MC once had a Paramilitary Marching Club

An old photograph of members of Maryville College’s military department from 1906. Photo courtesy of the Maryville College Archives.

Can you imagine a Maryville College, paramilitary marching club? That’s exactly what the students, staff and faculty of MC wanted in 1906. It was called The Military Department. The 40 or so members practiced marching and performed military drills and ceremony at public events. They performed mock battles against other schools’ military departments and area national guard units. The Military Department stands alone as an odd chapter in the military history of MC. I would have never discovered it if I hadn’t had help.

The military history of MC series needed a story for the decades between The Civil War and WWI. A good place to start searching was in the MC Archives Department in the basement of Fayerweather Hall. If you haven’t already, you should plan a visit. I think all students would benefit from knowing about this valuable resource. It’s both an MC museum, and a library of all things printed at, for, or about MC.

The MC Archivist, Ms. Amy Lundell, smiled the whole time she toured me through me her part of MC. There are all sorts of memorabilia, boxes of photographs, tables, drawers, file cabinets, rows, boxes, stacks and piles of documents. It is bulging full but not cluttered. In fact, the archiving team has a pretty good idea of exactly where to find most anything.

After the tour, she touched her chin and said, “I think I got just the thing.” With that, she went straight to a shelf of small yearbooks. She pulled one out and opened it on top of a box. She flipped through the pages of the 100-year-old book with care and confidence earned from years of delicate work. “Here you go,” she said. “The Military Department.”

She smiled and turned the book around. As I read, she went straight to a box full of folders, and each folder was full of yellowing photographs. She smiled as she returned with a photo. “Look at this,” she whispered. Pointing at names under the photo, she shared details about some of the men.

I wish all students knew about this historical candy store. This is extra valuable because there’s a team of experts who love to help us find answers, items, and ideas. Often, they guide researchers to things they have never heard of. That discovery of serendipity is exactly what I experienced.

America was experiencing healing and growth after the Civil War and reconstruction. The country had a growth spurt of infrastructure and a massive population expansion across the West. Gold was discovered in the Yukon. America annexed Hawaii. The Wright brothers celebrated their first powered flight.

Tennessee was enjoying prosperous times. It celebrated its 100th birthday in 1897 with a centennial exposition in Nashville. Maryville and Maryville College continued to grow and expand. In 1905 the current Maryville courthouse was built. The college had grown to include a company size military department. Besides drill and ceremony, the company of cadets practiced field maneuvers, bayonet training, marksmanship practice and other military training based on current Army guidelines.

I’ve included an excerpt from the Chilhowean, Volume 1, Number 1, Maryville Tenn., May 1906. The Chilhowean was a type of yearbook published by the senior class. The following excerpt describes the Military Department that was first organized in 1901.

[The Military Department] proved to be a valuable feature of college life. The drill is entirely optional, but when a student has entered, he becomes subject to rigid military discipline in matters of attendance, promptness, and soldierly conduct while at drill. No effort has been made, or will be made, to enforce military discipline upon the cadets except during the semi-weekly drill and other exercises of the department.

Once it was organized, the company grew quickly, elections were held and ranks assigned. There was a captain, two lieutenants and up to about 40 men. They practiced and exercised in public as a recruiting tool. All a student had to do to join was show up and sign a promise to attend. No matter what motivated students to sign up, the objective of the department was self-improvement.

The purpose of the organization is not to make soldiers, although the latest drill regulations of the United States Army are used, and every effort is made to develop a high degree of skill in the manual of arms and the field movements of the company and the battalion. The aim is to develop erect, easy, and graceful carriage among the cadets, and to foster quickness of eye, promptness and system in the performance of duty, and something of the fine manliness, of both body and mind, that comes from rigid training of the entire body.

There is so much more that could be said about The Maryville College Military Department. It filled a gap, and later a need for our nation. Though not originally designed to make soldiers, participants would certainly adapt to that roll a few years later as the world prepared for the war to end all wars.

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