It is frequently said that "plebe camp" and "plebe life" are the severest parts of life at West Point. To some they are, and to others they are not. With my own self I was almost entirely free from hazing, and while there were features in "plebe life" which I disliked, I did nevertheless have a far easier and better time than my own white classmates. Even white plebes often go through their camp pleasantly and profitably. Only those who shirk duty have to suffer any unusual punishment or hazing.
I have known plebes to be permitted to do any thing they chose while off duty. I have known others to have been kept working on their guns or other equipments whole days for several days at a time. It mattered not how clean they were, or how soon the work was done. I've known them to be many times interrupted for the mere sake of hazing, and perhaps to be sent somewhere or to do something which was unnecessary and would have been as well undone. Plebes who tent with first-classmen keep their own tents in order, and are never permitted by their tentmates to do any thing of the kind for others unless when wanted, are entirely unoccupied, and then usually their services are asked for. A classmate of mine, when a plebe, tented with a first-classman. He was doing something for himself one day in a free-and-easy manner, and had no thought of disturbing any one. A yearling corporal, who was passing, saw him, thought he was having too good and soft a time of it, and ordered him out to tighten cords, an act then highly uncalled for, save as a means of hazing. The first-classman happened to come up just as the plebe began to interfere with the cords, and asked him who told him to do that. He told him, and was at once directed to leave them and return to whatever he was doing before being interrupted. The yearling, confident in his red tape and his mightiness, ordered the plebe out again. His corporalship soon discovered his mistake, for the first-classman gave the plebe full information as to what could be required of him, and told him to disobey any improper order of the corporal's which was plainly given to haze him. The affair was made personal. A fight ensued. The corporal was worsted, to the delight, I imagine, of the plebes.
Again, I've known plebes to be stopped from work—if they were doing something for a cadet—to transfer it to some other one who was accustomed to shirk all the duty he could, or who did things slowly and slovenly. Indeed I may assert generally that plebes who are willing to work have little to do outside of their regular duty, and fare in plebe camp quite as well as yearlings; while those who are stubborn and careless are required to do most all the work. Cadets purposely select them and make them work. They, too, are very frequently objects of hazing in its severest form. At best, though, plebe camp is rather hard, its Numerous drills, together with guard and police duty, make it the severest and most undesirable portion of the four years a cadet spends at the Academy.
To get up at five o'clock and be present at reveille roll-call, to police for half an hour, to have squad drill during the next hour, to put one's tent in order after that, and then to prepare one's self for breakfast at seven, make up a rather trying round of duties. To discharge them all—and that must certainly be done—keeps one busy; but who would not prefer little extra work—and not hard work at that— in the cooler part of the day to an equal amount in the heated portion of it? I am sure the plebes do. I know the corporals and other officers who drill them do, although they lose their after-reveille sleep.
After breakfast comes troop parade at eight o'clock, guard mounting immediately after, and the establishment of the "color line." Arms and accoutrements must be in perfect order. The plebes clean them during the afternoon, so that before parade it is seldom necessary to do more than wipe off dust, or adjust a belt, or something of the kind.
After establishing the "color line," which is done about 8.30 A.M., all cadets, save those on guard and those marching on, have time to do whatever they choose. The cadets generally repair to the guard tents to see lady friends and other acquaintances, while the plebes either interest themselves in the inspection of "color men," or make ready for artillery drill at nine. The latter drill, commencing at 9 A.M., continues for one hour. The yearlings and plebes receive instruction in the manual and nomenclature of the piece. The drill is not very trying unless the heavy guns are used—I mean unless they are drilled at the battery of twelve-pounders. Of late both classes have been drilled at batteries of three-inch rifles. These are light and easily manoeuvred, and unless the heat be intense the drill is a very pleasant one.
The first class, during this same hour, are drilled at the siege or seacoast battery. The work here is sometimes hard and sometimes not. When firing, the drill is pleasant and interesting, but when we have mechanical manoeuvres all this pleasantness vanishes. Then we have hard work. Dismounting and mounting is not a very pleasant recreation.
