From Campus to Capitol Hill [1865-1883]
AFTER APPOMATTOX, Wilson straggled home to face an uncertain future. He had no profession; his slaves were free; and since he had invested his savings in Confederate bonds ($2,500 in 1861, $3,000 in 1863), the greater part of his estate had been dissipated. To make matters worse he found his mother's estate reduced to the bare necessities of living and her health impaired. Yet if Wilson had invested his last dollar in worthless Confederate paper, had lost unrecoverable years, had staked his all on a lost cause, he came from the war grown to full manhood and in excellent physical health. Moreover, shelter from the gathering storms of the Reconstruction era was provided when, in the summer of 1865, Columbian College tendered him an appointment as assistant professor of Latin. Whether the man sought the position or the institution the man, it is clear that alma mater had not forgotten her brilliant student and the offer of 1860.
Columbian had barely survived the war. Recruitment of both armies had taken heavy toll of its student body, which at the beginning of hostilities had exceeded four hundred; its empty buildings had been converted into a government hospital; and its faculty had dwindled from lack of funds as well as from natural causes. Wilson was chosen to fill a vacancy that had existed since 1862. Here was providential deliverance combined with rare opportunity; for he was being invited not only to enter the one profession for which he was in any way qualified, but also to work in the field of his first choice.
Wilson went to Washington and entered upon his duties at the beginning of the fall term of 1865. He had left the University of Virginia in 1861 without taking his Master's degree, but this degree Columbian College seems to have conferred upon him at the time of his employment. He was soon at work in the classroom instructing young men,