Military training for Wofford students dates back to the 1850s, when a group of students formed a volunteer infantry company, “the Southern Guards.” The governor of South Carolina told them to complete their education before entering military service, so they elected to disband. Most of these men promptly enlisted in various hometown units, many in the widely noted Palmetto Sharpshooters of the Army of Northern Virginia, and only a handful survived the Civil War.

After World War I, the Army offered units in the Reserve Officer Training Corps to selected independent colleges as well as “land-grant” campuses. Wofford was one of the first private colleges to secure a unit. The battalion was formally established on Oct. 18, 1919, with 118 members. The late Olin D. Johnston ‘21 was the first battalion commander. (Cadet Johnston, of course, went on to become governor of South Carolina and a US senator. However, it is sometimes forgotten that he was a sergeant of engineers in the famous 42nd “Rainbow” Division, seeing combat in most of the great battles of 1918.)

From the beginning, participation in military training has been voluntary. Nevertheless, the college has remained one of the nation’s leaders in the percentage of its students taking courses in military science. In fact, during the Depression, some students say that the only suitable clothing that they had for class or chapel was their ROTC uniform, and that they could never have graduated if the Army had not provided a small stipend during their last two years.

ROTC alumni distinguished themselves in World War II and throughout the long “Cold War,” on active duty and in the Army National Guard and Army Reserve. To date, more than 2,000 young men and women representing several Upstate campuses have been commissioned through the program. Twenty-two officers have become general officers; one officer receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor.

CrestThe device and symbol of the Southern Guards Battalion ties together into one symbol the history and traditions of the United States,  State of South Carolina,  Spartanburg County, Wofford College, and the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC).

Palmetto Tree

The state tree of South Carolina. The palmetto tree is found on the state flag and all official state seals and insignia and reflects the palmetto logs that protected Fort Moultrie. These logs rendered useless the powerful British guns during their first attempt at taking Charleston during the American Revolution.  It was also found on the unit flag of the Morgan Rifles, a local nineteenth-century militia unit honoring Daniel Morgan, hero of the pivotal Revolutionary War battle at the Cowpens which occurred on 17 January 1781. The battlefield is located 30 miles from our campus.

Crossed Muskets

These symbolize the traditional cooperation between the Regular Army and the Reserve Components. The musket with the bayonet symbolizes the Regular Army.  Early military muskets (as do modern military rifles) utilized bayonets.  The musket without the bayonet symbolizes the militia (now the Reserve Components).  Militiamen carried smoothbore and rifled hunting muskets that could not bear bayonets.  The rifled muskets of the militia played prominent roles at local battles such as Blackstocks Farm and Cowpens. Wofford College ROTC commissions officers that serve on Active Duty, the Army Reserve and the National Guard.

Lamp of Knowledge

This symbolizes the pursuit of knowledge, higher learning and the partnership of Army ROTC with American colleges and Universities.

Greek Helmet

This symbolizes the ancient Greeks’ concept of the warrior scholar, athlete, and leader citizen. Additionally, it represents the history and memory of two noteworthy units from Spartanburg County : the Spartan Regiment and the Spartan Rifles.  The Spartan Regiment was a local militia unit that formed part of the militia line at Cowpens.  Our county and city take their names from this unit. The Spartan Rifles, a local company of volunteers that many Wofford College students and alumni joined, became K Company of the Palmetto Sharpshooters. This regiment of the Army of Northern Virginia was highly regarded by General Lee and Confederate President Davis.

Officer Sabers

These symbolize courage, gallantry and self-sacrifice. Each is intrinsic to the profession of arms and the officer corps itself into which each cadet will be accepted after graduation form college and commissioning.


The motto of the Southern Guards Battalion symbolizes the soldier’s duty to always remember and serve his or her country. The motto was taken from the Morgan Rifles.


“The Southern Guards” and date of 1860 symbolize the first military unit formed at Wofford College. This militia unit, formed by Wofford students in 1860, drilled on this campus and pledged to protect the citizens of Spartanburg County and South Carolina. The unit armory, the large room on the western end of the third floor of the college’s main building, is now a classroom.  Many of the original Southern Guards joined the Spartan Rifles on April 11, 1861.

History of the Federal Reserve Officer Training Corps

“To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace. A free people ought not only to be armed, but disciplined; to which end a uniform and well-digested plan is requisite.” George Washington, in remarks to Congress, 1790
Overview of the federal Army ROTC program

The American Literary, Scientific, and Military Academy (now Norwich University), founded in Vermont in 1819, was the first US School to include military training in their curriculum. In 1862 the Morrill Land Grant Act, among its many provisions, provided federal grants to universities teaching military tactics. Within a few years Congress voted to provide equipment and personnel to man the programs at those institutions. Finally, in 1916, the National Defense Act authorized the official implementation of the forerunner to the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC), the Student Army Training Corps. The first 180 officers commissioned under the program graduated in 1920. Since the passage of that 1916 law, ROTC nation-wide has provided the Army its greatest percentage of new lieutenants. This ROTC program exists to develop officers through courses of instruction leading to a commission as a second lieutenant and to produce junior officers who have qualities and attributes essential to their progressive and continued development as officers of the Army of the United States. 

During the 1920-21 school year over 90,000 men across the country enrolled in Army ROTC. There were 227 senior units that boasted of 5,025 young men entailed in the Advanced Course (Junior and Senior year of college). Of those, approximately 1,070 qualified for commissions at the end of the first year. At the same time, 116 junior units reported a total enrollment of 46,558 students. (Close to half of the junior units were affiliated with high schools with a total enrollment of 34,472.)

Those enrollment figures came from a time after World War I when Americans had begun a search for “normalcy.” Many students and parents were wondering why students were required to take military courses. In response, Secretary of War, John W. Weeks gave a speech about why ROTC was important in peacetime. He emphasized that the program assured a large supply of highly intelligent reserve officers, and how the program would improve public opinion of the Army. It also provided the young men as opportunity to fulfill their obligation for patriotic service to their nation by learning leadership and responsibility. 

Furthermore, Secretary Weeks spoke of how, historically, a small, professional, peacetime Army had repeatedly been called upon to expand into a large Army, comprised of raw recruits and volunteers, in times of war. The ROTC program would train professional leaders. That represented the realization of George Washington’s vision when he spoke to Congress in 1790. At that time, he expressed the wish that college men would have the initiative to serve as officers rather than privates. Each man would take time to prepare to serve his country.