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Henry Ossian Flipper, The Colored Cadet at West Point.
Autobiography of Lieut. Henry Ossian Flipper, U.S.A., First
Graduate of Color from the U.S. Military Academy
The Faculty of Atlanta University, Atlanta, Ga.,
THE PRESIDENT IN PARTICULAR,
TO WHOSE CAREFUL
MENTAL AND MORAL TRAINING OF MYSELF IS DUE ALL
MY SUCCESS AT THE MILITARY ACADEMY
AT WEST POINT, N. Y.,
I AFFECTIONATELY DEDICATE THIS VOLUME,
AS IN SOME SORT
A TOKEN OF THAT HEARTFELT GRATITUDE WHICH
I SO DEEPLY FEEL, BUT CAN SO
RETROSPECT, . . . . . . . . . . 7
COMMUNICATIONS, ETC., . . . . . 17
REPORTING, . . . . . . . . . . .29
CANT TERMS, . . . . . . . . . . 49
PLEBE CAMP, . . . . . . . . . . 57
STUDIES, ETC., . . . . . . . . .73
YEARLING CAMP, . . . . . . . . 102
FIRST CLASS CAMP, . . . . . . .108
OUR FUTURE HEROES, . . . . . . 114
TREATMENT, . . . . . . . . . . 117
RESUME, . . . . . . . . . . . .166
PLEASURES AND PRIVILEGES, . . .187
FURLOUGH, . . . . . . . . . . .203
INCIDENT, HUMOR, ETC., . . . . 207
GRADUATION--IN THE ARMY, . . . 238
SMITH AT WEST POINT, . . . . . 288
THE following pages were written by request. They
claim to give an accurate and impartial narrative
of my four years' life while a cadet at West Point,
as well as a general idea of the institution there.
They are almost an exact transcription of notes
taken at various times during those four years.
Any inconsistencies, real or apparent, in my
opinions or in the impressions made upon me, are
due to the fact that they were made at different
times at a place where the feelings of all were
constantly undergoing material change.
They do not pretend to merit. Neither are they
written for the purpose of criticising the Military
Academy or those in any way connected with it.
My "notes" have been seen and read. If I please
those who requested me to publish them I shall be
content, as I have no other object in putting them
before the public.
H. O. F.
FORT SILL, INDIAN TER., 1878.
THE COLORED CADET
HENRY OSSIAN FLIPPER, the eldest of five brothers,
and the subject of this narrative, was born in
Thomasville, Thomas County, Georgia, on the 21st
day of March, 1856. He and his mother were the
property (?) of Rev. Reuben H. Lucky, a Methodist
minister of that place. His father, Festus Flipper,
by trade a shoemaker and carriage-trimmer, was
owned by Ephraim G. Ponder, a successful and
In 1859 Mr. Ponder, having retired from business,
returned to Georgia from Virginia with a number of
mechanics, all slaves,and among whom was the father
of young Flipper. He established a number of
manufactories in Atlanta, then a growing inland town
of Georgia. He married about this time a beautiful,
accomplished, and wealthy lady. "Flipper," as he was
generally called,had married before this, and had
been taken back alone to his native Virginia to serve
an apprenticeship under a carriage-trimmer. This
served, Mr. Ponder joined his wife in Thomasville,
bringing with him, as stated, a number of mechanics.
All were soon ready for transportation to Atlanta
except "Flipper." As he and his wife were each the
property (?) of different persons, there was, under
the circumstances, every probability of a separation.
This, of course, would be to them most displeasing.
Accordingly an application was made to Mr. Ponder
to purchase the wife and son. This he was, he said,
unable to do. He had, at an enormous expense,
procured and fitted up a home, and his coffers were
nearly, if not quite, empty. Husband and wife then
appealed to Mr. Lucky. He, too, was averse to parting
them, but could not, at the great price asked for him,
purchase the husband. He was willing however, to sell
the wife. An agreement was finally made by which the
husband paid from his own pocket the purchase-money
of his own wife and child, this sum to be returned
to him by Mr. Ponder whenever convenient. The joy
of the wife can be conceived. It can not be expressed.
In due time all arrived at Atlanta, where Mr. Ponder
had purchased about twenty-five acres of land and had
erected thereon, at great expense, a superb mansion
for his own family, a number of substantial frame
dwellings for his slaves, and three large buildings
for manufacturing purposes.
Of sixty-five slaves nearly all of the men were
mechanics. All of them except the necessary household
servants, a gardener, and a coachman, were permitted
to hire their own time. Mr. Ponder would have
absolutely nothing to do with their business other
than to protect them. So that if any one wanted any
article of their manufacture they contracted with
the workman and paid him his own price. These bond
people were therefore virtually free. They acquired
and accumulated wealth, lived happily, and needed
but two other things to make them like other human
beings, viz., absolute freedom and education. But
"God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform."
And through that very mysteriousness this people
was destined to attain to the higher enjoyment of
life. The country, trembling under the agitation
of the slave question, was steadily seeking a
condition of equilibrium which could be stable
only in the complete downfall of slavery. Unknown
to them, yet existing, the great question of the
day was gradually being solved; and in its solution
was working out the salvation of an enslaved people.
Well did that noblest of women, Mrs. Julia Ward
Howe, sing a few years after:
"Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the
He is tramping out the vintage where the grapes of
wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible
This truth is marching on.
"I have seen him in the watch-fires of a hundred
They have builded him an altar in the evening dews
I can read his righteous sentence by the dim and
His day is marching on.
"I have read a fiery gospel, writ in burnished rows
'As ye deal with my contemners, so with you my grace
Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with
Since God is marching on.'
"He hath sounded forth the trumpet that shall never
He is sifting out the hearts of men before his
Oh! be swift my soul to answer him! be jubilant my
Our God is marching on.
"In the beauty of the lilies, Christ was born across
With a glory in his bosom that transfigures you
As he died to make men holy, let us die to make men
While God is marching on."
Another influence was as steadily tending to the
same end. Its object was to educate, to elevate
intellectually, and then to let the power thus
The mistress of this fortunate household, far from
discharging the duties and functions of her station,
left them unnoticed, and devoted her whole attention
to illegitimate pleasures. The outraged husband
appointed a guardian and returned broken-hearted to
the bosom of his own family, and devoted himself
till death to agricultural pursuits.
The nature of the marriage contract prevented the
selling of any of the property without the mutual
consent of husband and wife. No such consent was
ever asked for by either. No one was, therefore,
in that state of affairs, afraid of being sold away
from his or her relatives, although their mistress
frequently threatened so to sell them. "I'll send
you to Red River," was a common menace of hers, but
perfectly harmless, for all knew, as well as she
did, that it was impossible to carry it into
In this condition of affairs the "servants" were
even more contented than ever. They hired their
time, as usual, and paid their wages to their
mistress, whose only thought or care was to
remember when it became due, and then to receive it.
The guardian, an influential stockholder in several
railroads, and who resided in another city, made
periodical visits to inspect and do whatever was
necessary to a proper discharge of his duties.
Circumstances being highly favorable, one of the
mechanics, who had acquired the rudiments of an
education, applied to this dissolute mistress for
permission to teach the children of her "servants."
She readily consented, and, accordingly, a night-
School was opened in the very woodshop in which
he worked by day. Here young Flipper was initiated
into the first of the three mysterious R's, viz.,
"reading 'riting and 'rithmetic." Here, in 1864,
at eight years of age, his education began. And
the first book he ever studied--I dare say ever
saw--was a confederate reprint of Webster's
"Blueback Speller." His then tutor has since
graduated at Westminster College in Pennsylvania,
and is, at the time of this writing, United States
Consul at Malaga, Spain, having served in the same
capacity for four years at Port Mahon, Spain.
But alas! even this happy arrangement was destined
to be disturbed. This dissolute mistress and her
slaves, with all valuable movable property, were
compelled to flee before Sherman's victorious
arms. Macon, a city just one hundred and three
miles south-east of Atlanta, became the new home
of the Flippers. A spacious dwelling was secured
in West Macon. In a part of this was stored away
Mrs. Ponder's plate and furniture, under the
guardianship of Flipper, who with his family
occupied the rest of the house. Here all was safe.
