Seminary in La Grange, Tennessee during Civil War

la-grange-seminary.jpg by you.
Ladies' seminary in La Grange, TN. Drawn by Mr. A. Simplot for Harper's Weekly, December 20, 1862.

Captain Henry Forbes, commander of Company B, Seventh Illinois Volunteer Cavalry, wrote to his wife from La Grange:

It was a neat little place of about a thousand people. The yards were beautifully improved, filled with evergreens and rare shrubberies. A fine college building crowned a gentle eminence to the east of the town and a Seminary for Ladies looked across it from the North. All is vulgar desolation now. The college and its twin buildings are used now for hospitals, and the churches are all appropriated to the same uses, with many of the private dwellings. The fences are all burned, the gardens trampled, the most elegant evergreens turned into hitching posts for Yankee horses, and all this in a town where there had been no strife of contending forces. It is a natural consequence of war.

The “fine college building” the Captain referred to in his letter was the “Synodical College,” opened in 1857. The college had 119 students at the onset of the Civil War. Its first and only graduating class of 1861 ended the school year one month ahead of schedule, whereupon the entire class volunteered for the Confederate Army. The college building was used as a Union hospital, then later as a prison. In the harsh winter of 1863-64, the college building was torn down so that Union soldiers could use the bricks to build huts and chimneys for their tents. In the 1890’s, the federal government paid $50,000 in recompense for the destroyed building.

Source: Alethea Sayers on this web site


  1. This is a fascinating post. I find it amazing that a captain of the army had such an elegant prose style and eye for descriptive detail. We’d be hard pressed, I’d guess, to find such a writer in the armed forces today. Beautiful building in that drawing. I’m curious to know what took place at a Seminary for Ladies in the 19th century.

  2. The above image identified as a ladies’ seminary is identified by a La Grange history Web site at as the La Grange Presbyterian College, also known as the La Grange Synodical College. A photo of the La Grange Female College (the ladies’ seminary you mention?) is shown there which depicts a different building. Mention also is made of a private female seminary in 1834 about which very little appears to be known. Considering what information is provided there, the imposing (for its time) structure depicted above is unlikely to have existed at that time.

    1. The building depicted in the drawing posted is the “La Grange Synodical College” chartered by passage of an Act of the Tennessee General Assembly, Jan 3, 1856. This college was for males, as I understand it, and the building was paid for by the Presbyterian Synod/Memphis area. The building did exist. I have grown up in La Grange and I have seen one of the iron column bases from the building.
      There was also a “La Grange Female College” located within the town, its charter passed by act of the TN Gen Assembly that same time period: 1855-56.

  3. Thank you so much for this post. I’m writing a blog as I transcribe letters from my long ago relative. I have just found out our writer of the letters attending LaGrange college. It is interesting to find information about a college that doesn’t exist any more. I have his fraternity pin. Are you aware of any fraternities from this college?

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