The First Years of the University
Ventress Hall in the fog

The University of Mississippi opened its doors in 1848 with 80 students and four faculty members. One of these faculty members was John Millington, a civil engineer. Millington was born, raised and educated in England and studied under the famous scientists Farraday and Davy. Millington's background contains much practical civil engineering experience. He eventually moved to the United States and taught at William and Mary. While there, he published a textbook entitled "Elements of Civil Engineering". In the preface he claims that while many books had been written about specific fields such as surveying, mechanics, drawing, etc., this was the first book that encompassed the entire field of civil engineering. Professor Millington was appointed professor of natural sciences at The University of Mississippi and taught courses in chemistry, botany, geology, mineralogy, and natural philosophy.

The first student body of Ole Miss was somewhat ill prepared for receiving a college education and it was said of them that their idea of college life consisted mostly of fun and frolic rather than study and labor. Organizing classes the first year was also somewhat difficult and Oxford being located in a rather remote area caused a delay in the receipt of textbooks until a month after classes began.

However, the University grew and prospered in the next few years and the students proved themselves to be of high caliber. This was notably exemplified in 1861 when almost the entire student body (135 students) formed Company A of the 11th Mississippi Infantry Regiment, Army of Northern Virginia, better known as the University Grays. One hundred and eleven of these gave their lives in the Civil War, many of them in the Pickett, Pettigrew and Trimble famous last charge on Seminary Ridge. On July 3, 1863, during the Pickett/Pettigrew/Trimble charge, the University Grays accomplished two things: (a) they reached the greatest penetration or advance into Union lines of any unit - they reached Bryan's Barn and the stone wall behind it before the regimental colors were captured, and (b) they sustained the highest casualty rate on that day, or any other day of any unit engaged - 100% - that is every single member of the University Grays who participated in that charge was either killed or wounded too severely to continue to participate in combat.

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