If not for the Corps of Cadets, Texas A&M would not exist. Military training was the reason for the campus' creation and symbolizes the university's foundation for traditions and pride.

As the university has evolved along with society, the Corps — known as "Keepers of the Spirit of Aggieland" — continues to be known for its values and leadership.

Higher education for Texas

President Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Act of 1862 during the Civil War. The legislation introduced by Vermont representative Justin Smith Morrill required states to sell 30,000 acres of public lands "for each senator and representative in Congress to a state," according to the Texas State Historical Association. The profits were to be endowed to fund creating an education institution with a primary focus on agriculture and mechanical studies, and to teach military tactics. At this point, Texas already seceded from the Union, and was required to comply with the law when it re-entered in 1866.

Texas' first institution in higher education officially opened its doors Oct. 4, 1876, as the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas. With few exceptions, if one was a student during the first 87 years of the school's history, he was a cadet.

Maj. Robert P.W. Morris, professor of applied mathematics and member of the original faculty, was in charge of military discipline, according to Texas A&M: The First 25 Years by Lyman Hardeman, class of 1966. The Corps of Cadets credits Morris as the first commandant and "creating the esprit de corps within the student body."

Corpsof Cadets c 1880

The Corps of Cadets in front of Old Main, circa 1880-1885

Gov. Richard Coke, who was the president of the board of directors, spoke at the college's opening ceremony in front of Bryan residents, college staffers and six students. The campus housed 106 students by the end of the next semester in the spring, according to Hardeman.

Coke said at the opening ceremony: "Grave responsibilities rest upon you as upon all others connected with this college. The tree will be judged by its fruits. The excellence of the college as an education institution will be determined by your progress, your proficiency, your submission to discipline, and by your general deportment. And [your] future welfare and success in life will also depend upon the same considerations."

Cadets today are required to memorize Coke's advice to uphold values of hard work, loyalty, selfless service and honor. These words are inscribed on a plaque inside the Coke Building on campus:

"Let your watchword be duty, and know no other talisman of success than labor. Let honor be your guiding star with your superiors, your fellows, with all. Be as true to a trust reposed as the needle to the pole, stand by the right even to the sacrifice of life itself, and learn that death is preferable to dishonor."

The beginning years of A&M's academic history departed from Morrill Act's intentions. The curriculum focused more on liberal arts and languages rather than "practical" vocational studies, according to Keepers of the Spirit: The Corps of Cadets at Texas A&M University, 1876 to 2001 by John A. Adams Jr. Following a period of faculty feuds and an investigation by the board of directors, the original faculty, including A&M president Thomas Gathwright, was fired in December 1879. The directors chose John James, a Virginia Military Institute graduate and head of the Texas Military Institute, to turn things around. Only the campus physician and Capt. George T. Olstead Jr., commandant of cadets, remained on staff.

Military training and service

There was talk of closing the school because of low funding and lack of strong leadership, according to A Centennial History of Texas A&M University by Henry C. Dethloff. Gov. Lawrence Sullivan Ross, who had been a Confederate general, was appointed A&M president in 1890. He brought A&M into a period of growth and prestige, including expanding academics, enforcing discipline, new buildings and more administration. He even tried to lobby for women's admission, reasoning that the cadets would benefit by the "elevating influence of the good girls," according to university archives.

Ross with Ross Volunteers

The Ross Volunteers are pictured with A&M president Lawrence Sullivan Ross and his wife in 1895.

The Scott Guards, an elite drill team organized in 1887, was renamed the Ross Volunteers in 1890. Today, the "RVs" are an honor guard, a unit with ceremonial duties. Members are expected "to exemplify the traits of Sul Ross, ‘Soldier, Statesman, and Knightly Gentleman,'" according to The Standard, the Corps' policy book.

When Ross died in 1898, the first Silver Taps was conducted. The Ross Volunteers fired a 21-gun salute and performed Taps. The tradition continues today to pay tribute to any student who dies while enrolled at the university.

