Citadel CAC ROTC cadets drilling with 8 inch Howitzer M1918 MkVIII, circa 1923

Army ROTC at The Citadel celebrates 100 years of producing principled leaders

The Citadel marks its Army ROTC Centennial on Oct.  21, 2016

By Maj. Steve Smith, TAC officer and Citadel historian

The Citadel applied to the U.S. Department of War in 1882, requesting that an Army officer be assigned to the college as Professor of Military Science and Tactics. That application laid the groundwork for what would eventually become an Army ROTC program at the college. (Photo: Citadel CAC ROTC cadets drilling Howitzer M1918 MkVIII, circa 1923)

In the coming years, The Citadel was classified as an Essentially Military College — meaning students were housed in barracks, constantly in uniform, and bound to a disciplinary system. As a result, the war department’s college division inspected The Citadel annually from 1904-27, during which time the college earned the distinguished college title 20 times until the program was suspended. In 1916 and 1917, the designation allowed The Citadel to recommend honor graduates for second lieutenant appointments in the Army. That resulted in in the commissioning of 25 graduates as officers during those years.

As World War I raged in Europe, Congress took action to strengthen the nation’s defense by initiating a training program for reserve and volunteer officers. The Defense Act of June 1916 established the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, better known today as ROTC. The Citadel along with the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas (today’s Texas A&M), Maine University, the University of Arkansas, St. Johns College, and The College of St. Thomas comprised the Army’s original list of colleges designated to establish an ROTC unit.

When the U.S. entered World War I in April of 1917, the mobilization requirements of the Army made it clear that the ROTC programs alone could not produce the number of officers needed to field an army of two-million men (from its inception in 1916 to 1920, total ROTC production was only 133 officers nationwide). As a result, the war department established a committee on education, as well as training focused on procuring officers from colleges and universities. The purpose was to develop a large body of qualified college men as a military asset, as well as prevent the overall depletion of male students occurring through indiscriminate volunteering. At that point, the ROTC program was suspended and replaced by the Students’ Army Training Corps (SATC). SATC students were inducted into the Army, college regulations were suspended, and the soldier-students became subject to the Articles of War in the service of the country.

On Oct. 1, 1919, simultaneous officer commissioning ceremonies were scheduled at 550 colleges and universities around the country. In Charleston, and the ceremony, which included The Citadel, the College of Charleston, and the Medical College of South Carolina, was scheduled to take place on Marion Square. An outbreak of influenza, however, caused the Army to delay the ceremonies and furlough the Corps of Cadets. When the cadets returned 200 were sworn into the SATC with 125 others entering the basic course of ROTC. They were combined with 60 students from the College of Charleston, and 50 students from the Medical College entering the SATC.

The Armistice ending the war took place just 12 days later, eliminating the need for the SATC which was demobilized by the end of 1918. The war department spent the winter of 1918-19 reconstructing the ROTC system. The ROTC expanded to 240 institutions by 1921. A century after its establishment, The Citadel’s Army ROTC named Palmetto Battalion is, and continues to be, one of the top producing programs in the country.

In its centennial year, 275 colleges and universities have Army ROTC, enrolling 30,000 students annually and producing 70 percent of the officers needed for the Army, National Guard, and Army Reserve.

To learn more about The Citadel ROTC program, please click here.