Though for many its spiritual and historic center will always be at the old state Arsenal in Marion Square, The Citadel (171 Moultrie St., 843/953-3294, www.citadel.edu, daily 8 a.m.–6 p.m.) has been at this 300-acre site farther up the peninsula along the Ashley River since 1922 and shows no signs of leaving. Getting there is a little tricky, in that the entrance to the college is situated behind beautiful Hampton Park off Rutledge Avenue, probably the main north–south artery on the western portion of the peninsula.
The Citadel (technically its full name is The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina) has entered popular consciousness through the works of graduate Pat Conroy, especially his novel Lords of Discipline, starring a thinly disguised “Carolina Military Institute.”
Other famous Bulldog alumni include construction magnate Charles Daniel (for whom the school library is named); Ernest “Fritz” Hollings, South Carolina governor and longtime U.S. senator; and current Charleston Mayor Joe Riley.
You’ll see The Citadel’s living legacy all over Charleston in the person of the ubiquitous cadet, whose gray-and-white uniforms, ramrod posture, and impeccable manners all hearken back to the days of the Confederacy. But to best experience The Citadel, you should go to the campus itself.
There’s lots for visitors to see, including The Citadel Museum (843/953-6779, Sun.–Fri. 2–5 p.m., Sat. noon–5 p.m., free), on your right just as you enter campus; the “Citadel Murals” in the Daniel Library; “Indian Hill,” highest point in Charleston and former site of an Indian trader’s home; and the grave of U.S. General Mark Clark of World War II fame, who was Citadel president from 1954 to 1966.
Ringing vast Summerall Field—the huge open space as soon as you enter campus—are the many castle-looking cadet barracks. If you peek inside their gates, you’ll see the distinctive checkerboard pattern on which the cadets line up. All around the field itself are various military items such as a Sherman tank and an F-4 Phantom jet.
The most interesting single experience for visitors to The Citadel is the colorful Friday afternoon dress parade on Summerall Field, in which cadets pass for review in full dress uniform (the fabled “long gray line”) accompanied by a marching band and pipers. Often called “the best free show in Charleston,” the parade happens most every Friday at 3:45 p.m. during the school year; you might want to consult the website before your visit to confirm. Arrive well in advance to avoid parking problems.
The institute was born out of panic over the threat of a slave rebellion organized in 1822 by Denmark Vesey. The state legislature passed an act establishing the school to educate the strapping young men picked to protect Charleston from a slave revolt.
Citadel folks will proudly tell you they actually fired the first shots of the Civil War, when on January 9, 1861, two cadets fired from a battery on Morris Island at the U.S. steamer Star of the West to keep it from supplying Fort Sumter. After slavery stopped—and hence the school’s original raison d’être—The Citadel continued, taking its current name in 1910 and moving to the Ashley River in 1922.
While The Citadel is rightly famous for its pomp and circumstance—as well as its now-defunct no-lock “honor system,” done away with after the Virginia Tech shootings—the little-known truth is that to be one of the 2,000 or so currently enrolled Citadel Bulldogs you don’t have to go through all that, or the infamous “Hell Week” either. You can just sign up for one of their many evening graduate school programs.
© Jim Morekis from Moon Charleston & Savannah, 4th Edition