The terrible fate of Atlanta was not extended to
Macon. The only cause of alarm was Wilson, who
approached the city from the east, and, having
thrown in a few shells, withdrew without doing
further damage or being molested. Every body was
frightened, and it was deemed advisable to transfer
Mrs. Ponder's effects to Fort Valley, a small
place farther south. However, before this could be
done, it became indisputably known that Wilson had
After an uneventful stay--other than this incident
just related--of nine months in Macon, the office
of custodian was resigned, and although yet a
slave, as far as he knew, and without permission
from any one, Flipper returned to Atlanta with his
wife and two sons, Henry, the elder, and Joseph,
the younger. This was in the spring of 1865. Atlanta
was in ruins, and it appeared a dreary place indeed
to start anew on the unfinished journey of life.
Every thing was not destroyed, however. A few houses
remained. One of these was occupied. The people were
rapidly returning, and the railroads from Atlanta
were rapidly being rebuilt.
During all this time the education of the young
Flippers had been necessarily neglected. In the
early spring of 1865, the family of an ex-rebel
captain became neighbors of the Flippers, now
well to do, and were soon on the most, friendly
terms with them. With remarkable condescension
the wife of this ex-rebel offered to instruct
Henry and Joseph for a small remuneration. The
Offer was readily and gladly accepted, and the
education of the two, so long neglected, was
taken up again. This private school of only two
pupils existed but a short time. The American
Missionary Association having opened better
schools, the Flippers were, in March, 1866,
transferred to them. They attended school there
till in 1867 the famous Storrs' School was opened
under the control of the American Missionary
Association, when they went there. In 1869, the
Atlanta University having been opened under the
same auspices, they entered there. At the time of
receiving his appointment Henry was a member of
the freshman class of the collegiate department.
His class graduated there in June, 1876, just one
year before he did at West Point.
The following article from a Thomasville paper,
published in June, 1874, will give further
information concerning his early life:
"'It is not generally known that Atlanta has a negro
cadet at the United States National Military Academy
at West Point. This cadet is a mulatto boy named
Flipper. He is about twenty years old, a stoutish
fellow, weighing perhaps one hundred and fifty
pounds, and a smart, bright, intelligent boy. His
father is a shoemaker, and gave him the euphonious
name of Henry Ossian Flipper.
"'Flipper has been at the great soldier factory of
the nation for a year. He was recommended there by
our late Congressman from the Fifth District, the
Hon. J. C. Freeman. Flipper has made a right booming
student. In a class of ninety-nine he stood about
the middle, and triumphantly passed his examination,
and has risen from the fourth to the third class
"'The only two colored boys at the Academy were the
famous Smith and the Atlanta Flipper. It is thought
that Smith at the last examination failed. If so,
Atlanta will have the distinguished honor of having
the sole African representative at West Point.
"'Flipper has had the privilege of eating at the
same table with the poor white trash; but Smith
and Flipper bunked together in the same room alone,
without white companions.
"'It is an astonishing fact that, socially, the
boys from the Northern and Western States will
have nothing to do with these colored brothers.
Flipper and Smith were socially ostracized. Not
even the Massachusetts boys will associate with
them. Smith has been a little rebellious, and
attempted to thrust himself on the white boys;
but the sensible Flipper accepted the situation,
and proudly refused to intrude himself on the
"'The feeling of ostracism is so strong that a
white boy who dared to recognize a colored cadet
would be himself ostracized by the other white
cubs, even of radical extraction.'
"We copy the above from the Atlanta Herald of last
week, for the purpose of remarking that among
colored men we know of none more honorable or more
deserving than Flipper, the father of the colored
West Point student of that name. Flipper lived for
many years in Thomasville as the servant of Mr. E.
G. Ponder--was the best bootmaker we ever knew, and
his character and deportment were ever those of a
sensible, unassuming, gentlemanly white man. Flipper
possessed the confidence and respect of his master
and all who knew him. His wife, the mother of young
Flipper, was Isabella, a servant in the family of
Rev. R. H. Lucky, of Thomasville, and bore a character
equal to that of her husband. Young Flipper was
baptized in his infancy by the venerable Bishop Early.
From these antecedents we should as soon expect young
Flipper to make his mark as any other colored youth
in the country."
(From the Louisville Ledger.)
"It is just possible that some of our readers may
not know who Flipper is. For their benefit we make
haste to explain that Flipper is the solitary
colored cadet now at West Point. He is in the
third class, and stands forty-six in the class,
which numbers eighty- five members. This is a
very fair standing, and Flipper's friends declare
that he is getting along finely in his studies,
and that he is quite up to the standard of the
average West Point student. Nevertheless they
intimate that he will never graduate. Flipper, they
say, may get as far as the first class, but there
he will be 'slaughtered.'
"A correspondent of the New York Times takes issue
with this opinion. He says there are many 'old
heads' who believe Flipper will graduate with honor,
and he thinks so too. The grounds for his belief,
as he gives them, are that the officers are
gentlemen, and so are the professors; that they
believe merit should be rewarded wherever found;
and that they all speak well of Flipper, who is a
hard student, as his position in his class proves.
From this correspondent we learn that Flipper is
from Georgia; that he has a light, coffee-colored
complexion, and that he 'minds his business and
does not intrude his company upon the other cadets,'
though why this should be put down in the list of
his merits it is not easy to understand, since, if
he graduates, as this writer believes he will, he
will have the right to associate on terms of perfect
equality with the other cadets, and may in time come
to command some of them. We are afraid there is some
little muddle of inconsistency in the brain of the
"The Chicago Tribune seems to find it difficult to
come to any conclusion concerning Flipper's chances
for graduating. It says: 'It is freely asserted that
Flipper will never be allowed to graduate; that the
prejudice of the regular army instructors against
the colored race is insurmountable, and that they
will drive away from the Academy by persecution of
some petty sort any colored boy who may obtain
admittance there. The story does not seem to have any
substantial basis; still, it possesses considerable
"We don't profess to understand exactly what sort
of a story that is which has 'considerable vitality'
without any substantial basis, and can only conclude
that the darkness of the subject has engendered a
little confusion in the mind of the Tribune as well
as in that of the writer of the Times. But the Tribune
acquires more confidence as it warms in the discussion,
and it assures us finally that 'there is, of course,
no doubt that some colored boys are capable of
receiving a military education; and eventually the
presence of colored officers in the regular army
must be an accepted fact.' Well, we don't know about
that 'accepted fact.' The white man is mighty uncertain,
and the nigger won't do to trust to, in view of which
truths it would be unwise to bet too high on the
'colored officers,' for some years to come at least.
"But let not Flipper wring his flippers in despair,
notwithstanding. Let him think of Smith, and take
heart of hope. Smith was another colored cadet who
was sent to West Point from South Carolina. Smith
mastered readin', 'ritin', and 'rithmetic, but
chemistry mastered Smith.* They gave him three trials,
but it was to no purpose ; so they had to change his
base and send him back to South Carolina. But what
of that? They've just made him inspector of militia
in South Carolina, with the rank of brigadier-general.
How long might he have remained in the army before
he would have become 'General Smith?' Why, even Fred
Grant's only a lieutenant-colonel. Smith evidently
has reason to congratulate himself upon being
'plucked;' and so the young gentleman from Georgia,
with the 'light, coffee-colored complexion,' if he
meets with a similar misfortune, may console himself
with the hope that to him also in his extremity will
be extended from some source a helping flipper."
*Cadet Smith failed in Natural and Experimental
Philosophy. In Chemistry he was up to the average.