At eleven o'clock, every day for a week or ten days, the plebes have manual drill. This is entirely in the shade, and when "In place, rest," is frequently given, is not at all displeasing, except when some yearling corporal evinces a disposition to haze. At five o'clock this drill is repeated Then comes parade, supper, tattoo, and best of all a long night's rest. The last two drills continue for a few days only, and sometimes do not take place at all.
The third class, or the yearlings, have dancing from eleven to twelve, and the plebes from then till one. In the afternoon the plebes have nothing to do in the way of duty till four o'clock. The camp is then policed, and when that is done there may or may not be any further duty to discharge till retreat parade. After the plebes are put in the battalion—that is, after they begin drilling, etc., with their companies —all cadets attend company drill at five o'clock. After attending a few of these drills the first class is excused from further attendance during the encampment. One officer and the requisite number of privates, however, are detailed from the class each day to act as officers at these drills.
I omitted to say that the first class received in the forenoon instruction in practical military engineering and ordnance.
What most tries plebes, and yearlings, too, is guard duty. If their classes are small, each member of them is put on guard every third or fourth day. To the plebes, being something entirely new, guard duty is very, very obnoxious.
During the day they fare well enough, but as soon as night comes "well enough" disappears. They are liable at any moment to be visited by cadets on a hazing tour from the body of the camp, or by the officers and non- commissioned officers of the guard. The latter generally leave the post of the guard in groups of three or four. After getting into camp they separate, and manage to come upon a sentinel simultaneously and from all points of the compass. If the sentinel isn't cool, he will challenge and Advance one, and possibly let the others come upon him unchallenged and unseen even. Then woe be to him! He'll be "crawled over" for a certainty, and to make his crimes appear as bad as possible, will be reported for "neglect of duty while a sentinel, allowing the officers and non—commissioned officers of the guard to advance upon him, and to cross his post repeatedly without being challenged." He knows the report to be true, and if he submits an explanation for the offence his inexperience will be considered, and he will probably get no demerits for his neglect of duty.
But the best joke of all is in their manner of calling off the half-hours at night, and of challenging. Sometimes we hear No. 2 call off, "No. 2, ten o'clock, and all is well," in a most natural and unconcerned tone of voice, while No. 3 may sing out, "No. 3, ten o'clock and all is well-l-l," changing his tone only on the last word. Then No. 4, with another variation, may call off, "No. 4, ten o'clock, and all-l-l-l's well," changing his tone on "all-l-l-l's," and speaking the rest, especially the last word, in a low and natural manner of voice, and sometimes abruptly. And so on along the entire chain of sentinels, each one calls off in a manner different from that of the rest. Sometimes the calling off is scarcely to be heard, sometimes it is loud and full, and again it is distinct but squeakish. It is indeed most delightful to be in one's tent and here the plebes call off in the still quiet hours of the night. One can't well help laughing, and yet all plebes, more or less, call off in the same manner.
Plebe sentinels are very troublesome sometimes to the non-commissioned officers of the guard. They receive their orders time after time, and when inspected for them most frequently spit them out with ease and readiness; but just as soon as night comes, and there is a chance to apply them, they "fess utterly cold," and in the simplest things at that. Nine plebes out of ten almost invariably challenge thus, "Who comes here?" "Who stands here?" "Who goes here?" as the case may be, notwithstanding they have been repeatedly instructed orally, and have seen the words, as they should be, in the regulations. If a person is going, and is a hundred yards or so off, it is still, "Who goes here?" Everything is "here."
One night the officer of the day concealed himself near a sentinel's post, and suddenly appeared on it. The plebe threw his gun down to the proper position and yelled out, "Who comes here?" The officer of the day stopped short, whereupon the plebe jumped at him and shouted, "Who stands here?" Immediately the officer started off, saying as he did so, "I'm not standing; I'm going." Then of course the challenge was again changed to, "Who goes here? "I'm not going; I'm coming," said the officer, facing about and approaching the sentinel. This was kept up for a considerable time, till the officer of the day got near a sentry-box and suddenly disappeared. The plebe knew he was there, and yelled in a louder tone than before, "Who stands here? "Sentry-box," was the solemn and ghostly response.
