Two Hundred and Fifteen Years of American Military Schools

history of military schools

Cadets on Campus: The History of Military Schools of the United States (2017) - Dr. John A. Coulter II, LTC USA (Ret), is now available from Texas A&M Press.


The educational format for military schools did not originate in the United States; however, the U.S. is now home to the largest number of military schools--- and since 1999 that number has continued to rise. Most likely, the oldest of the world's military schools was Ecole de Soreze established in 1682 in France. Military schools were established in the United States due to the difficulties faced by the Americans fighting for their independence. The enemy, the British forces, were commanded by officers educated at the Royal Military Academy and Woolwic. The French allies had officers educated at their various military schools, including that at Vincennes, which later moved to Champ de Mars.

West Point Parade - historical

America's ill-prepared Officer Corps were the catalyst for America's first military school: The United States Military Academy at West Point. The academy opened in 1802, fifteen years after the conclusion of the Revolutionary War. West Point shortly thereafter blossomed into the United States' first engineering school. Under the leadership of Sylvanus Thayer, it became the model for American military schools. West Point remained one of only three such military institutions until the 1820, when the American Literary, Scientific and Military Academy (Norwich University) opened as the nation's secondary military school.

Norwich's founder, Alden Partridge, successfully campaigned to expand the military school concept outside the federal government's control. The alumni of both established institutions (along with the legion of Virginia Military Institute alumni educators, led by the institute's first superintendent, Francis H. Smith) were instrumental in the expansion of the military school format into pursuit of post-graduate careers outside engineering and the military as well as into secondary education across the country.

Wentworth Military Academy - historical

During the years surrounding the Civil War, the number of military schools in the nation grew to 171 institutes. Six collegiate military schools of the South participated as units in combat, while many other schools on both sides, including secondary schools, provided drill instructions that were vital to the initial training of their respective armies. Despite the original American military schools addressing higher education, by the Civil War 75% of them were in secondary education. The first of these was the American Classical and Military Lyceum in Philadelphia which opened under the leadership of a West Point graduate in 1828. This school operated with a focus on preparing young men to attend one of the three engineering colleges in the nation. The college preparatory theme would be placed in concrete as a focus of secondary military schools by efforts lead by the leadership of Culver Military Academy in the 1930s.

Naval Academy Graduation - historical

The establishment of the United States Naval Academy prior to the Civil War led to another expansion of the military format into the naval and maritime fields. One of the academy's alumni, Stephen B. Luce, played a critical role in the establishment of a series of Merchant Marine Academies. There are eight collegiate level military schools in 2017, which have a naval or maritime focus, as well as 13 secondary schools carrying naval (Admiral Farragut Academy) or Marine Corps (Marine Military Academy) traditions.

The number of military schools decreased due to the devastation of the south from the Civil War and its occupation. However, after the war the number of schools expanded and peaked in the years just prior to the Great Depression of 1929. This growth can be contributed to a number of factors: educators' recognition of the positive impact on young men; the efforts of returning Civil War Veterans; the glorification men like Generals Lee and Jackson as part of the cultural phenomena known as the Lost Cause; and finally, the swell of Patriotism surrounding the Spanish American War, known as the Spirit of 1898. As a result between 1903 and 1926, the number of military schools in operation peaked at 280.

St Catherines Academy - historical

Also associated with the increase of military schools is its close association with various religious denominations. Of the approximately 844 military schools that have operated in the United States from 1802 - 2017, at least 143 (17%) have been church affiliated. The easy adaptation of church school to military format was the commonality of a "strong commitment to purpose, values and to tradition." The first was a Presbyterian-affiliated school, the Classical and Mathematical Academy established in 1834 in Bedford, Pennsylvania founded by the Reverend Bayard R. Hall. Catholics and Episcopalians became the most prolific in the establishment of military schools; however a total of nine denominations are involved including Baptist and Methodists who are represented in the list of military schools in 2017.

Culver Black Horse Troop - historical

Although the numbers of military schools in the United States decreased dramatically in the wake of the Vietnam War, forty years later, (by the spring of 2017), there are 96 military schools in operations: five federal service academies; 12 military colleges and universities; five military junior colleges; 38 private secondary or primary schools, 36 public secondary schools (both public and charter) and another two charter school scheduled to open in the fall of 2017.

"Historically the military school format has contributed immensely to the United States' national leadership far outside the armed services."

Historically the military school format has contributed immensely to the United States' national leadership far outside the armed services. In the 2017 publication Cadets on Campus: The History of Military Schools of the United States (2017,Texas A&M Press) a sample survey of distinguished American military school alumni provides four United States Presidents; eight foreign heads of state; two Secretary of State; a Supreme Court Justice; nineteen Governors; twenty Congressmen; a United Nations Ambassador; a long list of Entertainment, Media and Sports figures (including five Heisman Trophy winners); a long list of Business Leaders to include the Presidents or CEOs of Companies like Oracle Corporation, Goodrich Corporation, Johnson & Johnson, Coca-Cola Company, Procter & Gamble, AT&T, Eastern and Pan Am Airlines; Founders of Wal-Mart, Eckerd Pharmacy, Gerber Baby Foods, Hilton Hotel Chain, and America On Line (AOL); Authors and Poets (including five Pulitzer Prize winners); four Nobel Prize winners for science, five astronauts who walked on the Moon, and more than 190 Medal of Honor Recipients.


Dr. John A. Coulter II, LTC USA (Ret) Cadets on Campus: The History of Military Schools of the United States (2017) is available from Texas A&M Press.

 

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