He was never appointed Inspector-General of South
Carolina. He was Commandant of Cadets in the South
Carolina Agricultural Institute at Orangeburg, S. C.,
Which position he held till his death November 29th,
HAVING given in the previous chapter a brief account
of myself--dropping now, by permission, the third
person--prior to my appointment, I shall here give
in full what led me to seek that appointment, and
how I obtained it. It was while sitting "in his
father's quiet shoeshop on Decatur Street"--as a
local paper had it--that I overheard a conversation
concerning the then cadet from my own district. In
the course of the conversation I learned that this
cadet was to graduate the following June; and that
therefore a vacancy would occur. This was in
the autumn of 1872, and before the election. It
occurred to me that I might fill that vacancy,
and I accordingly determined to make an endeavor
to do so, provided the Republican nominee for
Congress should be elected. He was elected. I
applied for and obtained the appointment. In
1865 or 1866--I do not now remember which:
perhaps it was even later than either--it was
suggested to my father to send me to West Point.
He was unwilling to do so, and, not knowing very
much about the place, was reluctant to make any
inquiries. I was then of course too young for
admission, being only ten or twelve years old;
and knowing nothing of the place myself, I did
not care to venture the attempt to become a
At the time I obtained the appointment I had quite
forgotten this early recommendation of my father's
friend; indeed, I did not recall it until I began
compiling my manuscript.
The suggestion given me by the conversation above
mentioned was at once acted upon, and decision
made in a very short time; and so fully was I
determined, so absolutely was my mind set on
West Point, that I persisted in my desire even
to getting the appointment, staying at the Academy
four years, and finally graduating. The following
communications will explain how I got the
*It has been impossible for the author to obtain
copies of his own letters to the Hon. Congressman
who appointed him, which is to be regretted. The
replies are inserted in such order that they will
readily suggest the tenor of the first
Reply No. 1
GRIFFIN, January 23,1873.
MR. H. O. FLIPPER.
DEAR SIR: Your letter of the 21st, asking me, as
member-elect to Congress from this State, to appoint
you cadet to West Point, was received this morning.
You are a stranger to me, and before I can comply
with your request you must get your teacher, Mr.
James L. Dunning, P.M., Colonel H. P. Fanorr, and
other Republicans to indorse for you. Give me
assurance you are worthy and well qualified and I
will recommend you.
J. C. FREEMAN.
Reply No. 2.
GRIFFIN, March 22, 1873.
MR. H. O. FLIPPER.
DEAR SIR: On my arrival from Washington I found
your letter of the 19th. I have received an
invitation from the War Department to appoint,
or nominate, a legally qualified cadet to the
United States Military Academy from my district.
As you were the first applicant, I am disposed
to give you the first chance; but the requirements
are rigid and strict, and I think you had best
come down and see them. If after reading them you
think you can undergo the examination without
doubt, I will nominate you. But I do not want my
nominee to fail to get in.
Yours very respectfully,
J. C. FREEMAN.
Reply No. 3.
GRIFFIN, GA., March 26, 1873.
MR. H. O. FLIPPER.
DEAR SIR: Your letter of the 24th to hand, and
contents noted. While your education may be
sufficient, it requires many other qualifications
--such as age, height, form, etc.; soundness of
lungs, limbs, etc. I will send you up the
requirements, if you desire them, and call upon
three competent gentlemen to examine you, if
you desire it. Let me hear from you again on the
J. C. FREEMAN.
Reply No. 4.
GRIFFIN, March 28, 1873.
MR. H. O. FLIPPER.
DEAR SIR: Yours of 26th at hand. I have concluded
to send the paper sent me to J. A. Holtzclaw, of
Atlanta, present Collector of Internal Revenue.
You can call on him and examine for yourself. If
you then think you can pass, I will designate
three men to examine you, and if they pronounce
you up to the requirements I will appoint you.
J. C. FREEMAN.
Reply No. 5.
GRIFFIN, April 5, 1873.
MR. H. O. FLIPPER.
DEAR SIR: The board of examiners pronounce you
qualified to enter the Military Academy at West
Point. You will oblige me by sending me your
given name in full, also your age to a month,
and the length of time you have lived in the
Fifth District, or in or near Atlanta. I will
appoint you, and send on the papers to the
Secretary of War, who will notify you of the
same. From this letter to me you will have to
be at West Point by the 25th day of May, 1873.
J. C. FREEMAN.
P.S.--You can send letter to me without a stamp.
Reply No. 6.
GRIFFIN, April 17, 1873.
MR. HENRY O. FLIPPER.
DEAR SIR: I this day inclose you papers from
the War Department. You can carefully read and
then make up your mind whether you accept the
position assigned you. If you should sign up,
direct and forward to proper authorities,
Washington, D. C. If you do not accept, return
the paper to my address, Griffin, Ga.
I am yours very respectfully,
J. C. FREEMAN.
The papers, three in number, referred
to in the above letter, are the following:
WASHINGTON, April 11, 1873.
SIR: You are hereby informed that the President
has conditionally selected you for appointment
as a Cadet of the United States Military Academy
at West Point.
Should you desire the appointment, you will
report in person to the Superintendent of the
Academy between the 20th and 25th days of May,
1873, when, if found on due examination to
possess the qualifications required by law and
set forth in the circular hereunto appended,
you will be admitted, with pay from July 1st,
1873, to serve until the following January, at
which time you will be examined before the
Academic Board of the Academy. Should the
result of this examination be favorable, and
the reports of your personal, military, and
moral deportment be satisfactory, your warrant
of appointment, to be dated July 1st, 1873, will
be delivered to you; but should the result of
your examination, or your conduct reports be
unfavorable, you will be discharged from the
military service, unless otherwise recommended,
for special reasons, by the Academic Board, but
will receive an allowance for travelling expenses
to your home.
Your attention is particularly directed to the
accompanying circular, and it is to be distinctly
understood that this notification confers upon
you no right to enter the Military Academy unless
your qualifications agree fully with its
requirements, and unless you report for examination
within the time specified.
You are requested to immediately inform
the Department of your acceptance or declination
of the contemplated appointment upon the conditions
GEO. M. ROBESON,
Acting Secretary of War.
HENRY O. FLIPPER, Atlanta, Georgia.
Through Hon. J. C. FREEMAN, M.C.
I. Candidates must be actual bona fide residents of
the Congressional district or Territory for which
their appointments are made, and must be over
seventeen and under twenty-two years of age at
the time of entrance into the Military Academy;
but any person who has served honorably and
faithfully not less than one year as an officer
or enlisted man in the army of the United States,
either as a Volunteer, or in the Regular service,
during the war for the suppression of the
rebellion, shall be eligible for appointment up
to the age of twenty-four years. They must be at
least five feet in height, and free from any
infectious or immoral disorder, and, generally,
from any deformity, disease, or infirmity which
may render them unfit for arduous military service.
They must be proficient in Reading and Writing; in
the elements of English Grammar; in Descriptive
Geography, particularly of our own country, and in
the History of the United States.
In Arithmetic, the various operations in addition,
subtraction, multiplication, and division, reduction,
simple and compound proportion, and vulgar and
decimal fractions, must be thoroughly understood
and readily performed.
The following are the leading physical
1. Feeble constitution and muscular tenuity; unsound
health from whatever cause; indications of former
disease; glandular swellings, or other symptoms
2. Chronic cutaneous affections, especially of the
3. Severe injuries of the bones of the head;
4. Impaired vision, from whatever cause;
inflammatory affections of the eyelids;
immobility or irregularity of the iris; fistula,
lachrymalis, etc., etc.
5. Deafness; copious discharge from the ears.
6. Loss of many teeth, or the teeth generally
7. Impediment of speech.
8. Want of due capacity of the chest, and any
other indication of a liability to a pulmonic
9. Impaired or inadequate efficiency of one or
both of the superior extremities on account of
fractures, especially of the clavicle, contraction
of a joint, extenuation, deformity, etc., etc.
