The University of Alabama Cadets
“The Informed Southerner”
November 1, 2020 | View PDF
After Alabama became a State on December 14, 1819, plans were initiated to establish a State University. Tuscaloosa, the State Capitol (1826-1846), was chosen. Architect William Nichols patterned the layout of the University of Alabama (UA) after the University of Virginia, designed by Thomas Jefferson. On April 18, 1831, UA opened its doors, with Reverend Alva Woods serving as President.
UA was initially a civilian institution with many students coming from well-to-do families. These sometimes pampered and undisciplined teenaged students, plus the turbulence of the 1850s, concerned President Landon Garland. He advocated for UA to be converted into a military school to instill discipline. Garland made the recommendation based on his previous faculty experience at Hampden-Sydney, Randolph Macon College, and Washington College. His efforts were ultimately successful (1860).
The University of Alabama instituted a disciplined military education that rivaled the top institutions of the day—Virginia Military Institute, the South Carolina Military Academy (The Arsenal and The Citadel), and the Georgia Military Institute (later used by Sherman to imprison Southern men, women, and children). Known as “The West Point of the South”, UA produced numerous Confederates: “7 generals, 25 colonels, 14 lieutenant colonels, 21 majors, 125 captains, 273 staff…and 294 private soldiers.”
Colonel Caleb Huse, a Massachusetts native who trained soldiers at West Point, handled the training of UA Cadets (Alabama Corps of Cadets, aka ACC). At the start of the War for Southern Independence, upon Jefferson Davis’ request, Huse left UA and joined the Confederate Government, serving as a European agent. Colonel J.T. Murfree, a VMI graduate, succeeded Huse. Several VMI grads were among those who fine-tuned the cadet program.
Early in 1861, the ACC were sent to Montgomery and reviewed by Governor Andrew B. Moore, who wanted to use them as drillmasters. By June 1861 they had trained nine companies. One of their drillmasters was Tuscaloosa-born John Caldwell Calhoun Sanders, a talented soldier who became a brigadier general at twenty-three years of age.
One interesting historical tidbit involves the nickname given to the UA Cadets: “Katydids.” The tails featured on their waist length jackets earned them this unique moniker. Similar to the VMI Cadets, they also received baptism under fire, i.e., they “saw the elephant.”
In May 1863, the cadets were summoned to meet a rumored force of 1500 Union soldiers heading toward Tuscaloosa. Although it was a false alarm, President Garland was encouraged by the cadets’ enthusiastic response. Also, the weak response from Tuscaloosa’s remaining civilian population awakened Garland to the realization the cadets would likely face overwhelming odds in an actual attack.
In July 1864, at the behest of then governor Thomas H. Watts, 54 UA Cadets were part of the force sent to deter Rousseau’s Raid through East Alabama. They made up about 10% of the roughly 500 men who faced 1500 veteran Yankee soldiers at Beasley’s Farm near Chehaw Station (Macon County). Most of the other Confederates were also teenagers from H.C. Lockhart’s Battalion. Nonetheless, they successfully diverted the Federals. In one of life’s true ironies, the UA Cadets helped prevent the almost certain destruction of East Alabama Male College (later Auburn University).
Tuscaloosa had been relatively insulated from the war until early April of 1865. Yankee General James H. Wilson dispatched John T. Croxton and his 1500 veteran cavalry “to Tuscaloosa, to destroy the bridge, factories, mills, university (military school), etc.” On April 3, 1865, roughly 300 UA Cadets were unaware that Union forces were about three miles from the university. They, and a handful of Home Guard (mainly boys and old men) were essentially the only line of defense. As the Yankees approached, the cadets fired several volleys. Croxton wrote: “They (militia and cadets) made several unsuccessful attempts to dislodge us, but failed…”
Overwhelmed by superior numbers, the cadets retreated toward Marion. Federal troops entered Tuscaloosa and proceeded to loot, burn, and pillage. They destroyed Washington Hall, Jefferson Hall, Madison Hall, and Franklin Hall—all named after men revered in the South. They burned the Rotunda and one of the South’s finest libraries. They also destroyed private businesses, warehouses, and factories. The cadets saw the smoke from Hurricane Creek, about eight miles from Tuscaloosa.
It is an abject shame these brave young men (teenagers) have been dishonored by having their plaque removed from the Gorgas Library grounds. The UA Cadets fought to keep their beloved university from being destroyed by a vile enemy. It seems the bravery of the UA Cadets has been replaced with modern cowardice and adherence to Cultural Marxism.