By the end of the century, the land grant colleges were training students for the United States military. These citizen soldiers were taught how to handle rifles and swords provided by the government. The Corps' record of military service began with the Spanish-American War in 1898. Before the war, cadets petitioned A&M President David F. Houston to organize a volunteer regiment, according to Hardeman's book. The petition was never fulfilled.

Records estimate 89 men from A&M — including the commandant, Major George Bartlett, and former students — volunteered or served in the Army, according to Texas Aggies Go to War: In the Service of Their Country by Dethloff. Sixty-three of the men from A&M were officers.

The role of the Corps was further cemented when Congress passed the National Defense Act of 1916, creating the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) in colleges and universities. The Corps traded in its West Point-style uniform for one that resembled the Army's.

1941 commission

The photo shows the class of 1941 being commissioned at Guion Hall. More than 20,000 Aggies served in World War II. Approximately 14,000 of them were officers, more than any other school, including military academies. Twenty-nine Aggies were made generals during WWII.

The United States entered World War I in 1917 and World War II in 1941. According to Texas A&M University: A Pictorial History 1876-1996 by Dethloff, the entire classes of 1917, 1941 and 1942 entered the service. Cadets also contributed to the effort through agriculture developments and engineering in both wars.

In each world war, A&M provided more officers than any other college or service academy. A&M was nicknamed the "West Point of the Southwest."

Seven Aggies were awarded the Medal of Honor for their service in WWII. Cadets made their Hollywood debut in the 1942 propaganda film We've Never Been Licked. Approximately 55 Aggies died in WWI and 950 in WWII.

After WWII, veterans returned with mental and physical scars. Several students were missing limbs. Many veterans were married and simply desired an education. The board of directors made participation in the Corps optional for those who had already served in the military.

Aggies continue to serve in the military and receive commissions upon graduation. Students who complete a four-year ROTC program and sign a contract with the military to serve at least three years are ranked as officers after graduation. The Corps also welcomes veteran membership in the unit of their choosing. Two units are exclusive to veterans in order to suit their needs and recognize their accomplishments.

Students who die in war are memorialized with statues and plaques on campus. The Memorial Student Center is dedicated to all Aggies who gave their lives in wars. The John 15:13 scripture is inscribed on the building: "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."

Initiating change

James Earl Rudder

From 1960 until his death in 1970, Gen. James Earl Rudder, class of 1932, was president of A&M College of Texas. Rudder led platoons of Provisional Rangers on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day in 1944. In 1955, Rudder was appointed as Texas land commissioner. He investigated and reformed the office after his predecessor vacated the position due to fraud allegations.

In 1960, according to the Corps of Cadets Association website, the Corps traded in the Army insignia for one designed by the cadets. It is known as the "Corps Brass" and bears the motto "Per Unitatem Vis" — "Through Unity, Strength." Rudder urged the Corps leadership to take the new motto seriously in encouraging retention rates, as less freshmen would stay for another year, according to Keepers of the Spirit. "I want you to guide the freshmen with common sense — not hazing," Rudder said.

Major obstacles and opportunities for growth were ahead for A&M, as society changed and enrollment dropped. Editorials by The Eagle in January 1958 called for the university to leave behind the "philosophies of 1876." Rudder and Board of Directors President Sterling Evans pushed the Texas Legislature to pass a bill in April 1963 to change the name to Texas A&M University. The same week the Texas House passed the change, the Board of Directors approved enrollment for women. In May, the board approved racial integration.

Compulsory military training had been rescinded from 1954 to 1958, according to A Centennial History of Texas A&M University by Dethloff. When the policy was changed, only freshmen and sophomores were required to be in the Corps, making it optional for juniors and seniors. In 1965, incoming freshmen and sophomores were no longer required to participate in the Corps.