10. An unusual excurvature or incurvature of the
12. A varicose state of the veins of the scrotum or
spermatic cord (when large), sarcocele, hydroccle,
13. Impaired or inadequate efficiency of one or of
both of the inferior extremities on account of
varicose veins, fractures, malformation (flat feet,
etc.), lameness, contraction, unequal length,
bunions, overlying or supernumerary toes, etc.,
14. Ulcers, or unsound cicatrices of ulcers likely
to break out afresh.
Every person appointed, upon arrival at West Point,
is submitted to a rigid medical examination, and if
any causes of disqualification are found to exist
in him to such a degree as may now or hereafter
impair his efficiency, he is rejected.
No person who has served in any capacity in the
military or naval service of the so-called
Confederate States during the late rebellion can
receive an appointment as cadet at the Military
II. The pay of a cadet is $500 per annum, with one
ration per day, to commence with his admission
into the Military Academy, and is sufficient,
with proper economy, for his support.
III. Each cadet must keep himself supplied with
the following mentioned articles, viz.:
One gray cloth coatee; one gray cloth riding-
jacket; one regulation great-coat; two pairs
of gray cloth pantaloons, for winter; six
pairs of drilling pantaloons for summer; one
fatigue-jacket for the encampment; one black
dress cap; one forage cap; one black stock;
*two pairs of ankle-boots; *six pairs of white
gloves; two sets of white belts; *seven shirts
and twelve collars; *six pairs winter socks;
*six pairs summer socks; *four pairs summer
drawers; *three pairs winter drawers; *six
pocket-handkerchiefs; *six towels; *one clothes-
bag, made of ticking; *one clothes-brush; *one
hair-brush; *one tooth-brush; *one comb; one
mattress; one pillow; *two pillow-cases; *two
pairs sheets; one pair blankets; *one quilted
bed-cover; one chair; one tumbler; *one trunk;
one account-book; and will unite with his room-
mate in purchasing, for their common use, one
looking-glass, one wash-stand, one wash-basin,
one pail, and one broom, and shall he required
to have one table, of the pattern that may be
prescribed by the Superintendent.
The articles marked thus * candidates are required
to bring with them; the others are to be had at
West Point at regulated prices, and it is better
for a candidate to take with him as little clothing
of any description as is possible (excepting what
is marked), and no more money than will defray his
travelling expenses; but for the parent or guardian
to send to "The Treasurer of the Military Academy"
a sum sufficient for his necessary expenses until
he is admitted, and for his clothes, etc.,
The expenses of the candidate for board, washing,
lights, etc., prior to admission, will be about $5
per week, and immediately after being admitted to
the Institution he must be provided with an outfit
of uniform, etc., the cost of which will be $88.79.
If, upon arrival, he has the necessary sum to his
credit on the books of the Treasurer, he will start
with many advantages, in a pecuniary point of view,
over those whose means are more limited, and who
must, if they arrive, as many do, totally unprovided
in this way, go in debt on the credit of their pay
--a burden from which it requires many months to
free themselves; while, if any accident compels
them to leave the Academy, they must of necessity
be in a destitute condition.
No cadet can receive money, or any other supplies,
from his parents, or from any person whomsoever,
without permission from the Superintendent.
IV. If the candidate be a minor, his acceptance
must be accompanied by the written consent of
his parent or guardian to his signing articles,
binding himself to serve the United States eight
years from the time of his admission into the
Military Academy, unless sooner discharged.
V. During the months of July and August the cadets
live in camp, engaged only in military duties and
exercises and receiving practical military
The academic duties and exercises commence on the
1st of September, and continue till about the end
The newly appointed cadets are examined at the
Academy prior to admission, and those not properly
qualified are rejected.
Examinations of the several classes are held in
January and June, and at the former such of the
new cadets as are found proficient in studies
and have been correct in conduct are given the
particular standing in their class to which their
merits entitle them. After either examination
cadets found deficient in conduct or studies are
discharged from the Academy, unless, for special
reasons in each case, the Academic Board should
These examinations are very thorough, and require
from the cadet a close and persevering attention
to study, without evasion or slighting of any part
of the course, as no relaxations of any kind can be
made by the examiners.
VI. A sound body and constitution, a fixed degree
of preparation, good natural capacity, an aptitude
for study, industrious habits, perseverance, an
obedient and orderly disposition, and a correct
moral deportment are such essential qualifications
that candidates knowingly deficient in any of these
respects should not, as many do, subject themselves
and their friends to the chances of future
mortification and disappointment, by accepting
appointments to the Academy and entering upon a
career which they can not successfully pursue.
Method of Examining Candidates for Admission
into the Military Academy.
Candidates must be able to read with facility
from any book, giving the proper intonation
and pauses, and to write portions that are
read aloud for that purpose, spelling the words
and punctuating the sentences properly.
In ARITHMETIC they must be able to perform with
facility examples under the four ground rules,
and hence must be familiar with the tables of
addition, subtraction, multiplication, and
division, and be able to perform examples in
reduction and in vulgar and decimal fractions,
Add 2/3 to 3/4; subtract 2/5 from 5/6; multiply
3/4 by 7/8; divide 2/5 by 3/8;
Add together two hundred and thirty-four thousandths
(.234), twenty-six thousandths (.026), and three
Subtract one hundred and sixty-one ten thousandths
(.0161) from twenty-five hundredths (.25).
Multiply or divide twenty-six hundredths (.26) by
sixteen thousandths (.016).
They must also be able to change vulgar fractions
into decimal fractions, and decimals into vulgar
fractions, with examples like the following:
Change 15/16 into a decimal fraction of the same
Change one hundred and two thousandths (.102) into
a vulgar fraction of the same value.
In simple and compound proportion, examples of
various kinds will be given, and candidates will
be expected to understand the principles of the
rules which they follow.
In ENGLISH GRAMMAR candidates will be required
to exhibit a familiarity with the nine parts of
speech and the rules in relation thereto; must
be able to parse any ordinary sentence given to
them, and, generally, must understand those
portions of the subject usually taught in the
higher academies and schools throughout the
country, comprehended under the heads of
Orthography, Etymology, Syntax, and Prosody.
In DESCRIPTIVE GEOGRAPHY they are to name,
locate, and describe the natural grand and
political divisions of the earth, and be able
to delineate any one of the States or Territories
of the American Union, with its principal cities,
rivers, lakes, seaports, and mountains.
In HISTORY they must be able to name the periods
of the discovery and settlement of the North
American continent, of the rise and progress of
the United States, and of the successive wars
and political administrations through which the
country has passed.
THE COURSE OF STUDY AND BOOKS USED AT THE
[Books marked thus * are for reference only.]
First Year--Fourth Class.
Mathematics...............Davies' Boudon's Algebra.
Davies' Legendre's Geometry
and Trigonometry. Church's
French Language...........Bolmar's Levizac's Grammar
and Verb Book. Agnel's
Tabular System. Berard's
Lecons Francaises. *Spier's
and Surenne's Dictionary.
Tactics of Artillery......Practical Instruction in the
and Infantry Schools of the Soldier,
Company, and Battalion.
Practical Instruction in
Use of Small Arms.........Instruction in Fencing and
Second Year--Third Class.
Geometry, with its
applications to Spherical
Projections. Church's Shades,
Shadows and Perspective.
Davies' Surveying. Church's
French Language...........Bolmar's Levizac's Grammar and
Verb Book. Berard's Lecons
Francaises. Chapsal's Lecons
Et Modeles de Litterature
Francaise. Agnel's Tabular
System. Rowan's Morceaux
Choisis des Auteurs Modernes.
*Spier's and Surenne's
Spanish...................Josse's Grammar. Morales'
Progressive Reader. Ollen-
Dorff's Oral Method applied to
the Spanish, by Velasquez and
Simonne. Seoane's Neuman and
Drawing...................Topography, etc. Art of
Tactics of Infantry,......Practical Instruction in the
Artillery, and Cavalry Schools of the Soldier, Company,
and Battalion. Practical
Instruction in Artillery and
Third Year--Second Class.
