Monday, April 13, 2015

Western Military Institute at Drennon Springs, Kentucky

Last year I posted several times about some interesting articles that I found in a number of antebellum Southern agricultural and literary journals. In the September 1852 edition of the South-Western Monthly, which was published in Nashville, Tennessee, I came across a selection about the Western Military Institute. At that time the school was located at Drennon Springs in Henry County, Kentucky.

On my travels to and from Frankfort to family in Madison, Indiana, I have passed the above state highway marker many, many times. So when I came across the 1852 article, I immediately recognized the name of the place. Curious to learn more I searched out some additional information.  

Drennon Springs was actually the third location for the Western Military Institute. It opened in 1847 by Colonel Thornton J. Johnson in Georgetown, Kentucky. It is important to remember that states such as Kentucky and Tennessee in the mid-nineteenth century were thought of as "Western." After three years in Georgetown, the school moved to Blue Lick Springs in Nicholas County, as it was believed that a more rural environment would lead to better learning. I suppose the town of Georgetown and nearby Lexington offered too many distracting temptations for the institute's cadets.

Western's stay at Blue Licks Springs was even shorter than at Georgetown. Apparently the school did not receive proper attention from the owner of the property and thus moved to Drennon Springs in Henry County in February 1851. Drennon Springs offered the institute "beautiful natural scenery, salubrious mineral springs, extensive and commodious buildings, and an area of several acres for military exercises, with extensive grounds for the recreation of the cadets in leisure hours."

In the fall of 1852 the school had 166 students. The cadets learned "Greek, Latin, French, German, and Spanish," as well as "Mathematics, Engineering, Moral and Intellectual Philosophy, History, Rhetoric, Logic and Belles Letters." Students could also take "Physiology, Natural History, Chemistry, Geology," accounting, and even law. For entertainment the cadets had a library, two literary societies, and a student newspaper called The Cadet, which was edited and published by the students.

Most mid-nineteenth century parents sent their sons to military academies for the discipline it instilled in the young men. The article claimed as much. A military education "requires the exercise of courtesy and gentlemanly deportment; it demonstrates the advantages and enforces the practice of order, promptitude in the performance of every duty, and subordination to the properly constituted authorities. The want of such habits has proved proximate cause of the ruin of many a gifted mind, and the destruction of many, we may say nearly all of our Colleges." The article ended with an endorsement for the school and recommended those interested to contact the school to receive a copy of its rules and regulations. 

Western, like many other military schools in the slave states, understood where it needed to target market. They advertised in popular newspapers and these agricultural journals, including the famous DeBow's Review, which were often read by those wealthy enough to send their sons for an education. In an 1853 edition of DeBow's, Western placed and ad explaining that the school was "situated on the Kentucky River" and that it could be "reached by steamboat from Louisville or Cincinnati, or by railroad from Louisville to Eminence on the Louisville and Frankfort" railroad, and then with a short stagecoach ride to Drennon Springs. Tuition and room and board was $80 per session. The DeBow's advertisement was placed by the school's president Col. Bushrod Rust Johnson.

When Western moved to its Drennon Springs location, Johnson (below) became its president. Although Johnson was born in Ohio, he went on to become a general in the Confederate army. He began his career in the Western Theater, fighting in such engagements as Fort Donelson, Shiloh, Perryville, Stones River and Chickamauga, but was tranferred to the east and served in Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. He commanded troops at Petersburg and Five Forks. Johnson he was relived of duty at Sailor's Creek during the army's retreat toward Appomattox and surrendered there without a command.

Apparently an outbreak of disease at Drennon Springs in 1854, prompted the school to move once again, this time to Tyree Springs, Tennessee. The following year it moved to Nashville, where it became part of the University of Nashville. It operated there until the Civil War ended it existence.

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