It is hardly reasonable, I think, to say the plebe was frightened; but he actually stood there motionless, repeating his challenge over and over again, "Who stands here?"
There was a light battery in park near by, and through this, aided by the gloom, the officer of the day managed to pass unobserved along, but not on the sentinel's post. He then got upon it and advanced on him, making the while much noise with his sword and his heavy tread. He walked directly up to the sentinel unchallenged, and startled him by asking, "What are you standing here yelling for?"
The plebe told him that the officer of the day had been upon his post, and he had seen him go behind the sentry-box. And all this to the officer of the day, standing there before him, "Well, sir, whom do you take me to be?"
The plebe looks, and for the first time brought to full consciousness, recognizes the officer of the day. Of course he is surprised, and the more so when the officer of the day inspects for his—the plebe's—satisfaction the sentry-box, and finds no one there. He "eats" that plebe up entirely, and then sends a corporal around to instruct him in his orders. When the corporal comes it may be just as difficult to advance him. He may, when challenged, advance without replying, or, if he replies, he may say, "Steamboat," "Captain Jack, Queen of the Modocs," as one did say to me, or something or somebody else not entitled to the countersign. Possibly the plebe remembers this, and he may command "Halt!" and call another corporal. This latter may come on a run at "charge bayonets," and may not stop till within a foot or so of the sentinel. He then gets another "cursing out." By this time the corporal who first came and was halted has advanced unchallenged and unnoticed since the arrival of the second. And then another cursing out. Thus it is that plebe camp is made so hard.
Surely the officers and non-commissioned officers are right in testing by all manner of ruses the ability of the sentinels. It is their duty to instruct them, to see that they know their orders, and are not afraid to apply them.
Sometimes plebes enjoy it, and like to be cursed out. Sometimes they purposely advance toward a party improperly, to see what will be said to them. It is fun to some, and to others most serious. At best it gives a plebe a poor opinion of West Point, and while he may bear it meekly he nevertheless sighs for the "— touch of a vanished hand," the caressing hand of a loving mother or sister. I know I used to hate the very name of camp, and I had an easier time, too, than the other plebes.
Of course the plebes, being inexperienced for the most part, are "high privates in the rear rank." For another reason, also, this is the case. The first and second classes have the right established by immemorial custom of marching in the front rank, which right necessarily keeps the plebes in the rear rank, and the yearlings too, except so many as are required in the front rank for the proper formation of the company. Another reason, perhaps, may be given to the same end. We have what we call class rank, or, in other words, class standing. Every class has certain privileges and immunities, which the junior classes do not enjoy; for example, first- classmen, and second-classmen too—by General Orders of September, 1876—are excused from guard duty in the capacity of privates, and are detailed— first- classmen for officers of the day and officers of the guard, and second-classmen for non-commissioned officers of the guard. All members of the third and fourth classes are privates, and from them the privates of the guard are detailed. All officers, commissioned and non-commissioned, are exempt from "Saturday punishment." I mean they do not walk extra tours of guard for punishment. The non- commissioned officers are sometimes required to serve such punishments by discharging the duties of corporal or sergeant in connection with the punishment squad. Third-and fourth-classmen enjoy no such immunities. Plebes, then, having no rank whatever, being in fact conditional cadets until they shall have received their warrants in the following January, must give way to those who have. One half or more of the privates of the company must be in the front rank. This half is made up of those who rank highest, first-classmen and second-classmen, and also, if necessary, a number of third-classmen. Plebes must then, except in rare cases, march in the rear rank, and from the time they are put in the battalion till the close of the summer encampment, they are required to carry their hands with palms to the front as prescribed in the tactics.
All this is kept up till the close of camp, and makes, I think, plebe camp the most trying part of one's cadet life.
On the 28th of August the furloughmen return, and report to the commandant at two o'clock for duty.
In the afternoon the battalion is sized and quarters are assigned under the supervision of the assistant- instructors of tactics.
At parade the appointment of officers and non- commissioned officers for the ensuing year is published, and also orders for the discontinuance of the encampment.
