Happy 150th Alpha Tau Omega!

Before September 11 became a day of national tragedy, it was a date important to all Alpha Tau Omega members. On September 11, 1865, 150 years ago, Alpha Tau Omega was founded by three young Virginia Military Institute cadets – Otis Allan Glazebrook, Alfred Marshall, and Erskine Mayo Ross. 

Those three young men, Glazebrook, Marshall, and Ross, had been participants in another national tragedy, our Civil War. As VMI cadets, the three, along with most of their classmates, took part in the Battle of New Market.

The ages of 257 VMI cadets who fought in the battle ranged from 15 to 25, but most were like the three ATO founders, between 17 and 21 years old. Ten cadets would die in action or of their wounds. Another 45 were wounded.

This is the story of Alpha Tau Omega from its website:

Alpha Tau Omega began as an idea in the mind of a young Civil War veteran who wanted peace and reconciliation. His name was Otis Allan Glazebrook. His people were defeated, many of their cities burned, much of their countryside ravaged. But Glazebrook, who had helped bury the dead of both sides, believed in a better future. He saw the bitterness and hatred that followed the silencing of the guns and knew that a true peace would come not from force of law, but rather from with the hearts of men who were willing to work to rekindle a spirit of brotherly love.

Most people weren’t ready for sermons on brotherly love. John Wise, a classmate of Glazebrook’s at Virginia Military Institute, Lexington, Virginia, and a member of Beta Theta Pi, put it this way when he wrote of that time: ‘For four years we had been fighting. In that struggle, all we loved had been lost… in blood and flame and torture the temples of our lives were tumbling about our head… we were poor, starved, conquered, despairing; and to expect men to have no malice and no vindictiveness at such a time is to look for angels in human form.’

Glazebrook, deeply religious at age 19, believed that younger men like himself might be more willing to accept, forgive, and reunite with the Northern counterparts if motivated by Christian, brotherly love. But he needed an organization, a means of gathering and organizing like-minded people. That was why a letter caught his attention. As cadet adjunct for the VMI Cadet Corps, Glazebrook routinely handled mail addressed to the Institute’s Superintendent, General Francis H. Smith. One such letter came from an official of a leading northern fraternity who wanted help in reviving his southern chapters. (The South lost all 142 of its fraternity chapters during the war, and it was only with great effort that they were revived and expanded.) Fascinated, Glazebrook asked Gen. Smith about fraternities. As Gen. Smith explained what they were, Glazebrook knew he had found his organization.

Glazebrook invited Marshall and Ross to his home at 114 East Clay Street in Richmond, Virginia, on September 11, 1865. He read them the Constitution he wrote and then invited his friends to sign it. In doing so, Alpha Tau Omega Fraternity was founded making it the first fraternity created after the Civil War.

Otis Allan Glazebrook (Photo courtesy of VMI Archives)
Otis Allan Glazebrook (Photo courtesy of VMI Archives)

As a VMI cadet, Otis Allan Glazebrook served as a Corporal of Company D. He graduated first in the Class of 1866. Although he had an interest in the law, he enrolled in the Protestant Episcopal Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Virginia. Glazebrook was ordained in 1869.

He was a personal friend of President Woodrow Wilson, a Phi Kappa Psi. In 1914, after a career as a pastor, Glazebrook was appointed as the U.S. Consul to Jerusalem and shortly thereafter he became responsible for the the interests of eight nations in the Holy Land. In 1920, he was sent to Nice, France, and served as U.S. Consul there until his retirement in 1929. He died in 1931.

Erskine Mayo Ross served in Company A as a 1st (orderly) sergeant. He had a long and distinguished career as a lawyer and judge. When he retired from his post as a member of the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Judicial District, President Calvin Coolidge commented on Ross’ service. The President, a Phi Gamma Delta, noted Ross had a “record which will long stand as a memorial to a just and fearless and able judge.” Ross died in 1928.

Both Glazebrook and Ross were involved as alumni of Alpha Tau Omega. Alfred Marshall never had that chance. As a VMI cadet, Marshall served as a Corporal  in Company D. After graduation he began his career as a civil engineer. He died of yellow fever on September 22, 1870 while working in Mobile, Alabama.

A few other early initiates of ATO were also veterans of the Battle of New Market. These include the first initiate, John Garland James, as well as Archibald Waller Overton and Hardaway Hunt Dinwiddie.

The Battle of New Market painting which hangs in the Alpha Tau Omega headquarters in Indianapolis.

The Battle of New Market painting which hangs in the Alpha Tau Omega headquarters in Indianapolis.

At ATO’s 150th celebration held in early August, ATO’s National Chaplain, Rev. Comforted Keen, spoke about the cadets, their spirituality, and the Battle of New Market. It was a powerful and moving talk about the lives of those three young men on the battlefield and how their lives intersected with the lives of the young men in the audience.

Rev. Comforted Keen, ATOs National Chaplain, speaking at the 2015 ATO Congress.

Rev. Comforted Keen, ATOs National Chaplain, speaking at the 2015 ATO Congress.


This came across my twitter feed this morning – http://bit.ly/1Lk3pOG. Norrine Ward, is the mother of Curtis, a 1979 graduate of the chapter, and grandmother of Sean, a Sigma Chi from the class of 2018. What a wonderful gesture on the part of the University of Utah Sigma Chi chapter. 

© Fran Becque, www.fraternityhistory.com, 2015. All rights reserved. If  you enjoyed this post, please sign up for updates. Also follow me on twitter @GLOHistory and Pinterest www.pinterest.com/glohistory/

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