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Pomp & Precision: The Citadel's Dress Parade

Pomp, Pride and Precision ...

Photo of the Citadel Dress Parade goes here.

Unfurl in The Citadel's Dress Parade

By Natasha Lawrence and Susan J. Young (Updated by Susan J. Young Jan. 19, 2013)

If you're visiting Charleston S.C., it’s worth taking a side trip on a Friday afternoon to watch an impressive show of marching cadets. Just head for The Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina.

Fresco portraying Alexander the Great goes here.The tradition of parading troops can be traced back to the time of Alexander the Great (portrayed in the ancient fresco at left*).

For the most part, drill procedures and movements on the parade field in the past were identical to the tactical maneuvers employed on the battlefield.

The free Citadel Military Dress Parade carries on a tradition of discipline and the rendering of honors.

And, this isn't just a sampling of cadets in motion. The school’s entire corps of cadets -- approximately 2,000 men and women -- generally participate in the weekly parade drill.

It's pomp, pride and precision in motion.

Heading to the Parade

Photo of cadets at The Citadel's Dress Parade goes here.Weather permitting, the Citadel Military Dress Parade is usually conducted weekly (often on a Friday afternoon) during the school year.

Important Note: For the specific schedule during the time of your visit, go to:  www.citadel.edu/root/parade-schedule.

The college is located at 171 Moultrie Street in Charleston. The parade takes place on The Citadel's Summerall Field.

The entrance to the parade grounds is through Lesesne Gate.

Once you arrive, simply look for the cadets directing visitors to the parking area, located along the south side of Summerall Field.

Plan to arrive at least 30-to-35 minutes before the dress parade begins.

That will allow time for parking and a leisurely stroll to the parade grounds, where you can soak in the history of this institution and stake out your viewing area.

If the weather is questionable, call the school to check if the parade will take place as planned. 

Since the event is outdoors, wear a hat and wear sunscreen. And definitely bring your camera!

Bagpipes and Drums

At the appointed start time on a parade day, the parade grounds erupt with the sound and color of bagpipes, horns, drums and formation marching and military pageantry.

Photo of the Citadel and cadets goes here. To truly appreciate the parade, it's useful to know a bit about The Citadel's history and the tradition of military schools within the U.S. South.

Founded in 1842 as the South Carolina Military Academy, The Citadel (its dramatic castle-like tower and courtyard are shown at left*) was one of approximately 100 military schools in the U.S. South during 1839-1915.

The military school tradition was a popular option for the education of young men, particularly prior to the Civil War.

Beyond the military training, the schools were also chosen by families for their sons or wards because they provided a classic education.

In addition, these institutions promised that they would build a strong moral and disciplined character among the cadets.

In 1843, the school had just 34 students, but enrollment jumped to 296 in 1864. Tuition? That was $200 in 1843 and $1,200 in 1864.

The Citadel's cadets played an important role in the start of the War Between the States (or, as it's called up North, the Civil War).

When South Carolina seceded from the Union in December 1860, Major Robert Anderson moved his garrison of U.S. troops to Fort Sumter and requested reinforcements from the federal government.

On January 9, 1861, Citadel cadets stationed on Morris Island fired on the U.S. steamer, the Star of the West, which failed to supply Fort Sumter with troops and supplies. This was the first overt act of the war.

However, the war had a negative impact on military education throughout the South as the years ticked away. Classes at The Citadel and other military schools were often disrupted when the governor called the cadets into military service.

In December 1864, Governor Bonham ordered the Battalion of State Cadets to Tulifinny Creek to join a small Confederate force defending the Charleston and Savannah Railroad.

On Dec. 7 and 9, 1864, the cadets fought against Union forces, successfully defending the railroad line and forcing Union forces to withdraw. The cadets suffered eight casualties.

When Union troops entered Charleston and occupied the city in February 1865, The Citadel ceased operation as a college.

In 1882, however, the South Carolina Legislature passed an act to reopen the college. The 1882 session began with an enrollment of 185 cadets.

Then in 1910 the official name was changed to The Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina.

The word, "Academy", had become synonymous with secondary schools and the public had the misconception that the South Carolina Military Academy was a preparatory school rather than a college.

If you want the full sense of The Citadel's history, make a stop at Charleston's downtown Marion Square -- just a few miles from the present campus.

You can still peruse the military school's former pink buildings, now home to an Embassy Suites hotel.

Photo of cadets goes here.In 1922, the military school re-located to its present location, which is adjacent to Charleston's Hampton Park; the park previously housed a horse racing track during the city's pre-Civil War glory days.

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, The Citadel was headed by General Charles P. Summerall, former Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army. He served through 1953.

And in 1996, the school marked another chapter in its history by admitting female students as cadets.

