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Gignilliat, Black Horse Troop founder, remembered as a man of vision

Junxin "Jason" Tang, The Vedette staff writer

Black Horse Troop, Equestriennes ride through Culver to cemetery

Nov. 10, 2022

Gen. Leigh R. Gignilliat, who founded the Black Horse Troop at Culver 125 years ago, was remembered as man of vision during a ceremony Sunday where a wreath was laid at his graveside in his honor.

“That vision made Culver what it is in at least two ways: one, his vision of the importance of forming young people to be servant leaders, and initially utilizing the military system to do so,” said Jeff Kenney, the archive manager of Culver Academies Museum.

The first ride was held in 2016 as a way to honor Gignilliat while also giving Troopers and Equestriennes practice in riding about 2 miles on city streets because that is about how long the presidential inaugural parade is. Horsemanship leaders at Culver thought it would be a good rehearsal.

Starting from Vaughn Equestrian Center, Troopers and Equestriennes rode past Logansport Gate, down Main Street downtown to the Culver Masonic Cemetery at the south end of town, where Gignilliat and other notable Culver figures are buried. People on both sides of the street stood out on their porches, either holding up cameras or applauding their support for this solemn event.

At the beginning of the ceremony by Gignilliat’s graveside, the Rev. Sam Boys, director of spiritual life at the Academies, reminded those gathered they were there to “learn a little bit about General Gignilliat and his vision for Culver Academies. We’re here to honor his life and to carry on his traditions.”

“We gather here very humbly to pay our respects to General Leigh R. Gignilliat, to honor his memory by living lives of integrity, living lives of virtuous character, to carry on his vision for the academy through the horses that are now beneath us,” he said.

Gignilliat persuaded academy founder Henry Harrison Culver to buy 16  horses from the Cleveland Cavalry’s Black Horse Troop after reading about the horses appearing in the inauguration of President William McKinley in 1897.

Jeff Kenney, the archives manager of Culver Academies Museum, speaks about the vision of Gen. Leigh Gignilliat by his graveside.


Kenney described how Gignilliat knew the horses would help publicize the fledgling school, founded only three years earlier, by making sure cadets were seen riding the horses while escorting Civil War veterans, at the World’s Fair in St. Louis, the Jamestown Exposition, and two presidential inaugural parades.

Kenney also talked about Gignilliat’s insight of transitioning teens to become responsible leaders, which largely shaped Culver Academies to develop the military system. Kenney said Gignilliat learned the value of being part of a coordinated team, following orders and maintaining discipline while working with the Army Corps of Engineers at Yellowstone Park, not from his days at VMI.

“Gignilliat's vision in so many ways form the core of what Culver is today, which means his voice is still, in a very real sense, speaking through each one of you and through your fellow Culver alumni, past and future,” Kenney said.

After the remarks, Mason Smith ’23, squadron commander, and Sophia Lengyel ’23 placed a wreath in front of the gravestone of the memorable giant who helped build the Academies’ reputation.

Boys then played taps and the students rode back to campus.

Mason Smith ’23, Squadron commander, and Sophia Lengyel ’23, a member of the Equestriennes, place a wreath in front of the tomb of Gen. Leigh R. Gignilliat.

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