History of the English High School Cadets

Today, The English High School has the second largest JROTC cadet participation in the City of Boston. Learn how the roots of this corps date back to Civil War days.

by Stephen M. Berkowitz ’60

English High Cadet in the late 1800’s

Things were not going well for the union in the early stages of the American Civil War. Due to poor training and even worse leadership the north was losing the majority of the battles which culminated in the Battle of Fredericksburg with the union suffering 12,650 casualties within twenty minutes! Fear of southern invasion and the creation of a last line of defense might have been beneficial byproducts of the establishment of the Boston School Boy Cadets; however, most experts agree that military drill has its roots originating in Physical Educational instruction.

In addition to elevating the body’s health, proponents also believed it to elevate the will and discipline needed for success in any endeavor. For all these reasons and more, military training become part Boston’s high school curriculum. The first two schools, to implement the training, were also the last to disband: The English High School of Boston and Boston Latin School.

Cadets wore union uniforms, drilled with real rifles and bayonets and learned the latest military tactics and theory. It should be noted that participation was mandatory no exceptions! In the days of antebellum, upon graduation cadets who were officers were given the opportunity enter the union army as second lieutenants and served with distinction becoming part of the GAR…The Grand Army of the Republic!

The introduction of military drill was so successful that eventually, all the Boston public high schools adopted this instruction. Each cadet wore war uniforms (see photo) and appropriate identification patches sewn on one’s shoulders with suitable chevrons and officers bars according to one’s rankings.

Towards the end of the school year, each company would hold competitive maneuvers known as Prize Drill, with the winning companies awarded a distinctive patch to wear on their sleeve.

Just before graduation, each school competed in a city-wide parade, the Boston School Boy Parade, along the entire length of downtown Boston with a prize awarded to the best high school, band, and drum and bugle corps. During graduation, all seniors who were officers were awarded a second diploma which denoted their rank.

The last School Boy Cadets Parade was on May 24, 1960, due to lack of interest and funding. Military drill was eliminated in 1965, as news from the Vietnam War spread across the country via newspaper front pages and top stories on the TV news. This was exactly one hundred years after Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox. While it remained as an elective in most schools until 1971, the public demanded change and its removal. After Kent State, even the two schools in which the drill programs began, had no choice either




The EHS Cadet Corps Today

Today, military instruction has resumed on the high school level in the form of Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (JROTC). This is a voluntary program for both boys and girls to receive basic military training and theory.

English High School has the second largest JROTC cadet participation in the City of Boston. A majority of cadets become motivated to be successful academically due to program structure, experience and character of the instructors. Cadets incorporate into their way of life success skills such as setting goals, developing good study habits, overcoming fear of failure and learning how to make decisions and solve problems.

​Cadets wear modern service uniforms and upon graduation, are better prepared to transition into the military or upon entering college, enroll in ROTC. They represent and display EHS’ Esprit de corps. And like so many EHS graduates before them, they proudly march in Boston’s holiday parades, just as I did, so many years ago.

Leave a Reply