By Morgan Bunn
The Greenbrier Military Academy was once an integral part of Lewisburg and Greenbrier County. From the 1890s until 1972, countless young men paraded through Lewisburg’s streets. Some graduates, especially the home town boys, stayed and made a life in Lewisburg, but most marched off to live their lives all over the country; yet one cadet remains in Lewisburg – forever young.
Within the Old Stone Cemetery are the graves of several dozen people with few, if any, familial connections to Lewisburg or the surrounding area. Strangers came on business, to visit friends or family, to seek an education at the Military Academy or the Lewisburg Female Institute or Seminary, as it was once known, or were simply passing through when an illness or accident befell them and they passed away. These strangers were then laid to rest among the locals who have filled the Old Stone Cemetery for more than 200 years. One such stranger is the Forgotten Cadet of the Greenbrier Military Academy.
Horace Melvin Patterson, born in Coalfields, Tennessee, was 15 years old when, as a cadet at the Academy, joined fellow cadets for an afternoon of swimming – bathing as it was then called – at the Greenbrier River on a Friday afternoon in late May of 1920 as commencement celebrations were getting underway. As the cadets enjoyed playing in the water and swimming back and forth across the river, Horace, who had been engaged in crossing the river, tired in the midway across and called out for help. Before fellow cadets could reach him, he slipped under the water and disappeared.
All attempts, including dragging the river, were made by fellow cadets, school faculty and local townspeople to find the young boy for the rest of Friday afternoon and much of Saturday but to no avail. It was not until Sunday afternoon that two cadets, who had returned alone to continue the search for their friend, found Horace’s body just 300 yards from the last place the young cadet was seen. The body was taken back to the barracks where he had spent the last years of his life and was prepared for burial. In a time when commencement celebrations should have taken center stage, celebrations turned to sadness and despair, as Horace’s funeral service was held at the Academy the day after his young body was recovered.
Following the funeral service, the cadets from the school accompanied Horace’s body in full funeral march from the Academy to the Old Stone Cemetery. Joining the funeral procession through the streets of Lewisburg were many of the townspeople, following the coffin, both on foot and in automobiles. With military honors and with the sound of taps carried throughout the cemetery, surrounded by his cadet brothers, Horace was laid to rest amongst a sea of strangers.
On the gentle rolling grounds of the cemetery and under the occasional shade of a large old oak tree rests this young cadet. Marked with a dark marble headstone that is difficult to read due to the dark color of the marble, he rests alone, no family or friends nearby. There is no one to visit or bring flowers or lay a wreath or remember his name. He is Horace Melvin Patterson, the forgotten cadet of the Old Stone Cemetery.
To learn more about the ongoing restoration work or more on the People of the Old Stone Cemetery or on upcoming workshops, please visit Facebook at FriendsofOldStoneCemetery.