As we approach Founders Day, it is important to highlight the product of a generally forgotten initiative undertaken by Ohio Northern University founder Henry Lehr: The ONU Department of the military. A collected history of the department completed in 2007 by Paul M. Logsdon, pulling mostly from memoirs left behind by Mr. Lehr, contains a wealth of stories from the department. From this work I want to highlight two Class of 1916 Alumni that served as instructors in the original ONU Military Department, SGT Mason Burrage and CPL Charles “C.C.” Cannon. Born in Phoenixville, PA one year apart, their early lives were both forged by the fires of the civil war. Having been shaped for war under the tutelage of the famed Ordnance Major Theodore T. S. Laidley, they both served in the Ordnance Corps fighting for the Union until the end of the war. Little is known about the specifics of their service record, but the US government found them fit to train future officer corps. Beginning in 1903, they were both tasked with assisting in the training of young cadets going through ONU’s Military Department. Like many students do to their instructors, the stories from cadets trained during their tenure at ONU made no qualms about discussing the personalities and habits of these two ordnance instructors. Despite their similar birthplaces, birth years, job training, and service record, a clear picture of the two service members can be painted based on the various stories available.

SGT Burrage was known as a straight-shooter that made no attempt to treat the cadets differently than he would’ve treated the service members during the Civil War. As he understood it, the earlier they understood the life of a service member the better prepared they would be to lead troops in battle. He was always forward-facing, making sure that the young soon-to-be officers were never complacent on or off the battlefield. That being said, there is evidence that he would allow his iron-like exterior to crack at times when the cadets would convince him to participate in small pranks around campus. One story goes that SGT Burrage and the cadets hid out in one of the chapels overnight and gave the church-goers an Army surprise when they strolled in that sunday morning.

Where SGT Burrage was reserved and focused, CPL Cannon was explosive and energetic. Dubbed “C.C.” by the cadets (only outside of his earshot, for fear of his wrath), he seems to have acted almost like a modern drill sergeant. Constantly policing the cadets on small details, using threat of physical punishment and a booming voice to ensure the cadets were always up to standard in every task. No infraction ever escaped his eagle-eye, nor did the offending cadet ever escape his rather creative corrections. One day this type of discipline went a bit too far, and a cadet was injured. While saluting then-governor of Ohio James Cox, a cadet performed his part in the ceremony incorrectly. CPL Cannon blew up in his face. Later that semester the university decided to remove both CPL Cannon and SGT Burrage from their instructor staff. After some time had passed, both service members were contacted by ONU Alumnus and then-sitting Congressman Frank Willis. He had heard news of their removal, but had also heard from his friends and constituents that the two had served the university’s cadets at the highest standard during their tenure. Rep. Willis and the class of 1916 intervened, having the two service members each inducted into their class as an “honorary alum” that year.

Both service members held the line for the union with no hesitation, and viewed their time as instructors at ONU with the same seriousness as their work on the battlefield. Students and faculty today rarely stop to consider the role that Ohio Northern played in staffing the Army Officer Corp during the 20th Century, but we cannot forget this proud portion of our history. Both service members are shown below. If you see them around campus, please stop and give them a quick “thank you” for their service to this nation and this university.

Photos of SGT Mason Burrage and CPL Charles “C.C.” Cannon

(Northern Review/Nick Williams)

Leave a Reply