Col. Thomas R. Parsons, class of 1949, believed the participation change made the Corps better. While commandant, he said in an October 1975 article in The Eagle, "I'd rather have somebody do something because they are self-motivated rather than forced."

Integration and going coed

Corps outfit W-1

Outfit W-1, pictured during a game marchi in in 1977, was the first unit for women, formed in 1974.

In 1964, five black freshmen registered to be cadets in the Corps, but it would take another 10 years before women were allowed. Black men had an easier time being accepted in the Corps because they did not threaten its masculinity or reputation as a military school, according to The Eagle's A&M's 125th anniversary special issue. Women formed their own unit in 1974, W-1, and later expanded in 1978 to a second, Squadron 14.

In 1979, Melanie Zentgraf filed a class action lawsuit against the Corps on the basis of discrimination after being rejected from special units and activities. A&M president Jarvis Miller refused to shake her hand at the 1980 commencement ceremony, according to a September 2004 Eagle article on the 30th anniversary of women in the Corps. Federal courts ruled in her favor in 1988 and used Title IX of the Civil Rights Act to force A&M to encourage women's participation in activities they had previously been denied. Women joined the band in 1985 and the Ross Volunteers a year later.

During the 1990s, undercurrents of resistance to female cadets were still present. In 1990, W-1 and Squadron 14 were disbanded and female cadets were integrated into new coed units, G-1 and Squadron 9.

A female cadet claimed in September 1991 that members of Parson's Mounted Cavalry attacked her twice, but a month later recanted her allegations of an attack, according to an Oct. 23, 1991 Eagle article. She maintained she was harassed and subjected to hazing. The allegations sparked internal investigations by Corps officials and the administration. Several cadets were dismissed or suspended. The cavalry was disbanded.

Four female cadets and former students came forward, outlining more than 10 instances within the Corps including ostracism, harassment and abuse, according to an October 1991 Eagle article. They claimed these occurrences and others were "covered up" by officials. One cadet told The Eagle in September 1991 that she was raped.

The conflicts caused A&M to look deeper into women's treatment in the Corps. The Office of the Commandant issued a statement to the Corps, and cadets were required to sign a statement against harassment and discrimination starting in fall 1992.

Maj. Gen. Thomas Darling, class of 1954, was commandant from 1987 to 1996. In an April 1996 article in The Eagle, he explained how the Corps was mirroring the military with an increase in women's enrollment. "Women now have more access to jobs in all the services," he said. "Men who can work in a diverse environment will be preferred over men who cannot."


Records of hazing and disciplinary actions date back to the beginning. It was considered as a way to pass the time, and part of the experience that was integral to making a cadet stronger and more devoted Aggie, according to Dethloff's Centennial History of Texas A&M. The state made strides to define and outlaw many of these acts. The Texas Legislature investigated instances at A&M in the 1920s and '40s, according to a September 1984 Eagle article. Texas made hazing illegally entirely in 1987. Hazing is a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a $2,000 fine.

In August 1984, the Corps came under fire when a student died during what was considered a "motivational exercise" for cadets who were not performing up to standards, as stated in an Eagle article. Three juniors, according to school documents and the newspaper, awakened sophomore Bruce Ward Goodrich in Company F-1 and his roommate about 2:30 a.m. Goodrich collapsed after about an hour of strenuous exercise and died of heat stroke that afternoon.

Three cadets pleaded guilty to hazing charges in connection with the incident. They were given probated jail sentences, community service and were required to pay fines. A fourth, expelled from A&M, was convicted of tampering with evidence and sentenced to a year of probation. According to a May 1985 Eagle article, Goodrich's autopsy was revisited and another medical examiner believed he died of cardiac arrhythmia. The cadet's death prompted A&M and military academies examine their training programs and share information on how each dealt with hazing.

The Fish Drill Team was disbanded in 1997 when nine of the drill team's upperclassmen student advisers were arrested and faced at least 54 assault and hazing charges. The drill team was reinstated in 2001.

