Long Gray Lines: The Southern Military School Tradition, 1939-1915

By Alcorn, Wallace | South Carolina Historical Magazine, January 2003 | Go to article overview

Long Gray Lines: The Southern Military School Tradition, 1939-1915


Alcorn, Wallace, South Carolina Historical Magazine


Long Gray Lines: The Southern Military School Tradition, 1839-1915. By Rod Andrew, Jr. (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2001. P. viii, 184; $29.95, cloth.)

Why Bishop John England of Charleston, charged with the education of a planter's son, should send the lad to a military academy in New England puzzled me as I researched the son's life. Neither he nor his father had any interest in military affairs, and their concern was for him to succeed his father on the plantation. Yet, the bishop elected to send him out of the South and to the American Scientific, Literary, and Military Academy (now Norwich University) in Vermont.

It was in reading this book that I found the answer, and this answer is the thesis of Andrew's book. He roundly rejects the customary historiographical assumption that the South was militaristic and anti-republican. His explanation emerges from "within" rather than being imposed from "without."

To do this, he suggests a distinctly narrow (he calls it "precise") definition of "militarism," i.e., one "that expressed less interest policies in of 'aggressive military preparedness' than in the 'exaltation of military ideals and virtues"' (p. 2). He asserts the South had a profound faith in the ability of military training "in molding responsible, patriotic, law-abiding, republican citizens." He concludes: "By inducing desired traits of character, southern military schools sought not to mold professional soldiers or to create a military caste apart from the larger society. They aimed instead to train law-abiding and responsible citizens" (p. 117).

He takes on no less an historian than John Hope Franklin. However correct Franklin was ("writing in the 1950s") about southern distinctiveness, Andrew insists this "did not necessarily mean an isolated or backward South" (p. 3).

Bishop England in the 1820s sent his charges, as did many planter fathers, to New England to obtain there the kind of military education valued in the South until a school like Norwich would be planted south. (VMI wasn't founded until 1839, and The Citadel was established in 1842.) The fact is that southern military schools were inspired and encouraged by the Norwich commandant, Captain Elden Partridge who had been dismissed as West Point superintendent because of his concern for men militarily trained as civic leaders and available when needed in the militia.

Andrew reports Partridge's contribution accurately. However, as I examine his sources and compare them with a particular one, I sense he was largely dependent upon a single source, i.e., Dean Paul Baker's quite fine (and certainly thorough) 1986 dissertation at the University of North Carolina, "The Partridge Connection: Alden Partridge and Southern Military Education."

Andrew's book is more a description of a concept than a history of military schools. I don't think it is fair to fault him for not doing what he never claimed to do and for which he has reasons not to do it. I suggest an expanded revision of this small book might contextualize the issue.

He rightly reports the most significant surge in southern military schools came after the Civil War.

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