In the evening the "twenty-eighth hop" takes place, and is the last of the season. On the 29th—and beginning at reveille—the cadets move their effects into winter quarters in barracks. All heavy articles are moved in on wagons, while all lighter ones are carried over by cadets themselves. By seven o'clock every thing is moved away from camp, save each cadet's accoutrements.
Breakfast is served at 7 A.M., and immediately afterward comes "troop" and guard-mounting, after which the entire camp is thoroughly policed. This requires an hour or more, and when all is done the "general" is sounded. At this the companies are formed under arm in their respective company streets. The arms are then stacked and ranks broken. At least two cadets repair to each tent, and at the first tap of the drum remove and roll up all the cords save the corner ones. At the second tap, while one cadet steadies the tent the other removes and rolls the corner cords nearest him. The tents in the body of the encampment are moved. Back two feet, more or less, from the color line, while the guard tents and those of the company officers are moved in a northerly direction. At the third tap the tents fall simultaneously toward the color line and the south cardinal point, amid rousing cheers. The tents being neatly rolled up and placed on the floors, the companies are reformed and on the centre. The battalion then marches out to take up its winter quarters in barracks.
When camp is over the plebes are no longer required to depress their toes or to carry their hands with palms to the front. They are, in fact, "cadets and gentlemen," and must take care of themselves.
THE academic year begins July 1st, and continues till about June 20th the following year. As soon after this as practicable—depending upon what time the examination is finished—the corps moves into camp, with the exception of the second class, who go on furlough instead.
Between the 20th of August and the 1st of September, the "Seps," or those candidates who were unable to do so in the spring previous, report. Before the 1st they have been examined and the deficient ones dismissed. On the 1st, unless that be Sunday, academic duties begin. The classes are arranged into a number of sections, according to their class rank, as determined at the previous annual examination, or according to rank in some particular study—for instance, for instruction in engineering the first class is arranged according to merit in philosophy, and not according to general merit or class rank. The fourth, or "plebe" class, however, is arranged alphabetically since they as yet have no class rank.
The first class study, during the first term, engineering law, and ordnance and gunnery. They recite on civil engineering from 8 to 11 A.M. daily, on ordnance and gunnery from 2 to 4 P.M., alternating with law.
The second class have natural and experimental philosophy from 8 to 11 A.M. daily, and chemistry, alternating with riding, from 11 A.M. to 1 P.M.; also drawing in pencil from 2 to 4 P.M. For instruction in this department the class is divided into two as nearly equal parts as practicable, which alternate in attendance at the Drawing Academy.
The third class have pure mathematics, analytical Geometry, descriptive geometry, and the principles of shades, shadows, and perspective, from 8 to 11 A.M. daily. They also have French from 11 A.M., till 1 P.M., alternating with Spanish.
The entire class attend drawing daily till November 1st, when it is divided into two equal parts or platoons, which attend drawing and riding on alternate clays. Riding! "Yearling riding!" I must advert to that before I go further. First let me describe it. A platoon of yearlings, twenty, thirty, forty perhaps; as many horses; a spacious riding- hall, with galleries that seat but too many mischievous young ladies, and whose interior is well supplied with tan bark, make up the principal objects in the play. Nay, I omit the most important characters, the Instructor and the necessary number of enlisted, men.
Area of barracks. At guard-house door stands an orderly, with drum in hands. In the area a number of cadets, some in every-day attire, others dressed la cavalier. These la cavalier fellows are going to take their first lesson in riding. About four- fifths of them were never on a horse in their lives, and hence what dire expectations hover over their ordinarily placid heads! They have heard from the upper classmen what trials the novice experiences in his first efforts, and they do not go to the riding-hall without some dread. Four o'clock and ten minutes. The drum is beaten.
Officer of the Day.—Form your platoon! Right, face! Call your roll!
Section Marcher.—Bejay! Barnes! Du Furing! Swikeheimer! Du Flicket, etc.
Platoon (answering to their names).—Here! Here-re- re! ho-o-o! hi-i-i! har-ar-ar! Heer-r!
Section Marcher (facing about salutes).—All are present, sir!
Officer of the Day (returning salute).—March off your platoon, sir!
