When people consider Gen. Leigh Robinson Gignilliat, they may first consider him as a man of a past era. That is because all we have of the past commandant-turned-superintendent of Culver Academies are old black-and-white photos.
But Humanities instructor Richard Battersby told the Troopers and Equestriennes gathered at his grave in the Culver Masonic Cemetery Sunday afternoon that Gignilliat was a “man of modernity.” His forward thinking on promotion and networking were ahead of their time during the late 1800s and early 1900s.
It was Gignilliat who purchased the original horses for Culver from the Cleveland Black Horse Troop in 1897. A few years later, he used his networking skills to secure a place in the 1913 presidential inaugural parade for the Black Horse Troop and all the Culver cadets.
That happened after former Indiana Gov. Thomas R. Marshall, who visited campus in 1911, became Woodrow Wilson’s vice president. Gignilliat used that earlier connection with Marshall to get in the 1913 and 1917 presidential inaugural parades.
Understanding the value of promoting the Black Horse Troop and gaining national publicity for Culver Military Academy during this time of low enrollment was ahead of its time. The Black Horse Troop also made other trips around the country to raise the public awareness of the school, Battersby added, and the promotion worked.
Gignilliat also understood the value of the lessons students learn on horseback. “He would be thrilled” to see so many young people “controlling an animal the size of a small SUV,” Battersby said. And he understood the character development that comes from students caring for their horses and learning to ride in formation.
It is this progressive thinking that brings Gignilliat out of the old black-and-white photos and into today’s world of “glorious technicolor,” Battersby said. It is also why it is important for the students to honor and thank him for his forward thinking.
This is the second year the Troop and Equestriennes have made the journey from the Vaughn Equestrian Center, through downtown Culver, and to the cemetery. Students laid a wreath at Gignilliat’s gravesite and the Band played Taps following Battersby’s talk.
The parade and ceremony honors Gignilliat near the time of his death on Oct. 30, 1952, as well as marking Veterans Day. It was Gignilliat who started the Veterans Day ceremony as part of the Legion Memorial Building dedication in 1924.