The Virginia Military Institute launched an educational revolution when it became the first school in the American South to combine classical and practical courses under an effective system of military discipline. It pioneered free schooling for the poor and exemption from tuition and board in exchange for two years of teaching in primary and secondary education. It has furnished fully qualified citizen-soldiers for both civilian and military life since before the Civil War. Who first thought of VMI has been the subject of multiple claims since the school's founding in 1839. This biography of Col. J.T.L. Preston, in attempting to answer that question, unfolds the life of a teacher, soldier, husband, and father, who defined the school as it exists today, served Stonewall Jackson as his first adjutant general, married the Poetess of the confederacy, and fathered a family whose members proudly bore the stamp of their father's inviolable character in both civilian and military life. Preston is revealed as a man of faith who suffered anguish beyond remedy under the bloody, remorseless hand of war, which tore from his heart what, to him, was more precious than liberty, home, or anything but heaven.