Assault is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in prison and $4,000 of fines. Indictments also accused upperclassmen of knowing about these instances and not reporting them, according to a February 1998 Eagle article. Two cadets pleaded not guilty and took the case to trial, claiming the charges violated their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. The suit was thrown out when the judge agreed with the defense.

In 2002, a Corps leader reported witnessing upperclassmen beating underclassmen with ax handles and throwing horse manure at them. The cavalry was again suspended during the hazing investigation. The 77 members were restricted to only feeding the horses and maintaining their facility on F.M. 2818, Fiddler's Green.

Cavalry members claimed the university violated their right to due process and to not self-incriminate. According to a February 2004 Eagle article, administrators began dismissing cadets before the investigation was completed and cavalry members claimed its process was flawed.

Twenty-three cadets filed a civil suit against administrators that lasted more than four years with appeals. In the February 2004 preliminary hearing, the district judge ruled that Texas A&M was to give the cadets new disciplinary hearings per a new procedure established by the judge. The university was ordered in the August 2004 final ruling to pay the cavalry approximately $350,000 for legal fees, according to The Eagle. However, the cadets were not exempt from disciplinary actions. An appeals court threw out the case in 2006. No criminal charges against the cadets were filed.

An incident in November 2004 led to the Corps commander being relieved of his rank. Junior Brad Barrick in outfit F-2 was reportedly bound with duct tape by seven seniors, according to a December 2004 article in The Eagle. The incident was described to The Eagle by Commandant John Van Alstyne as "Thanksgiving 'antics' that have gone on between juniors and seniors in F-2 for the past decade."

Barrick received eight stitches in his left index finger after being cut in the process of being freed. No criminal charges were filed as initial findings indicated no state laws were violated. An A&M inquiry determined the seniors had violated university polices, according to a January 2005 Eagle article.

Corps Commander John Huffman was relieved of his position. "He admitted he watched but said nothing [while the incident occurred]," according to the article. Huffman and the seven seniors involved in the case went before a university panel to determine their penalties. The outcome was not released to The Eagle, citing privacy laws, but none were expelled or suspended from the Corps, Van Alstyne told the paper.

The 21st Century

The Corps continues to grow. Some traditions have broadened to include students outside of the Corps, while continuing with as much fervency as they did at their inceptions:

March in at football games: Companies march in a parade formation, by rank within the unit and space between each unit, into Kyle Field. The Aggie Band leads the parade and each non-band unit calls out "jodies" before entering the stadium. (Jodies are chants or songs used to create a rhythm while marching or running to keep a unit in sync and together.) Parson's Mounted Cavalry follows last. This is done at all the home games and Corps Trips. Once the companies begin to enter the stadium, they are reviewed as they march on the track around the football field while the band continues playing.

Corps Trip: The entire Corps travels out of town to conduct a parade and attend one A&M football game. The 2012 Corps Trip was to Dallas for the game against Southern Methodist University. The Corps took its first trip in 1887 for the State Fair in Dallas.

Final Review: The Corps marches at Kyle Field for a spring inspection of its ranks in front of military officials and the university administration. It is the last activity for the cadets before being dismissed for the summer. The event consists of two marches. The first is with the seniors and the second with the juniors in command, assuming their role for the fall while wearing their senior boots, thus officially completing the transition of ranks. Seniors who have contracts and have met requirements are commissioned as officers.

Aggie Band 1.jpg

Senior boots

Senior Boots: Officially part of a senior cadet's uniform, the English-style boots made of medium brown leather date back to 1914. According to The Standard, the boots were originally made in San Antonio, but Joseph Holick began making them locally when he opened his shop in 1929. Holick was hired as the campus cobbler by President Ross and played the bugle for the Corps, according to Hardeman. In 1894, Holick organized the first A&M band and served as interim bandmaster several times.

