The roots of the Department of Military Science at the University of Mississippi spring from two sources. The rich tradition of patriotism and service to country has been apart of the University of Mississippi since its beginnings. During the Civil War, all the members of the Class of 1863 left the University of to take up arms for the Confederacy.
The group of soldiers, more commonly referred to as the University Greys, fought at the Battle of Gettysburg, and participated in the infamous Pickett’s Charge. Every member of the University Greys was wounded or killed at the Battle of Gettysburg. Of the survivors, none returned to complete their education at the University of Mississippi. In addition to the specific accomplishments of the University Greys, America and Mississippi has an established tradition of reliance on citizen soldiers for its defense. To provide competent officers for their militias, several states began to require military training of male college students during the first half of the nineteenth century. This training was designed to improve the capabilities of militia leaders when they were called upon to assist in the defense of their states and nation.
Although The University of Mississippi did not apply for an Army ROTC program immediately, it did host an important wartime officer-training program. The rapid, unprecedented expansion of our Army during World War I exceeded the ability of the new ROTC programs to provide lieutenants for thousands of new units, so the War Department established Army Training Detachments and the Students’ Army Training Corps on college campuses all over the country. A student’s Army Training Corps unit operated at Ole Miss from September 1918 to January 1919, helping it students prepare to serve the Nation as Army officers just as our current ROTC program does today.
The University of Mississippi unit was established on March 11, 1936. The ROTC unit at The University of Mississippi was organized as an Infantry program. Although training stressed a variety of military subjects, emphasis was on Infantry skills, and those who successfully completed the program were offered commissions in the Infantry.
The first Professor of Military Science and Tactics was Major Charles S. Johnson. Major (later Colonel) Johnson came to the University of Mississippi in 1935 and organized the Military Department at Ole Miss from the ground up. Colonel Johnson’s whole family took an active part in organizing the program. His wife and daughter did all the typing and filing, his son demilitarized (made unserviceable for firing) the weapons used in drill, and Colonel Johnson wrote the lesson plans. By all accounts the program was well organized and effective. Colonel Johnson’s first ROTC class won the 4th Corps Area Trophy for its outstanding performance at the 1940 Summer Camp at Fort McClellan scoring the highest among schools from eleven states. In 1993, when Colonel Johnson was inducted into The Ole Miss Army Hall of Fame, he was still fondly remembered by his former cadets.
The seventies brought a number of firsts in the history of the Ole Miss Army ROTC. In 1970, Cadet James E. Donald became the first black student to receive a commission from the program. During his thirty year career as an infantry officer, Major General Donald served in numerous assignments, to include commanding the 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment during Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm and the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne (Air Assault). In 2003, Major General Donald retired as the Deputy Chief of Staff, G1, from the United States Army Forces Command.
Seven years later, Cadet Deborah R. Goodwin became the first woman to receive a commission from the Ole Miss Army ROTC program. Although women had taken some ROTC classes on a voluntary basis as early as 1966 (and ROTC cadre had taught marksmanship courses to women as early as 1952), changes to Army policies in the early 1970’s enabled women to formally enrolled in ROTC and earn commissions for the first time. Lieutenant Colonel Goodwin was commissioned in the Signal Corps and served over 20 years before retiring from active duty.
The Simultaneous Membership Program (SMP) and Early Commissioning Program (ECP) served as significant draws to Army ROTC throughout the 1980s, allowing Ole Miss to commission 20-30 lieutenants per year. The SMP allowed cadets to participate in ROTC while serving as officers-in-training in their National Guard units. The ECP allowed cadets who had completed the Advance Course to receive their commissions before they received their college degrees, provided they completed college within three years. Currently, The SMP accounts for over sixty percent of the cadets in the program.
The Military Department was originally housed in the Peabody Building, where it remained until the program was interrupted by World War II. When ROTC was fully reestablished on campus in 1947, it was put in Temporary Building D. The unit moved to Guyton Hall in September 1961 and to its current location (Barnard Hall) in the Fall of 2002. The rifle range, which was originally housed in the basement of Fulton Chapel, was relocated behind Guyton Hall in 1960.
As of May 2013, over 1600 officers have received their commissions through the Army ROTC program at Ole Miss. These officers have served continuously on active duty and in the Army Reserve and National Guard since 1938. They have fought honorably through six wars, including World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Afghanistan and Iraq. About 20 graduates have also attained the honor of becoming general officers (one star or higher).
On October 30, 1991, the Ole Miss Army ROTC Alumni Club was officially established. On March 28, 1992, The Alumni Club inducted the first four members to its Hall of Fame. Since that time an additional sixty-eight distinguished Army ROTC alumni have been inducted, including 14 killed in action in defense of the Nation. Two Ole Miss buildings, Gerard Hall and Baxter Hall, are named after members of the Hall of Fame killed in action during World War II.
The Ole Miss Army ROTC is aimed at developing well-educated leaders, well-rounded leaders of character for the Army. At Ole Miss, Army ROTC has been extraordinarily successful in accomplishing this mission and is poised to continue to develop such leaders for the Army of the Twenty-first century.