Section Marcher (facing about).—Left face! forward. March! (Curtain falls.)
The riding-hall, a large, spacious, rectangular structure, door on each side and at each end, floor well covered with tan bark, spacious gallery over each side door, staircases outside leading to them. Galleries are occupied, one by ladies, and, perhaps a number of gentlemen, and the other by enlisted men usually. In the centre of the hall are a number of horses, each equipped with a surcingle, blanket, and watering bridle. A soldier stands at the head of each one of them. As curtain rises enter platoon by side door, and marches around the left flank of the line of horses and as far forward as necessary.
Section Marcher.—Platoon, halt! left, face! (Saluting Instructor) All are present, sir!
Instructor (saluting).—The Section Marcher will take his place on the left.
He then gives all necessary instruction.
"To mount the trooper the Instructor first causes him to stand to horse by the command 'Stand to horse!' At this command—" Well, see "Cavalry Tactics."
We've got the trooper mounted now. After some further explanation the Instructor forms them into a column of files by the commands:
"By file, by the right (or left) flank. March!"
They are now going around the hall at a walk, a slow, snail-like pace, but what figures some of them present! Still all goes on quite well. The Instructor is speaking:
"To trot," says he, "raise the hands" ("yearlings" use both hands) "slightly. This is to apprise the horse that you want his attention. Then lower the hands slightly, and at the same time gently press the horse with the legs until he takes the gait desired. As soon as he does, relax the pressure." A long pause. The occupants of the galleries are looking anxiously on. They know what is coming next. They have seen these drills over and over again. And so each trooper awaits anxiously the next command. Alas! It comes! "Trot!"
What peals of laughter from that cruel gallery! But why? Ah! See there that trooper struggling in the tan bark while a soldier pursues his steed. He is not hurt. He gets up, brushes away the tan bark, remounts and starts off again. But there, he's off again! He's continually falling off or jumping off purposely (?). What confusion! There comes one at a full gallop, sticking on as best he can; but there, the poor fellow is off. The horses are running away. The troopers are dropping off everywhere in the hall. No one is hurt. Alas! they pressed too hard to keep on, and instead of relaxing the pressure at the desired gait, the trot, they kept on pressing, the horse taking the trot, the gallop, the run, and the trooper, alas! the dust. Again they had the reins too long, and instead of holding on by the flat of the thighs with their feet parallel to the horse, we see them making all sorts of angles. But that gallery! that gallery! how I used to wish it wasn't there! The very sight of a lady under such circumstances is most embarrassing.
Fair ones, why will you thus torture the "yearlings" by your at other times so desirable presence?
The fourth class have pure mathematics, and algebra, daily from 8 to 11 A.M., and French also, daily, from 2 to 4 P.M. Beginning on October 15th, or as near that time as practicable, they have fencing, and the use of the bayonet and small-sword.
During the month of September cadets of all classes, or the battalion, are instructed in the infantry tactics in the "School of the Battalion." Near the end of the month it is customary to excuse the officers of the first class from these drills, and to detail privates to perform their duties for one drill only at a time. The other classes are in ranks, or the line of file-closers, according as they are sergeants, guides, or privates.
During October the several classes receive practical instruction as follows: The first class in military engineering, the manner of making and recording the details of a military reconnoissance, and field sketching; the second class in siege and sea-coast artillery, and military signalling and telegraphy. The class is divided into two parts, composed of the odd and even numbers, which attend drills on alternate days—that is, artillery one day and signalling the next; the third class in light or field artillery, and the theory and principles of "target practice." Sometimes this latter is given during camp, as is most convenient. Sometimes, also, they receive instruction in ordnance. This, however, is generally deferred till they become first-classmen.
For further instruction of the first class the following part of the personnel of a light battery is detailed from that class, viz.: three chiefs of platoon, one chief of caissons, one guidon, and six chiefs of section. Each member of the class is detailed for each of these offices in his proper order.
The fourth class receives instruction in field artillery at the "foot batteries." This instruction is limited to the nomenclature and manual of the piece. Here, also, to assist the instructor, a chief of piece for each piece is detailed. They are required to correct all errors made by the plebes, and sometimes even to drill them. Hence a knowledge of tactics is indispensable, and the means of fixing such knowledge in the mind is afforded.