Natural and Experimental..Bartlett's Mechanics. Bartlett's
Philosophy Acoustics and Optics. Bartlett's
Chemistry.................Fowne's Chemistry. Chemical
Physics, from Miller.
Drawing...................Landscape. Pencil and Colors.
Tactics of Infantry,......Practical Instruction in the
Artillery, and Cavalry Schools of the Soldier, Company,
and Battalion. Practical
Instruction in Artillery and
Practical Military........Myers' Manual of Signals.
Engineering Practical and Theoretical
Instruction in Military
Signaling and Telegraphy.
Fourth Year--First Class.
Military and Civil........Mahan's Field Fortification.
Engineering, and Mahan's Outlines of
Sciences of War. Permanent Fortification.
Mahan's Fortification and
Advanced Guard and Outpost,
etc. *Moseley's Mechanics
Mineralogy and Geology....Dana's Mineralogy.
Ethics and Law............French's Practical Ethics.
Law. Kent's Commentaries
(portion on Constitutional
Law). Law and Military
Law, by Prof. French.
Benet's Military Law and
the Practice of Courts-
Tactics of Artillery,.....United States Tactics for
Cavalry, and Infantry Calvary. Practical
Instruction in the
Schools of the Soldier,
Company, and Battalion.
Practical Instruction in
Artillery and Cavalry.
Ordnance and Gunnery......Benton's Ordnance and
Practical Military........Practical Instruction in
Engineering fabricating Fascines, Sap
Faggots, Gabions, Hurdles,
Sap-rollers, etc.; manner
of laying out and
constructing Gun and Mortar
Batteries, Field Fortific-
ations and Works of Siege;
formation of Stockades,
Abatis, and other military
obstacles; and throwing and
dismantling Pontoon Bridges.
Myer's Manual of Signals.
Practical Instruction in
Military Signaling and
The second paper was a printed blank, a letter of
acceptance or non-acceptance, to be filled up, as
the case may be, signed by myself, countersigned
by my father, and returned to Washington, D. C.
The third, which follows, is simply a memorandum
for use of the candidate.
It is suggested to all candidates for admission
into the Military Academy that, before leaving
their place of residence for West Point, they
should cause themselves to be thoroughly examined
by a competent physician, and by a teacher or
instructor in good standing By such an examination
any serious physical disqualification, or deficiency
in mental preparation, would be revealed, and the
candidate probably spared the expense and trouble
of a useless journey and the mortification of
rejection. The circular appended to the letter of
appointment should be carefully studied by the
candidate and the examiners.
It should be understood that the informal examination
herein recommended is solely for the convenience and
benefit of the candidate himself, and can in no manner
affect the decision of the Academic and Medical
Examining Boards at West Point.
NOTE.--There being no provision whatever for the
payment of the travelling expenses of either
accepted or rejected candidates for admission, no
candidate should fail to provide himself in advance
with the means of returning to his home, in case of
his rejection before either of the Examining Boards,
as he may otherwise be put to considerable trouble,
inconvenience, and even suffering, on account of his
destitute situation. If admitted, the money brought
by him to meet such a contingency can be deposited
with the Treasurer on account of his equipment as a
cadet, or returned to his friends.
After I had secured the appointment the editor of
one of our local papers, which was at the time
publishing-- weekly, I think--brief biographies of
some of the leading men of the city, together with
cuts of the persons themselves, desired to thus
bring me into notoriety. I was duly consulted, and,
objecting, the publication did not occur. My chief
reason for objecting was merely this: I feared some
evil might befall me while passing through Georgia
en route for West Point, if too great a knowledge
of me should precede me, such, for instance, as a
publication of that kind would give.
At this interview several other persons--white, of
course--were present, and one of them--after
relating the trials of Cadet Smith and the
circumstances of his dismissal, which, apropos,
had not yet occurred, as he would have me believe--
advised me to abandon altogether the idea of going
to West Point, for, said he, "Them northern boys
wont treat you right." I have a due proportion of
stubbornness in me, I believe, as all of the negro
race are said to have, and my Southern friend might
as well have advised an angel to rebel as to have
counselled me to resign and not go. He was convinced,
too, before we separated, that no change in my
determination was at all likely to occur. Next day,
in a short article, the fact of my appointment was
mentioned, and my age and degree of education. Some
days after this, while in the post-office, a gentleman
beckoned to me, and we withdrew from the crowd. He
mentioned this article, and after relating--indeed,
repeating, to my amusement, the many hardships to
which I should be subjected, and after telling me he
had a very promising son--candid, wasn't he?--whom he
desired to have educated at West Point, offered me
for my appointment the rather large sum of five
thousand dollars. This I refused instantly. I had
so set my mind on West Point that, having the
appointment, neither threats nor excessive bribes
could induce me to relinquish it, even if I had not
possessed sufficient strength of character to resist
them otherwise. However, as I was a minor, I referred
him to my father. I have no information that he ever
consulted him. If he had, my reply to him would have
been sustained. I afterward had reason to believe
the offer was made merely to test me, as I received
from strangers expressions of confidence in me and
in my doing faithfully all that might devolve upon
me from my appointment.
MAY 20th, 1873! Auspicious day! From the deck of
the little ferry-boat that steamed its way across
from Garrison's on that eventful afternoon I viewed
the hills about West Point, her stone structures
perched thereon, thus rising still higher, as if
providing access to the very pinnacle of fame, and
shuddered. With my mind full of the horrors of the
treatment of all former cadets of color, and the
dread of inevitable ostracism, I approached
tremblingly yet confidently.
The little vessel having been moored, I stepped
ashore and inquired of a soldier there where
candidates should report. He very kindly gave me
all needed information, wished me much success,
for which I thanked him, and set out for the
designated place. I soon reached it, and walked
directly into the adjutant's office. He received
me kindly, asked for my certificate of appointment,
and receiving that--or assurance that I had it: I
do not now remember which--directed me to write in
a book there for the purpose the name and occupation
of my father, the State, Congressional district,
county and city of his residence, my own full name,
age, State, county, and place of my birth, and my
occupation when at home. This done I was sent in
charge of an orderly to cadet barracks, where my
"plebe quarters" were assigned me.
The impression made upon me by what I saw while
going from the adjutant's office to barracks was
certainly not very encouraging. The rear windows
were crowded with cadets watching my unpretending
passage of the area of barracks with apparently
as much astonishment and interest as they would,
perhaps, have watched Hannibal crossing the Alps.
Their words, jeers, etc., were most insulting.
Having reached another office, I was shown in by
the orderly. I walked in, hat in hand--nay, rather
started in-- when three cadets, who were seated in
the room, simultaneously sprang to their feet, and
welcomed me somewhat after this fashion:
"Well, sir, what do you mean by coming into this
office in that manner, sir? Get out of here, sir."
I walked out, followed by one of them, who, in a
similar strain, ordered me to button my coat, get
my hands around--"fins" he said--heels together,
and head up.
"Now, sir," said he, leaving me, "when you are
ready to come in, knock at that door," emphasizing
the word "knock."
The door was open. I knocked. He replied, "Come in."
I went in. I took my position in front of and facing
him, my heels together, head up, the palms of my
hands to the front, and my little fingers on the
seams of my pantaloons, in which position we
habitually carried them. After correcting my
position and making it sufficiently military
to suit himself, one of them, in a much milder
tone, asked what I desired of them. I told him
I had been sent by the adjutant to report there.
He arose, and directing me to follow him, conducted
me to the bath-rooms. Having discharged the necessary
duty there, I returned and was again put in charge of
the orderly, who carried me to the hospital. There I
was subjected to a rigid physical examination, which
I "stood" with the greatest ease. I was given a
certificate of ability by the surgeon, and by him
sent again to the adjutant, who in turn sent me to
the treasurer. From him I returned alone to barracks.
The reception given to "plebes" upon reporting is
often very much more severe than that given me.
Even members of my own class can testify to this.
This reception has, however, I think, been best
described in an anonymous work, where it is thus
"How dare you come into the presence of your
superior officer in that grossly careless and
unmilitary manner? I'll have you imprisoned.
