of the team were “Bull” Frizzell (who had been in the Old Capitol Prison with him), Cloud, and slave William. The plan was abandoned because Lincoln was well protected.[6] Conrad denied that the Confederate government knew of his plot except the military secretary of General Braxton Bragg.[5]:131 However, Seddon wrote an order for John S. Mosby and Lieutenant Cawood to “aid and facilitate the movements of Capt. Conrad.”[5]:119

Conrad’s courier Ruggles assisted John Wilkes Booth by giving him a ride on his horse shortly before Booth was killed.[7] Conrad was also a frequent visitor to Mary Surratt's tavern.[8]

Conrad was arrested by a landing party of the Union vessel Jacob Bell on the night of April 16, 1865.[9]

In May 1887 Conrad wrote several articles about his activities as a spy for a Philadelphia newspaper. He later reworked these into the 1892 autobiography A Confederate Spy: A Story of the Civil War, which he later revised into the 1904 work The Rebel Scout: A Thrilling History of Scouting Life in the Southern Army.[6]

Tenure at VAMC[edit]

There were many changes at VAMC under Conrad. The college switched from semesters to the quarter system which remained in place until the late 1980s. The college's new librarian spent $2,229.96 entirely on books of fiction and poetry and a museum was opened. For the first time ever, the school’s farm became financially successful.[10]


  1. ^ "The Conrad Years". Retrieved 30 May 2016. 
  2. ^ "Presidents of Virginia Tech". Retrieved 30 May 2016. 
  3. ^ ’Thomas Nelson Conrad Dead’, The Washington Post, January 6, 1905, p. 10.
  4. ^ Steers, Edward (2005). Blood on the Moon: The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 9780813191515. Retrieved 29 June 2015. 
  5. ^ a b c d Conrad, Thomas Nelson (1904). The Rebel Scout. National Publishing Co. 
  6. ^ a b Furgurson, Ernest B. "Thomas Nelson Conrad (1837–1905)". Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved 29 June 2015. 
  7. ^ Cress, Joseph (April 11, 2015). "Shadow of Suspicion: Dickinson College grads conspired to kidnap Lincoln months before assassination". The Sentinel. Retrieved 29 June 2015. 
  8. ^ Hatch, Frederick (2011). Protecting President Lincoln. McFarland. p. 85. ISBN 0786463627. Retrieved 29 June 2015. 
  9. ^ Furgurson, Ernest B. "Teacher, Preacher, Soldier, Spy". History Net. Retrieved 29 June 2015. 
  10. ^ "Life & Times of Virginia Tech Presidents". Office of the President of Virginia Tech. Archived from the original on 2007-03-03. Retrieved 2007-08-15.