Sometimes also two first-classmen are required to assist at the siege or sea-coast batteries.
Every day throughout the year a guard is mounted. It consists of two officers of the guard—sometimes only one—one sergeant, three corporals—or more— and twenty-four privates—sometimes, also, eighteen or twenty-one in camp, and twenty-seven in barracks. Every day, also, there is one officer of the day detailed from the first class.
The weather permitting, we have "dress parade" daily. When unfavorable, on account of snow, rain, or severe cold, we have "undress parade"—that is, parade without arms and in undress or fatigue uniform, the object being to get us all together to publish the orders, etc., for the morrow. After November 1st we usually have "undress parade," and then "supper mess parade." Between these two ceremonies the cadets amuse themselves at the gymnasium, dancing or skating, or "spooneying," or at the library; generally, I think—the upper classmen at any rate—at the library. After supper we have recreation and then study. And thus we "live and do" till January.
The semi-annual examination begins January 1st, or as soon thereafter as practicable. The plebes are examined first, and started in their new studies as soon as possible. After the plebes the other classes are examined in the order of their rank—that is, first class, second class, and third class—and of the importance of their studies, engineering being first, then philosophy, and mathematics, etc.
The examination being over, the deficient ones, after receiving orders from the Secretary of War, are dismissed. Studies are then resumed as follows:
For the first class military engineering, ordnance, and gunnery, constitutional law, military law, rules of evidence, practice of courts-martial, mineralogy, and geology, strategy, and grand tactics, and the throwing and dismantling of pontoon bridges. For the second class, acoustics and optics, astronomy, analytical mechanics in review; infantry, artillery, and cavalry tactics; drawing, riding, and signalling. For the third class, calculus, surveying, geometry, and riding. Immediately after the examination the entire third class receive instruction in mechanical drawing before they begin their other mathematical studies. For the fourth class the studies are plane geometry, trigonometry, descriptive geometry, and fencing, including the use of the small-sword, broad- sword, and bayonet.
Parades, guard duty, etc., remain as previously described until about the middle of March usually. At that time the ordinary routine of drills, dress parades, etc., is resumed; but drills in this order, viz., from March 15th to April 1st instruction in the school of the company; in artillery tactics, as before described during April; and in infantry tactics, in the "School of the Battalion," during May. The annual examination takes place in June. The following diary, made for the purpose of insertion here, will best explain what generally occurs during the month:
Thursday, June 1, 1876.—Resumed white pants at 5.10 P.M. Received Board of Visitors by a review at 5.10 P.M. Examination begun at 9 A.M. First class, engineering. Salute of fifteen guns at meridian to Board of Visitors.
Friday, June 2.—First class, engineering finished. Second class, philosophy commenced. Siege battery drill at 5.10 P.M.
Saturday, June 3.—Second class, philosophy continued.
Monday, June 5.—Light battery at 5.10 P.M. A yearling lost his "white continuations." Plebes went to parade.
Tuesday, June 6.—Fourth class, entire in French. Examination written. Second class, philosophy finished. First class, mineralogy and geology begun. Third class, mathematics begun. Battalion drill at 5.10 P.M.
Wednesday, June 7.—Second class turned out, marched to sea-coast battery at 11 A.M. Three detachments selected. Rest marched back and dismissed. Cavalry drill at 5.10 P.M. Six second-classmen turned out. Plebes put in battalion.
Thursday, June 8.—Plebes put on guard. Pontoon bridging, 5.10 P. M.
Friday, June 9.—Battalion skirmish drill 5.10 P.M. Deployed to front at double time. Second, fourth, and seventh companies reserve. Almost all manoeuvres at double time. Deployed by numbers and charged. Marched in in line, band on right. Broke into column of companies to the left, changed direction to the right, obliqued to the left, moved forward and formed "front into line, faced to the rear." Arms inspected, ammunition returned. Dismissed.
Saturday, June 10.—Third class, mathematics finished. Miss Philips sang to cadets in mess hall after supper. First class, ordnance begun.