Stand, attention, sir!" (Even louder than before.)
"Heels-together-and-on- the-same-line, toes-equally
pantaloons, button-your-coat, draw-in-your-chin,
collars-again. Stand-steady, sir. You've evidently
mistaken your profession, sir. In any other service,
or at the seat of war, sir, you would have been shot,
sir, without trial, sir, for such conduct, sir."
The effect of such words can be easily imagined.
A "plebe" will at once recognize the necessity
for absolute obedience, even if he does know all
this is hazing, and that it is doubtless forbidden.
Still "plebes" almost invariably tremble while it
lasts, and when in their own quarters laugh over
it, and even practise it upon each other for mutual
On the way to barracks I met the squad of "beasts"
marching to dinner. I was ordered to fall in, did so,
marched to the mess hall, and ate my first dinner at
West Point. After dinner we were marched again to
barracks and dismissed. I hastened to my quarters,
and a short while after was turned out to take
possession of my baggage. I lugged it to my room,
was shown the directions on the back of the door
for arrangement of articles, and ordered to obey
them within half an hour. The parts of the regulations
referred to are the following:
SPECIAL REGULATIONS FOR BARRACKS.
ORDERLIES OF ROOMS.
The particular attention of Orderlies is directed
to those paragraphs of the Regulations for the
U. S. Military Academy specifying their duties.
The hours of Recitation of each Cadet will be
posted on the back of the door of his room. When
a room is being washed out by the policeman, on
reporting to the Officer of the Day, and stating
to him the number of some room in his own Division
he wishes to visit, a Cadet will be permitted to
visit that particular room until his own can be
occupied. The uniform coat will be worn from 8
till 10 A.M.; at Inspection before 10 A.M. the
coat will be buttoned throughout; at Sunday
Morning Inspection gloves and side-arms will
also be worn. After 10 A.M. any uniform garment
or dressing-gown may be worn in their own rooms,
but at no time will Cadets be in their shirt-
sleeves unnecessarily. During the "Call to
Quarters," between "Inspection Call" in the
morning and "Tattoo," the following Arrangement
of Furniture, etc., will be required:
Dress Cap--On gun-rack shelf.
Cartridge Boxes, Waist Belts, Sabres, Forage Caps
--Hung on pegs near gun-rack shelf.
Muskets--In gun--rack, Bayonets in the scabbards.
Spurs--Hung on peg with Sabres.
BEDSTEADS AND BEDDING.
Bedsteads--In alcove, against side wall of the room,
the head against the back wall.
Bedding--Mattress to be folded once; Blankets and
Comforters, each one to be neatly and separately
folded, so that the folds shall be of the width of
an ordinary pillow, and piled at the head of the
BEDSTEAD in the following order, viz.: MATTRESS,
SHEETS, PILLOWS, BLANKETS, and COMFORTERS, the
front edge of sheets, pillows, etc., to be vertical.
On Sunday afternoons the BEDS may be made down and
Books--On the top of the Press, against the wall,
and with the backs to the front. BRUSHES (tooth
and hair), COMBS, SHAVING IMPLEMENTS and MATERIALS,
such small boxes as may be allowed, vials, etc.,
to be neatly arranged on the upper shelf. BELTS,
COLLARS, GLOVES, HANDKERCHIEFS, SOCKS, etc., to be
neatly arranged on the second shelf from the top.
SHEETS, PILLOW-CASES, SHIRTS, DRAWERS, WHITE PANTS,
etc., to be neatly arranged on the other shelves,
the heaviest articles on the lower shelves.
Arrangement--All articles of the same kind are to
be carefully and neatly placed in separate piles.
The folded edges of these articles to be to the
front, and even with the front edge of the shelf.
Nothing will be allowed between these piles of
clothing and the back of the press, unless the
want of room on the front edge renders it necessary.
Dirty Clothes--To be kept in clothes-bag.
Shoes and Over-Shoes--To be kept clean, dusted,
and arranged in a line where they can be seen by
the Inspector, either at the foot of the bedstead
or at the side near the foot.
Woollen Clothing, Dressing-Gown, and Clothes-Bag--
To be hung on the pegs in alcove in the following
general order, from the front of the alcove to the
back: Over-Coat, Dressing-Gown, Uniform Coats,
Jackets, Pants, Clothes-Bag.
Broom--To be kept behind the door. TIN BOX for
CLEANING MATERIALS--To be kept clean and in the
fire-place. SPITTOON-- To be kept on one side of
the hearth near mantel-piece. CHAIRS and TABLES--
On no occasion to be in alcoves, the chairs, when
not in use, to be against the owners' tables.
LOOKING-GLASS--At the centre of the mantel-piece.
WASH-STAND--To be kept clean, in front and against
alcove partition. WASH-BASIN--To be kept clean, and
inverted on the top of the Wash-stand. WATER-BUCKET
--To be kept on shelf of wash-stand. SLOP-BUCKET--
To be kept near to and on side of Wash-stand, opposite
door. Baskets, Pictures, Clocks, Statues, Trunks, and
large Boxes will NOT be allowed in quarters.
Curtains--WINDOW-CURTAINS--Only uniform allowed, and
to be kept drawn back during the day. ALCOVE--
CURTAINS--Only uniform allowed, and to be kept drawn,
except between "Tattoo" and "Reveille" and when
dressing. CURTAINS OF CLOTHES-PRESS--To be kept drawn,
except when policing room.
To be kept clean, and free from grease-spots and
WALLS AND WOOD-WORK.
To be kept free from cobwebs, and not to be injured
by nails or otherwise.
HEATING APPARATUS, SCREEN AND TOP.
To be kept clean, and not to be scratched or defaced.
These Regulations will be strictly obeyed and
By order of LIEUT.-COLONEL UPTON,
GEORGE L. TURNER,
Cadet Lieut. and Adjutant.
HEADQUARTERS, CORPS OF CADETS,
West Point, N. Y., Sept. 4, 1873.
At the end of the time specified every
article was arranged and the cadet corporal
returned to inspect. He walked deliberately to
the clothes-press, and, informing me that every
thing was arranged wrong, threw every article
upon the floor, repeated his order, and withdrew.
And thus three times in less than two hours did
I arrange and he disarrange my effects. I was
not troubled again by him till after supper,
when he inspected again, merely opening the door,
however, and looking in. He told me I could not
go to sleep till "tattoo." Now tattoo, as he
evidently used it, referred in some manner to
time, and with such reference I had not the
remotest idea of what it meant. I had no knowledge
whatever of military terms or customs. However, as
I was also told that I could do any thing--writing,
etc.--I might wish to do, I found sufficient to
keep me awake until he again returned and told me
it was then tattoo, that I could retire then or at
any time within half an hour, and that at the end
of that time the light must be extinguished
and I must be in bed. I instantly extinguished it
Thus passed my first half day at West Point, and
thus began the military career of the fifth colored
cadet. The other four were Smith of South Carolina,
Napier of Tennessee, Howard of Mississippi, and
Gibbs of Florida.
What I had seen and experienced during the few hours
from my arrival till tattoo filled me with fear and
apprehension. I expected every moment to be insulted
or struck, and was not long in persuading myself that
the various reports which I had heard concerning Smith
were true--I had not seen him yet, or, if I had, had
not recognized him--and that my life there was to be
all torture and anguish. I was uneasy and miserable,
ever thinking of the regulations, verbal or written,
which had been given me. How they haunted me! I kept
repeating them over and over, fearful lest I might
forget and violate them, and be dismissed. If I wanted
any thing or wished to go anywhere, I must get permission
of the cadet officers on duty over us. To get such
permission I must enter their office cleanly and neatly
dressed, and, taking my place in the centre of the room,
must salute, report my entrance, make known my wants,
salute again, and report my departure.* At the instant
I heard the sound of a drum I must turn out at a run
and take my place in the ranks.
*Somewhat after this fashion:
"Candidate F----, United States Military Academy,
reports his entrance into this office, sir."
