Long Gray Lines: The Southern Military School Tradition, 1839-1915

Long Gray Lines
Rod Andrew Jr., Long Gray Lines: The Southern Military School Tradition, 1839-1915 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001)

Alright, I’ll admit it, this book has been sitting on my shelf for a month. But I wish I had read it long before now. Though it’s only 120 pages of text, Rod Andrew’s Long Gray Lines is a straightforward and fantastic book which explores the southern military school tradition from 1839 to 1915. Andrew argues that southern military schools focused on instilling civic values in their students through military training rather than preparing them for actual military service. Furthermore, Andrew contends that southerners were able to reconcile militarism with republicanism, particularly in the post-Civil War era when the Lost Cause mentality strengthened the southern belief in the link between military training and virtue.

One of Andrew’s main purposes in Long Gray Lines is to shift the discussion of southern military schools from the antebellum era to the postwar years. It was during the postwar years that the number of southern military institutions grew, thanks in large part to the Morrill Land Grant Act, and the Lost Cause ideology strengthened the links between martial and moral virtue.

Virginia Tech is part of Andrew’s much larger story and is influenced by “southern military tradition” that is the focus on his book. Virginia Tech is one of the many land grant institutions founded in the south in the postwar years. Unlike their northern counterparts, Virginia Tech and other southern land grant institutions took the Morrill Act’s requirement for institutions to offer instruction in military tactics very seriously. Southern land grants followed the example of institutions like VMI, West Point, and the Citadel and required their students to join a corps of cadets, participate in daily drill, and wear a uniform (pg. 1). Originally, Virginia Tech was one of the few schools that rejected a military organization in its opening years and instead only required students to participate in mandatory drill a few times a week. However, by the early 1880s Virginia Tech, under the strong influence of former Confederate veterans in the faculty and administration, adopted a military system (p. 42).

One of Andrew’s most interesting observations about southern land grant institutions is that military school leaders emphasized the “egalitarian nature” of their institutions to vie for state support and to attract students (pg. 3). Most of these institutions provided affordable, and usually free, tuition to students and authority within the corps of cadets was based upon class rank and standing instead of social status (as was the case in antebellum military institutions). Furthermore, land grant institutions sought to prove they were egalitarian by selecting male students from a wide range of the white population in their state (pg. 4).

With the risk of going overboard and writing a post that is too long, I’ll spend some time breaking down chapters that I feel were relevant to my research in bullet points:

  • Chapter 2: Death and Rebirth
    • The Civil War represented the greatest challenge to southern military schools. The Civil War took away an entire generation of past and future students students, challenged the customs of the institutions, and suffered destruction at the hands of Union armies. However, in the postwar years the southern military tradition strengthened as it became entrenched in legend, myth, and the lost cause mentality (pg. 37). The true rebirth of the southern military tradition came with the creation of land-grant colleges (pg. 39).
    • Every southern school founded under the Morrill Act was or became a military school. These schools required students to participate in drill, to wear uniforms all day, to be under military supervision of a military officer and cadet officers, instituted a systems of demerits and punishment (pg. 40).
    • The development of southern land grant institutions featuring a strong focus in military training showed that southerners still believed that military training was beneficial to the “education and moral development of young men” (pgs. 40-41).
    • Southerners considered military discipline and “subordination of youth to authority to be vital in the preservation of the social order” (pg. 43).
  • Chapter 3: Impact of the Lost Cause
    • The most important element of the Lost Cause mentality in southern military schools was the connection between “martial virtues (courage, patriotism, selflessness, and loyalty) and moral rectitude” (pg. 47).
    • Southerners perceived a connection between piety and military service. In most, if not all, southern military schools cadets received heavy exposure to Protestant Christianity. Many college regulations required students to attend church services every Sunday (pg. 50).
  • Chapter 4: Discipline and Defiance
    • Andrew believes that defiance to school authority on behalf of southern students cannot simply be explained by resentment of military discipline. Instead, he believes that is probably rooted in a tradition of rebellion in American higher education in the 1800s, particularly in the South (pg. 66). Furthermore, he believes that students were more willing to side with each other and show group solidarity in military schools because of the strong social bonds that developed among students (pg. 67). To cadets, loyalty to one’s comrades was a sacred duty (pg. 68).
    • Students were also quick to defend what they perceived to be their rights as upperclassmen from encroachments by the faculty and administration (pg. 73). Often this included hazing, and at Virginia Tech a near riot ensued in 1891 when faculty tried to stop upperclassmen from “bucking” freshman “rats” (pg. 72).
  • Chapter 7: Our Duty is Plain: War and Patriotism in Southern Military Schools, 1898
    • The Spanish-American War was embraced by students in southern military schools with great enthusiasm, often at the dismay of faculty. At Virginia Tech the entire Corps of Cadets offered their services to the federal government en masse, though the government did not take them up on their offer (pg. 107).

In his conclusion Andrew leaves off where I want to pick up, on World War I. It is shortly after the war that he states that the southern military tradition begins to wane and southern institutions begin to drop their military affiliation (Virginia Tech made the Corps of Cadets optional for upperclassmen in 1924). This, in Andrew’s mind, may be due to a number of factors. One would be a backlash against military institutions followed the war and disillusionment with the outcome of the war. Second could possibly be changing ideas about the purposes of higher education. And third could be the result of the federal government assuming responsibility for military training of students from the states during the war. It is here that Andrew believe a study needs to focus, and I think my research might do some of what he is asking for.

So, what does my 1000+ word post lead me to end with? Long Gray Lines has given me a lot of background to the tradition that I’m going to be working within for the next year and a half. It’s given me some things to think about when I’m looking at Virginia Tech: 1) student ideas about military training and their loyalty to each other, 2) thinking of cadets not as abnormal in southern and campus life (as they stick out on campus today), 3) putting students/faculty/Virginia Tech in it’s historical, regional, and geographic perspective.

Anyway, the clock struck 11 PM! I apologize for fizzling out on you at the end of this post, but I think I earned the right to fizzle out after this marathon!

Task this week: Contact the author to introduce my research and ask him some questions.

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