The 76 years between the United States' signature military conflicts — the Civil War and World War II — proved vital as far as resurrecting The Citadel and its coming of age as the institution people would recognize today.

And it almost didn't happen, given the headwinds of political antagonism, dire poverty, as well as hurricanes, an earthquake and fire.

The school's alumni began pushing for the school to be revived in 1877.

A year later, its Board of Visitors was reconstituted to regain possession of The Citadel's former property at the northern edge of Marion Square. The school itself had remained closed ever since the state's governor furloughed its cadets after the war in 1865.

But the board's only job was to tend to the buildings and grounds. Gov. Wade Hampton appointed Johnson Hagood as chair. Both served as Confederate generals.

It wasn't until January 1882 that the Legislature would vote to reopen the school. It passed by one vote, a senator who had graduated from the University of South Carolina broke the tie, said Steven Smith, The Citadel's historian. By then, Hagood was serving as governor.

When it reopened that October, 189 cadets reported.

"It was a motley group of 185 young men who assembled in the quadrangle on Oct. 2, 1882," according to Col. O.L. Bond's "The Story of The Citadel."

"They ranged in years from 16 to 20, and their dress varied from the jeans of the country boy to the Prince Albert coat of the sophisticated young man about town."

"There are no stands of arms to guard at this point," Smith said, unlike the antebellum days.

But the school still had students on two tracks: cadets who paid tuition and "beneficiary cadets" who would repay their education by teaching for two years in the state.

Just a few years later, The Citadel would be rocked by what could be considered the greatest natural disaster in Charleston's history: the 1886 earthquake, the largest ever to strike the East Coast and one whose tremors reverberated from New York to Cuba.

Relative to other buildings, The Citadel could be considered to have gotten off easy. Its main loss included sections of its signature crenelations. Other walls and buildings across the city crumbled to the ground.

But the earthquake might have caused a problem that would bite the school much more fiercely a few years later.

In 1892, a major fire broke out, possibly from a cinder that had slipped through a crack in a chimney caused by the quake. Whatever the cause, the fire did far more damage to the school. A photograph of the day shows a crowd gathered around Marion Square watching flames lapping out of most every window.

Cadets heard reveille that morning in their barracks. They heard taps that night in the former Roper Hospital buildings on Queen Street, which were vacated after the 1886 quake but still suitable for their use. 

There was some drama about whether the state would help The Citadel pursue its insurance claim, which was carried in the name of the governor. Gov. Ben Tillman harbored no fondness for Charleston or The Citadel and instead was helping create his main legacy, Clemson College, at the other end of the state, which originally had its own corps of cadets.

Smith said Tillman did ultimately sign off, and the damage was repaired. Its focus continued to shift more toward academics.

In 1900, the Legislature allowed the Board of Visitors to grant Bachelor of Science degrees. In 1910, its name was changed from the South Carolina Military Academy to the Military College of South Carolina.

Smith said the name change was made "for purely academic reasons," specifically to give its graduates more cache as they applied to graduate schools elsewhere (as "college" sounded more advanced than "academy," which often refers to high schools). Also that year, the school was given authority to award degrees in civil engineering.

After the United States entered World War I in 1917, all members of The Citadel's Classes of 1917 and 1918 entered military service. More than 300 graduates served in the war, 277 of them as commissioned officers. Nine died and 17 were wounded.

Meanwhile, shortly after the war ended, the school was feeling growing pains.

The school had begun as a two-story quadrangular fortress in 1830. By 1850, a third story was added, followed by two wings in 1854. In 1908, a fourth story was added and an extension built toward Meeting Street.

In 1912, the school had maxed out its development potential to accommodate a cadet corps of 325 students.

Recognizing this, the city offered the school 176 acres along the Ashley River, property once located just east of the city's famous antebellum horse race track, which eventually became a Confederate prison and then site of the city's 1901 Charleston Exposition.

The Citadel planned its move, and more than 5,000 people reportedly showed up on Thanksgiving Day 1920 to watch the cornerstone set in place.

Bond's history describes this as "the most remarkable period in the history of the institution, the building of the Greater Citadel, an accomplishment, in the short space of a dozen years, of an expansion and growth undreamed of by the most sanguine of its friends."

The new campus, done by 1922, and the school's enrollment average reached almost 400 (the school's new dormitory capacity was 430) during the next five years. It then grew to 722 by 1928, made possible by the opening of the Andrew B. Murray Barracks. The original campus, now referred to as "the Old Citadel," continued to house professors, married officers and their families and bachelor officers.

In the fall of 1930, just after the Stock Market crash, Gen. Charles P. Summerall ended his four years of service as the Army Chief of Staff and became the Citadel's new president.

He would lead the school during the Great Depression, welcoming the Works Progress Administration help to develop the campus, adding LeTellier Hall and the Summerall Chapel, Law Barracks and the McAlister Field House.

But that building boom contrasted with strict belt-tightening moves.

"If you needed a new pencil, you had to bring the pencil nub and turn it in," Smith said. "Every other light bulb was taken out."

As the next decade would dawn, World War II would arrive, giving the school, its corps of cadets and alumni yet another challenge.

Reach Robert Behre at 843-937-5771. Follow him on Twitter @RobertFBehre.