One hundred and fifty years ago in Arkansas, Confederate and Federal armies continued their plotting the ultimate destruction of each’s enemy. Among the most important aspect of maintaining an efficient army was to ensure proper military drill and unit cohesiveness; the two are related. Very similarly to the 1861 militia parades and drill ceremonies for the various early Confederate units to muster in Arkansas at St. John’s College parade grounds, March 1863 was a proverbial renaissance in rekindling an esprit de corps.
According to a March 25, 1863 edition of the Arkansas True Democrat, two of General McRae’s regiments faced off in a drill competition at St. John’s College: “ The ground selected was in front of St. John’s College, and the drill was witnessed by thousands of soldiers and hundreds of our citizens and fair citizenesses. It was a spirited and exciting affair, reflecting credit on all concerned. We do not know enough of military tactics to describe the several manoeuvures [sic] or evolutions.”
The editorial continued, “The men moved with regularity, and every man and officer seemed to understand each order as soon as given. Each regiment drilled for half an hour or longer at a time, and went through all the most intricate evolutions. Men and officers seemed to be enthusiastic, eager and confident, and each vied with the other in acquitting himself creditably. To the unmilitary looker on both regiments appeared to be equally intelligent and under command...”
Unit cohesiveness proves paramount in a commander holding his regiments together in battle. As will be seen in another three months, these well-drilled men in McRae’s division will be tested in strength and endurance. The editorial concluded,
“Another gratifying feature of the occasion was the appearance of the soldiers. They were, generally, well and cleanly clad, were in good spirits, trod firmly and lightly, and bore themselves proudly. We congratulate Gen. McRae on the development of the esprit du corps in his brigade, and we are told the same spirit pervades the whole army here.”