Even before the Civil War started, the students at Notre Dame were prepared for a fight.
While military training was not compulsory at Notre Dame, a tradition of drilling can be traced to the late 1850s, when the student-organized "Continental Cadets" could be seen marching across campus and local towns in their blue-and-buff Revolutionary War-style uniforms.
In 1859, the South Bend Tribune reported:
"Our town was enlivened on Wednesday morning by a parade through the streets of the Notre Dame Continental Cadets, a military company composed of the students of the University. Their drilling, maneuvers, and marching made a fine impression and their patriotism is highly commendable."
Even the minims, the young students in the lementary school program got into the act. They were organized as the "Sorin Cadets" or "Washington Cadets." n the fall of 1859, a Notre Dame student wrote to his mother:
"A new military company was formed among the smaller boys. Party spirit ran high in electing a captain. A week before the election, the two candidates were busy electioneering. Frank Bigelow was elected by a large majority."
University of Notre Dame archival records include some financial ledgers showing expenses for the cadet uniforms. Another great source is local period newspapers, and my book will include an excerpt from a previously-unpublished (in the Notre Dame literature, anyway) article describing a terrific pre-war parade of the Continental Cadets through the streets of Mishawaka, Indiana!
What of the cadets and the Civil War? One wartime student wrote:
"Almost every member of the Continental Cadets became a real soldier in the army, and none were braver men or truer patriots. Many of them became distinguished; many more took their place in the private ranks, content so that they did their duty well. They were of the unknown, unheralded heroes; whether sick, or wounded, or dead, they were of the mighty majority who finally restored the union...Notre Dame is honored in her loyal soldier students, who showed, even to the shedding of their blood, how deeply inculcated were the lessons of patriotism which they had received from their Alma Mater."
Many of the cadets became distinguished in the war and I will post on them individually in the future.
Of course, Notre Dame has an excellent and courageous military heritage well after the Civil War and to today, which you can learn more about here:
Remember to tell your friends and family - especially Fighting Irish fans - about this blog and about Notre Dame in the Civil War: Marching Onward to Victory (The History Press, 2010)