"Well, sir, what do you want in this office?"
"I desire permission, sir, to walk on public lands
"No, sir, you can't walk on public lands till
retreat. Get out of my sight."
"Candidate F----, United States Military Academy,
reports his departure from this office, sir."
At five o'clock the next morning two unusual sounds
greeted my ears--the reveille, and a voice in the
hall below calling out in a loud martial tone:
"Candidates, turn out promptly!" In an astonishingly
short time I had dressed, "turned out," and was in
ranks. We stood there as motionless as statues till
the fifers and drummers had marched up to barracks,
the rolls of the companies had been called, and
they themselves dismissed. We were then dismissed,
our roll having been also called. We withdrew at a
run to our quarters and got them ready for inspection,
which, we were informed, would take place at the
expiration of half an hour. At the end of this time
our quarters were inspected by a corporal. In my own
room he upset my bedding, kicked my shoes into the
middle of the room, and ordered me to arrange them
again and in better order. This order was obeyed
immediately. And this upsetting was done in every room,
as I learned afterward from the occupants, who, strange
to say, manifested no prejudice then. 'Twas not long
ere they learned that they were prejudiced, and that
they abhorred even the sight of a "d--d nigger."
Just before, or perhaps just after breakfast, our
quarters were again inspected. This time I was
somewhat surprised to hear the corporal say, "Very
well, Mr. Flipper, very well, sir."
And this with other things shows there was a friendly
feeling toward me from the first. After having thus
expressed himself, he directed me to print my name on
each of four pieces of paper, and to tack them up in
certain places in the room, which he indicated to me.
I did this several times before I could please him;
but at last succeeded. Another corporal visited me
during the day and declared everything out of order,
although I had not touched a single thing after once
satisfying the first corporal. Of course I had to
rearrange them to suit him, in which I also finally
At eleven o'clock the mail came. I received a letter,
and to my astonishment its postmark was "West Point,
N. Y., May 21st." Of course I was at a loss to know
who the writer was. I turned it over and over, looked
at it, studied the postmark, finally opened it and
*This letter by some means has been misplaced, and
all efforts to find it, or to discover what its
exact contents were, have failed. However, it was
from James Webster Smith, the first and then only
cadet of color at West Point. It reassured me very
much, telling me not to fear either blows or insults,
and advising me to avoid any forward conduct if I
wished also to avoid certain consequences, "which,"
said the writer, "I have learned from sad experience,"
would be otherwise inevitable. It was a sad letter.
I don't think any thing has so affected me or so
influenced my conduct at West Point as its melancholy
tone. That "sad experience" gave me a world of warning.
I looked upon it as implying the confession of some
great error made by him at some previous time, and of
its sadder consequences.
This was another surprise--a welcome surprise,
however. I read it over several times. It showed
me plainly that Smith had not been dismissed, as
had been reported to me at home. I at once formed
a better opinion of West Point than I before had,
and from that day my fears gradually wore away.
The candidates now reported rapidly, and we, who
had reported the day previous, were comparatively
undisturbed. At four o'clock I visited Smith at
his quarters by permission. My visit was necessarily
a short one, as he was then preparing for drill. It
sufficed, however, for us to become acquainted, and
for me to receive some valuable advice. An hour and
place were designated for us to meet next day, and I
took my leave of him. The "plebes" turned out en
masse, walked around the grounds and witnessed the
drilling of the battalion. We enjoyed it immensely.
They were that day skirmishing and using blank
cartridges. We thought the drill superb. I was asked
by a fellow-"plebe," "Think you'll like that?"
"Oh yes," said I, "when I can do it as easily as
We had quite a lengthy conversation about the fine
appearance of the cadets, their forms, so straight
and manly, evoking our greatest admiration. This,
alas! was our only conversation on any subject. The
gentleman discovered ere long that he too was
prejudiced, and thus one by one they "cut" me,
whether for prudential reasons or not I can not
presume to say.
I went into the office one day, and standing
uncovered at about the middle of the room, in
the position of the soldier, saluted and thus
addressed a cadet officer present:
"Candidate Flipper, United States Military Academy,
reports his entrance into this office, sir."
"Well, what do you want?" was the rather gruff
"I desire permission to visit Smith, sir," answered
I, thoughtlessly saying "Smith," instead of "Mr" or
He instantly sprang from his seat into rather close
proximity to my person and angrily yelled:
"Well, sir, I want to hear you say 'Mr. Smith.' I
want you to understand, sir, he is a cadet and
you're a 'plebe,' and I don't want to see such
familiarity on your part again, sir," putting
particular emphasis on "Mr."
Having thus delivered himself he resumed his seat,
leaving me, I imagine, more scared than otherwise.
"What do you want?" asked he again, after a pause
of a moment or so.
"Permission to visit Mr. Smith."
Without condescending to notice for the time my
request he gave the interview a rather ludicrous
turn, I thought, by questioning me somewhat after
"Can you dance, Mr. Flipper?"
Having answered this to his entire satisfaction,
he further asked:
"Expect to attend the hops this summer?"
"Oh no, sir," replied I, smiling, as he also was,
for I had just discovered the drift of his questions.
After mischievously studying my countenance for a
moment, he returned to the original subject and
queried, "Where do you want to go?"
I told him.
"Well, get out of my sight."
I considered the permission granted, and hastily
withdrew to take advantage of it.
Between breakfast and supper those of us
who had been there at least a day had quite a
pleasant time. We were not troubled with incessant
inspections or otherwise. We either studied for
examination or walked around the grounds. At or near
seven o'clock, the time of retreat parade, we were
formed near our barracks and inspected. Our ranks
were opened and the cadet lieutenant inspected our
clothing and appearance generally. A not infrequent
occurrence on these occasions was:
"Well, mister, what did you shave with--a shoehorn?"
At this we would smile, when the lieutenant,
sergeant, or corporal would jump at us and yell:
"Wipe that smile off your face, sir! What do you
mean, sir, by laughing in ranks?"
If any one attempted to reply he was instantly
"Well, sir, don't reply to me in ranks."
The inspection would be continued. Some one, unable
to restrain himself--the whole affair was so ridiculous--
would laugh right out in ranks. He was a doomed man.
"What do you mean, sir, by laughing in ranks, sir?"
Having been once directed not to reply in ranks, the
poor "plebe" would stand mute.
"Well, sir, don't you intend to answer me?"
"Well, sir, step it out. What were you grinning at?"
"Nothing! Well, sir, you're a pretty thing to be
grinning at nothing. Get in ranks."
The inspection would, after many such interruptions,
be continued. Ranks would at length be closed and the
command, "In place, rest!" given. The battalion would
march in from parade at double time and form in the
area to our rear. The delinquencies of the day previous
would then be published by the cadet adjutant.
What most strikes a "plebe" is this same publication.
He hasn't the remotest idea of what it is. Not a word
uttered by the adjutant is understood by him. He stands
and wonders what it is. A perfect jargon of words,
unintelligible and meaningless to him! I remember
distinctly how I used to wonder, and how I was laughed
at when I asked for information concerning it. We
"plebes" used to speak of it often, and wonder if it
was not French. When we were better acquainted with
the rules and customs of the Academy we learned what
it was. It was something of this nature, read from the
DELINQUENCIES, TUESDAY, OCT. 12.
ADAMS.--Late at reveille roll-call.
BEJAY.--Sentinel not coming to "Arms, Port," when
addressed by the officer of the day.
SAME.--Not conversant with orders at same.
BARNES.--Same at same.
SAME.--Sentinel, neglect of duty, not requiring
cadet leaving his post to report his departure and
SAME.--Hanging head, 4 P.M.
BULOW.--Dust on mantel at inspection, 9.30 A.M.
SAME.--Executing manual of arms with pointer in
section-room, 9 A.M.
SAME.--Using profane expression, 1 P.M.
CULLEN.--Out of bed at taps.
DOUNS.--Light in quarters, 11 p.m.
