Thomas Conrad was born on August 1, 1837 in Fairfax Court House, Virginia, to Nelson and Lavinia Thomas Conrad. He attended the Fairfax Academy before enrolling in Dickinson College in 1853. While at Dickinson, Conrad was a member of the Phi Kappa Sigma fraternity, and served as secretary and then president of the Belles Lettres Literary Society. He also formed an enduring friendship with a fellow classmate, Daniel Mountjoy Cloud. Conrad graduated with the class of 1857. From 1857 until 1861 Conrad served as principal of the Georgetown Institute in Washington, D. C. For his efforts, he was awarded a master’s degree from Dickinson in 1860.
Conrad enlisted as a chaplain in the 3rd Virginia Cavalry in 1861, and eventually attained the rank of captain. After three years of service, he accepted a position in the Confederate Secret Service. He was responsible for operating the successful “Doctor’s Line,” that supplied reliable intelligence to Richmond. With the aid of his friend Daniel Cloud, Conrad organized a plot to abduct President Lincoln, but their plans fell through. After Lincoln’s assassination, Conrad was briefly incarcerated.
Following the war, Conrad returned to teaching, first at the Rockville Academy in Maryland, then at the Preston and Olin Institute. In 1877 he became professor of English literature at the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College. From 1881 until 1885, Conrad served as the third president of that college. He then spent several years at the Maryland Agricultural College as the chairman of faculty, and later as acting president. Conrad eventually published a book, “The Rebel Scout,” about his experiences during the Civil War. Thomas Nelson Conrad died January 5, 1905 in Washington, D. C.