The school was founded based on the principles of Cincinatus and the "Citizen Soldier" concept of societal members. Leaders in industry during peace, and leaders in combat during war. The cadets of the Virginia Military Institute were mobilized during the Civil War and marched over 80 miles from Lexington to New Market to join the ranks during the Confederate victory at that battleground.
The entire atmosphere of the school is of a spartan feel, with very little comforts in the barracks rooms, cold conrete courtyards, and stone constructed civil war era buildings. The corps of cadets forms up on the "bricks" in front of barracks for accountability formations before every meal, and typically performs two to three formal military parades per week on the post drill field.