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“March On”

Posted on Friday, November 29, 2019 at 10:23 am

New book explores the history of the Sewanee Military Academy

This month, the Sewanee Trust for Historic Preservation will publish “March On!” a 280-page hardbound history of the preparatory school divisions of the University of the South (generally referred to as Sewanee). The book began as a student project by Nathan Shults when he was a Sewanee undergraduate. He originally planned to cover only the history of the Sewanee Military Academy (1908—1971) but found that, to provide an understanding of the sources of the structure and values of SMA, he should begin forty years earlier with the preparatory school that became SMA.
Shults was surprised to discover that originally the University had not planned for a preparatory school. Instead, they envisioned only a great American university— one to rival the great universities of Europe. Towards that end, in 1858 a group of wealthy planters and professional men drew up plans for the grand project and dedicated a cornerstone in a well-publicized and well-attended ceremony. They were confident about the project’s future, for they had already received enough in pledges to finance an array of grand buildings.
Sadly, the Civil War destroyed the fortunes of most of the original pledgers, and in 1968 they faced a problem that threatened to delay all of their plans. The Sewanee Mining Company had, in 1858, granted 5000 acres to the proposed institution—with the provision that a university be in operation on the property within ten years. So, with no time to spare, a group of men, sometimes called the second founders, hired a small faculty and recruited nine students, most under college age. Since those students were not ready for college work, a program of college preparatory studies was devised for them, and they were officially reported to be enrolled in what the founders named the “Junior Division of the University of the South” although there was yet no senior division.
Led by the efforts and influence of Charles Todd Quintard, Second Episcopal Bishop of Tennessee, enough funds were raised, mostly from the North and England, to finance a limited college program. After the college division was established, the high school was renamed the Sewanee Grammar School and given enough support to provide, albeit with name changes, highly regarded college preparatory instruction for a total of 113 years.
In the next century, during the surge of patriotism following the Spanish-American War, the school was transformed into the Sewanee Military Academy, and in 1971, when five of the six military academies in Tennessee were forced to retire their military programs or close their doors, SMA dropped its military program and became The Sewanee Academy. As such, it continued to preserve Sewanee’s long-standing tradition of academic excellence until, in 1981, the University ended its direct support of preparatory education and the school merged with neighboring St. Andrew’s School to form the totally independent and still flourishing St. Andrew’s-Sewanee School.
Anxious to publish Shults’s work, the Sewanee Trust for Historic Preservation appointed two editors: Waring McCrady, the son of a former Vice Chancellor (de facto head of the prep school), and himself an alumnus of SMA and the college, a retired professor of the college, and author of several published histories; and Phil White, author of several published articles on Sewanee history, who retired after a combined total of 41 years of English instruction at the Sewanee Military Academy, the Sewanee Academy, and St. Andrew’s-Sewanee School, where he held the Fort Chair in Writing.
Immediately after taking charge of the project, the editors decided to add a section on the Sewanee Academy (1971-1981), of which White is the principal author. McCrady, who had knowledge of facts and events unavailable to Shults, and White, completed the manuscript by inserting enlightening and sometimes humorous text throughout the various sections. The manuscript was revised and edited a number of times, and Patricia West (Tree of Life Memoirs) enlivened the whole with a magnificent job of formatting the text and making dozens of faded photographs look fresh and clear. The result is a beautiful, highly readable book that is filled with stories and photographs that will surprise and entertain all who have an affection for Sewanee, education in general, or Tennessee history.
The book will also be available at the University Bookstore in Sewanee.