SAME.--Not prepared on 47 Velasquez.*
*For these delinquencies the cadets are allowed to
write explanations. If the offence is absence from
quarters or any duty without authority, or is one
committed in the Academical Department, called an
Academical Delinquency, such as not being prepared
on some lesson, an explanation is required and must
be written. For all other offences the cadet can
write an explanation or not as he chooses. If the
explanation is satisfactory, the offence is removed
and he gets no demerits, otherwise he does. For form
of explanation see Chapter X., latter part.
On the 26th of May, another colored candidate
reported. It is said he made the best show at the
preliminary examination. Unfortunately, however,
he was "found" at the following semi-annual
examination. He was brought up to my quarters by
a corporal, and I was ordered to give him all
instruction which had previously been given me.
This I did, and his first days at West Point were
much more pleasant than mine had been.
The candidates had now all reported, and Monday
afternoon, May 28th, we were each given by the
Adjutant in person a slip of paper upon which was
written the number of each man's name in an
alphabetically arranged roll. This we had special
directions to preserve. The next day we were
marched up to the Drawing Academy, and examined
in grammar, history, and geography; the following
day in orthography and reading. On the same day,
also, we were required to write out a list of all
the textbooks we had used in our previous school-
days. The day following we were divided into
sections and marched to the library, where the
Academic Board was in readiness to examine us in
mathematics. It took quite a while to examine our
class of more than one hundred members thus orally.
I am not positive about the dates of the examination.
I know it occurred in the immediate vicinity of
Not many days after this the result of the examination
was made known to us. The familiar cry, "Candidates,
turn out promptly," made at about noon, informed us
that something unusual was about to occur. It was a
fearful moment, and yet I was sure I had "passed."
The only questions I failed on were in geography. I
stood motionless while the order was being read until
I heard my name among the accepted ones. I felt as if
a great burden had been removed from my mind. It was
a beginning, and if not a good one, certainly not a
bad one. What has been the ending? Let the sequel
Now that the examination was over and the deficient
ones gone, we were turned out for drill every morning
at half--past five o'clock and at four in the afternoon.
We were divided into squads of one each, and drilled
twice a day in the "settings up" until about June
20th. After a few drills, however, the squads were
consolidated into others of four, six, and eight each.
The surplus drill-masters were "turned in." Their
hopes were withered, for it was almost a certainty
that those who were "turned in" would not be "made."
They expected to be "made" on their proficiency in
drilling, and when it was shown by being "turned in"
that others had been thought better drill-masters,
they were not a little disappointed. How they "boned"
tactics! What proficiency they manifested! How they
yelled out their commands! What eagerness they showed
to correct errors, etc. And yet some could not overcome
their propensity for hazing, and these were of course
turned in. Not always thus, however. Those who were
not "turned in" were not always "made" corporals.
Often those who were so treated "got the chevrons"
"Plebe drill," or, more familiarly, "squad drill,"
has always been a source of great amusement to
citizens, but what a horror to plebes. Those
torturous twistings and twirlings, stretching
every nerve, straining every sinew, almost
twisting the joints out of place and making
life one long agonizing effort. Was there ever
a "plebe," or recruit, who did not hate, did not
shudder at the mere mention of squad drill? I did.
Others did. I remember distinctly my first experience
of it. I formed an opinion, a morbid dislike of it
then, and have not changed it. The benefit, however,
of "squad drill" can not be overestimated. It makes
the most crooked, distorted creature an erect, noble,
and manly being, provided, of course, this distortion
be a result of habit and not a natural deformity, the
result of laziness in one's walking, such as hanging
the head, dropping the shoulders, not straightening
the legs, and crossing them when walking.
Squad drill is one of the painful necessities of
military discipline, and no one regrets his
experience of it, however displeasing it may
have been at the time. It is squad drill and
hazing that so successfully mould the coarser
characters who come to West Point into officers
and gentlemen. They teach him how to govern and
be governed. They are more effectual in polishing
his asperities of disposition and forming his
character than any amount of regulations could be.
They tame him, so to speak.
Squad drill was at once a punishment, a mode of
hazing, and a drill. For the least show of
grossness one was sure to be punished with
"settings up, second time!" "settings up,
fourth time! "Continue the motion, settings
up second (or fourth) time!" We would be kept
at these motions until we could scarcely move.
Of course all this was contrary to orders. The
drill-master would be careful not to be "hived."
If he saw an officer even looking at him, he
would add the command "three," which caused a
discontinuance of the motion. He would change,
however, to one of the other exercises immediately,
and thus keep the plebes continually in motion.
When he thought the punishment sufficient he would
discontinue it by the command, "three," and give
"place, rest." When the "place, rest" had been just
about sufficient to allow the plebe to get cool and
in a measure rested, the drill would be resumed by
the command "'tion, squad" (abbreviated from
"attention" and pronounced "shun"). If the plebe
was slow, "place, rest" was again given, and
"When I give the command ''tion, squad,' I want to
see you spring up with life."
Plebe is slow again.
"Well, mister, wake up. This is no trifling matter.
"Well, sir, don't reply to me in ranks."
And many times and terms even more severe than these.
Now that Williams and myself were admitted, the
newspapers made their usual comments on such
occurrences. I shall quote a single one from The
New National Era and Citizen, published in Washington,
D.C., and the political organ of the colored people.
The article, however, as I present it, is taken from
another paper, having been by it taken from the Era
"COLORED CADETS AT WEST POINT.
"The New National Era and Citizen, which is the
national organ of the colored people, contains
a sensible article this week on the status of
colored cadets at West Point. After referring
to the colored young men, 'Plebes' Flipper of
Georgia, and Williams of Virginia, who have
passed the examination requisite for entering
the Academy, the Era and Citizen says: 'Now that
they are in, the stiff and starched protègès of
the Government make haste to tell the reporters
that "none of the fellows would hurt them, but
every fellow would let them alone." Our reporter
seems to think that "to be let alone" a terrible
doom. So it is, if one is sent to Coventry by
gentlemen. So it is, if one is neglected by those
who, in point of education, thrift, and morality
are our equals or superiors. So it is not, if done
by the low-minded, the ignorant, and the snobbish.
If it be possible, among the four hundred young
charity students of the Government, that Cadet
Smith, for instance, finds no warm friends, and
has won no respect after the gallant fight he has
made for four years--a harder contest than he will
ever have in the sterner field--then we despair of
the material which West Point is turning out. If
this be true, it is training selfish, snobbish
martinets--not knightly soldiers, not Havelocks,
Hardinges, and Kearneys--but the lowest type of
disciplined and educated force and brutality--the
Bluchers and Marlboroughs. We scarcely believe
this, however, and we know that any young man,
whether he be poor or black, or both, may enter
any first-class college in America and find warm
sympathetic friends, both among students and
faculty, if he but prove himself to be possessed
of some good qualities . . . . If the Smiths,
Flippers, and Williamses in their honorable school
-boy careers can not meet social as well as
intellectual recognition while at West Point, let
them study on and acquit themselves like men, for
they will meet, out in the world, a worthy reception
among men of worth, who have put by the prejudices
of race and the shackles of ignorance. Emerson says
somewhere that "Solitude, the nurse of Genius, is the
foe of mediocrity." If our young men of ability have
the stuff in them to make men out of, they need not
fear "to be let alone" for a while; they will
ultimately come to the surface and attain worthy
"That is plain, practical talk. We like it. It
has the ring of the true metal. It shows that
the writer has faith in the ultimate triumph of
manhood. It is another form for expressing a firm
belief that real worth will find a reward. Never
has any bond people emerged from slavery into a
condition full of such grand opportunities and
splendid possibilities as those which are within
the reach of the colored people of the United
States; but if those opportunities are to be made
available, if those possibilities are to be
realized, the colored people must move into the
fore-front of action and study and work in their
own behalf. The colored cadets at West Point, the
colored students in the public schools, the colored
men in the professions, the trades, and on the
plantations, can not be idlers if they are to