Silver Taps and Muster: These ceremonies, which honor Aggies who have died, have expanded to encompass all students. Silver Taps is on the first Tuesday of every month during the school year, at 10:30 p.m. in front of the Academic Building. Muster is held April 21 all over the world, with the main ceremony at Reed Arena. The Ross Volunteer Company fires three volleys to complete a 21-gun salute, and the buglers in the Aggie Band play taps. Both ceremonies are conducted in silence and with candlelight. During Muster, a "Roll Call of the Absent" is conducted, naming those who died since the last ceremony. A friend, family member or "comrade" answers "Here" to signify the deceased will always be present in spirit.

Reveille: The highest-ranking member of the Corps and official mascot of Texas A&M University. The current "First Lady of Aggieland" is Reveille VIII. The first Reveille was a black and white dog that, according to legend, cadets hit while driving back to campus from Navasota in 1931. They brought her back to campus to care for her. She was named after the morning wake-up call when she began to bark. Reveille III was the first pure-bred American collie. Company E-2 is responsible for her care. When a Reveille dies, she is buried in a special plaza north of "The Zone" with past mascots.

Yell Leaders: No longer exclusive to Corps seniors and juniors, five students are elected by the student body to lead Aggie fans in yells at Yell Practice and sporting events. The men wear white shirts and pants and use hand signals to direct the crowd. Women have campaigned, but none have been elected. The tradition was started in 1907 when some freshmen were tasked with entertaining ladies from the women's college in Denton who were visiting to attend the game.


March to the Brazos: Since 1977, the Corps hikes an 18-mile round trip from the Quad to the Brazos River. March to the Brazos originated in 1903 to celebrate San Jacinto Day (April 21), but was abandoned when the United States entered World War I. The march was revived in 1977 as an annual spring fundraiser in partnership with the March of Dimes. Cadets raise money for several months through "Fill the Boot" collections and other donations. Today, cadets unofficially begin transferring command and ranks for the next year with the seniors leaving the juniors in charge for the trek back to campus. After the 2011 march, the Corps of Cadets has raised more than $2 million in 35 years for the March of Dimes. March to the Brazos is the nonprofit organization's largest and most successful student-run fundraiser.

The Sam Houston Sanders Corps of Cadets Center opened in 1992 to exhibit the history of the Corps and its traditions. Awards for six Medal of Honor recipients are displayed there.

In fall 2002, Commandant Lt. Gen. John Van Alstyne, class of 1966, initiated stricter academic requirements and height-and-weight tests, making admissions tougher and resulting in more cadets being dismissed, according to a November 2004 Eagle article.

When fall 2011 classes began, the Corps was 2,177 strong, gradually increasing over the past 10 years, according to the Corps of Cadets Association website. Leadership for the 2012-2013 academic year included Marquis Alexander, the Corps' first black commander. Four units were reactivated with the start of the 2013-2014 year. Corps membership - more than 2,400 - is at its largest in 30 years, according to The Eagle. The freshman cadet class is at more than 900, the largest since 1970.

There are 10 regiments with a combined 42 units. The Corps dorms can house up to 2,600 members. Only freshmen and sophomores are required to take ROTC and military science courses. Juniors and seniors who have contracts to pursue officer commissions are required to take ROTC courses. If not under contract, juniors and seniors who wish to remain in the Corps for their undergraduate career are classified as degree and certificate, or "Drill & Ceremony" (D&C), and receive a certificate of leadership.

The policy guidebook boasts, "Texas A&M is one of only six four-year institutions of higher education in the nation with a seven day a week, 24 hours a day Corps of Cadets. Its military science programs support the three ROTC programs, leading to commissions in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force."

— Compiled by Claire Heathman

(1) comment


The fact that a female has never been a yell leader at Texas A&M illustrates how long standing traditions are slow to change. As a sociologist and a former member of the first group of corps females in W-1, I have watched over the years the slow progression toward equality. I am proud of the accomplishments of our successors but believe there is still much to be done. Gig 'em Aggies!

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