Pomp, Pride and Precision

Photo of the Dress Parade goes here.The traditions of United States military reviews and parades began at Valley Forge. At that time, brigades of soldiers were formed in order of battle.

Parades, originally the working formation of the Army, began and ended each day. The reviews were formal dress occasions.

Modern day ceremonies are conducted to render honors, preserve tradition and foster esprit de corps.

The Citadel's parade as it exists today essentially continues a 200-year-old tradition.

It does not differ greatly from the parade sequences outlined in Baron Von Steuben’s blue book and practiced by the American Revolutionary War soldiers

The presence of the regimental band on the field represents the significant role that the drum, bugle, bagpipe, and marching band have played throughout history for signaling, both in camp and on the battlefield.

Photo of Pipe Band goes here.

The sounds of bagpipes were first heard at The Citadel in 1955. A kilted drum major in a feather bonnet leads the band, which is comprised of 30 to 35 pipers and drummers (as in the photo above*).

From 1956 until 1981 the bagpipers wore the Royal Stewart tartan. Since 1981, the bagpipers have worn The Citadel's own tartan, which has been duly registered in Edinburgh, Scotland.

What to Expect at the Parade?

As you attend the parade, you'll likely hear these commands in this order.

Sound Attention: The regimental adjutant will direct the band to sound attention. Then commanders will call their companies to attention and the Corps of Cadets will prepare to march onto the field.

Sound Adjutant’s Call: The band will begin to play traditional march music.

Photo of cadets marching goes here.The Corps of Cadets will then march onto Summerall Field at the North and South ends of the field.

See photo at left.*

Companies A through H will enter from the left, and companies I through T from the right.

The location of the colors at the center of the formation will represent their presence at the forefront of regiments and squadrons during the heat of battle.

The colors of the Corps of Cadets include (in order from left to right):

  • The U.S. Flag
  • The South Carolina State Flag
  • The South Carolina Corps of Cadets Flag. The pike on the regimental color carries eight battle streamers earned during the War Between the States

When the Corps of Cadets is in final position on Summerall Field you will see companies A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, The Citadel Color Guard, Companies K, L, M, N, O, P, R, T, and I. Also located on the far right end is the Palmetto Battery, the salute battery of the Corps of Cadets.

The regimental adjutant will then move at a rapid cadence to the proper position so he or she can present the troops to the regimental commander.

Bring Your Battalions to Present Arms: At this time the regimental commander and members of his staff will move into their positions for the review.

Photo of The Citadel parade with cannon firing goes here.

The parade will form; the cadets will take their posts; the battalions are brought to order arms and then to present arms.

The cannons will be fired (as in the photo above*) by the Palmetto Battery for honors. The level of the salute may vary, depending on what rank of military personnel are present. For example, a 13-round salute signifies the presence of a two-star general.

Bring Your Battalions to Order Arms & Parade Rest: Next will be the singing of the U.S. National Anthem.

The battalions will be brought to Order Arms and they begin to pass in review. Salutes will be exchanged.

Final Event - Pass in Review: The final event of the ceremony is when the entire South Carolina Corps of Cadets will pass in review.

Visitors will be asked to stand and salute when the national colors approach.

Interestingly, this pass-in-review originated in Medieval days when departing crusaders marched before the king who would pay his respects as the spectators cheered.

From its inception, the pass-in-review served to display the glory and strength of the assembled troops. To the commander it served two functions -- dismissing the troops and inspecting their state of discipline and training.

For visitors, The Citadel's military dress parade is a fun, free event.

But the parade is not just a nicety for the cadets. The cadets' performance is carefully graded at every turn, from marching to sword positioning, from rifle alignment to arm swings and the interval between units.

Check the Citadel's Web site -- www.citadel.edu for each companies' ratings after each parade!

After a half hour of pomp and precision, the inspiring and entertaining marching program ends with cannon fire and the lowering of the flag.

Visiting The Citadel Museum

Photo of museum entrance goes here.If you're heading for The Citadel to view the parade, arrive an hour or so early and visit The Citadel Museum. The entrance is shown at right.*

Photo of military artifacts from The Citadel goes here.

This museum houses an extraordinary collection of Citadel rings, photographs, diaries, letters, uniforms, arms and other artifacts that represent the college’s history and development from 1842 to the present.

See a photo of a sampling of artifacts at left.*

The museum is in the first building on the right as you enter the main gate.

Museum is open Sunday through Friday from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. It's closed on college, religious and national holidays. Admission is free.

Read more about the museum at the Museum Web site

For More Information

Logo of The Citadel goes here. Want to learn more about The Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina.

Contact 843-953-6846 or www.citadel.edu.

*Photos are owned, copyrighted and used courtesy of either The Citadel; Russell K. Pace/The Citadel; or the Citadel Museum and Archives. All rights reserved. Please do not link to nor copy these photos. Thank you.

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