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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., –AND TO
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 influential slave-dealer.
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 Lord;
He is tramping out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword;
This truth is marching on.
“I have seen him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps;
They have builded him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read his righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps;
His day is marching on.
“I have read a fiery gospel, writ in burnished rows of steel;
‘As ye deal with my contemners, so with you my grace shall deal;
Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel,
Since God is marching on.’
“He hath sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before his judgment-seat;
Oh! be swift my soul to answer him! be jubilant my feet!
Our God is marching on.
“In the beauty of the lilies, Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in his bosom that transfigures you and me;
As he died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
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 acquired act.
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 execution.
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 withdrawn.
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 without difficulty.
“‘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 white boys.
“‘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 Times’ correspondent.
“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 vitality.’
“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, 1876.
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 cadet.
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 appointment.*
*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 subject.
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 annexed.
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 disqualifications:
1. Feeble constitution and muscular tenuity; unsound health from whatever cause; indications of former disease; glandular swellings, or other symptoms of scrofula.
2. Chronic cutaneous affections, especially of the scalp.
3. Severe injuries of the bones of the head; convulsions.
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 unsound.
7. Impediment of speech.
8. Want of due capacity of the chest, and any other indication of a liability to a pulmonic disease.
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 spine.
12. A varicose state of the veins of the scrotum or spermatic cord (when large), sarcocele, hydroccle, hemorrhoids, fistulas.
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., 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 Academy.
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., thereafter.
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 instruction.
The academic duties and exercises commence on the 1st of September, and continue till about the end of June.
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 otherwise recommend.
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, such as–
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 thousandths (.003).
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 value.
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 MILITARY ACADEMY.
[Books marked thus * are for reference only.]
First Year–Fourth Class.
Mathematics……………Davies’ Boudon’s Algebra. Davies’ Legendre’s Geometry and Trigonometry. Church’s Descriptive Geometry.
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 Artillery.
Use of Small Arms………Instruction in Fencing and Bayonet Exercise.
Second Year–Third Class.
Mathematics……………Church’s Descriptive Geometry, with its
applications to Spherical Projections. Church’s Shades, Shadows and Perspective.
Davies’ Surveying. Church’s Analytical Geometry.
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 Baretti’s Dictionary.
Drawing……………….Topography, etc. Art of Penmanship.
Tactics of Infantry,……Practical Instruction in the Artillery, and Cavalry Schools of the Soldier, Company, and Battalion. Practical
Instruction in Artillery and Cavalry.
Third Year–Second Class.
Natural and Experimental..Bartlett’s Mechanics. Bartlett’s Philosophy Acoustics and Optics. Bartlett’s Astronomy.
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 Cavalry.
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. Hitchcock’s Geology.
Ethics and Law…………French’s Practical Ethics. Halleck’s International
Law. Kent’s Commentaries (portion on Constitutional Law). Law and Military
Law, by Prof. French. Benet’s Military Law and
the Practice of Courts- Martial.
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 Gunnery. Practical
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 set forth:
“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 -turned-out, little-fingers-on-the-seams-of-your- pantaloons, button-your-coat, draw-in-your-chin, throw-out-your-chest, cast-your-eyes-fifteen-paces -to-the-front, don’t-let-me-see-you-wearing-standing- 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 amusement.
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 used.
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 stains.
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 enforced.
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 and retired.
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 till retreat.”
“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 succeeded.
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 read it.*
*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 they do.”
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 reply.
“I desire permission to visit Smith, sir,” answered I, thoughtlessly saying “Smith,” instead of “Mr” or “Cadet Smith.”
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 this manner:
“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 silenced with–
“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 “Delinquency Book:”
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 destination.
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 those named.
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 show.
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” after all.
“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. Understand?”
“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 and Citizen:
“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 recognition.’
“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