Sunday, June 11.—Graduating sermon by Hon.—, of Princeton, N. J., closing "hime," "When shall we meet again?" Graduating dinner at 2 P.M.
Monday, June 12.—Detail from first class to ride in hall. Use of sabre and pistol on horseback. First class, ordnance finished. Law begun.
Tuesday, June 13.—First class finished. Board divided into committees. Second class, chemistry begun. Graduating parade. Corps cheered by graduates after parade. Hop in evening; also German; whole continuing till 3 A.M. Rumor has it two first-classmen, Slocum and Guilfoyle, are "found" in ordnance and engineering.
Wednesday, June 14.—Fourth class, mathematics begun. Salute seventeen guns at 10 A.M. in honor of arrival at post of General Sherman and Colonel Poe of his staff. Graduating exercises from 11 A.M. till near 1 P.M. Addresses to graduates. Mortar practice and fireworks at night.
This ended the "gala" days at West Point in '76.
Thursday, June 15.—Usual routine of duties resumed. Company drills in the afternoon from 5.10 to 6.10 P.M. Rather unusual, but we're going to the Centennial. Rumor has it we encamp Saturday the 17th for ten days.
Friday, June 16.—Dom Pedro, emperador de la Brasil estaba recibiado para un "review" a las cuatro horas y quarenta y cinco minutos. El embarc por la ciudad de Nueva York inmediatemente Second class, chemistry finished. Third class, French begun.
Saturday, June 17.—Third class, French finished. Third class, Spanish begun. "Camp rumor" not true.
Monday, June 19.—Moved into camp, aligned tent floors at 5 A. M. in the rain. Required by order to move in effects at 9 A. M., and to march in and pitch tents at 12 M. Rained in torrents. Marched in, etc., at 9 A.M. Effects moved in afterwards. Rain ceased by 12 M. Marched in. Second class, tactics finished. Third class, Spanish finished.
Ordinarily as soon as the examination is over the third class take advantage of the two months' furlough allowed them, while other classes go into camp. This encampment begins June 17th, or a day or two earlier or later, according to circumstances. This brings me to the end of the first year. I have described camp life, and also, I observe, each of the remaining years of cadet life. On July 1st the plebes become the fourth class; the original fourth the third; the third, now on furlough, the second; and the second the first. I have given in an earlier part of my narrative the studies, etc., of these several classes.
The plebe, or fourth class of the previous year, are now become yearlings, and are therefore in their "yearling camp." At the end of every month an extract from the class and conduct report of each cadet is sent to his parents or guardian for their information. I insert a copy of one of these monthly reports.
UNITED STATES MILITARY ACADEMY,
West Point, N. Y., March 26, 1875.
EXTRACT from the Class and Conduct Reports of the MILITARY ACADEMY for the month of February, 1875, furnished for the information of Parents and Guardians,
THIRD CLASS—Composed of 83 Members.
Cadet Henry O. Flipper
Was, in Mathematics.........No. 48 " French..............No. 48 " Spanish,............No. 37 " Drawing.............No. 40
His demerit for the month is 2, and since the commencement of the academic half year, 23.
Robt. H. Hall, Captain 10th Infantry, Adjutant Military Academy.
REGULATIONS FOR THE MILITARY ACADEMY.
Par. 71.—When any Cadet shall have a total of numbers [of demerit] thus recorded, exceeding one hundred in six months, he shall be declared deficient in discipline.
Par. 153.—No Cadet shall apply for, or receive money, or any other supplies from his parents, or from any person whomsoever, without permission of the Superintendent.
Note.—The attention of Parents and Guardians is invited to the foregoing Regulations. The permission referred to in paragraph 153 must be obtained before the shipment to the cadet of the supplies desired.
IN this chapter I shall describe only those phases of cadet life which are experienced by "yearlings" in their "yearling camp."
Beginning July 5th, or as soon after as practicable, the third class receive practical instruction in the nomenclature and manual of the field-piece. This drill continues till August 1st, when they begin the "School of the Battery."
The class attend dancing daily. Attendance at dancing is optional with that part of the third class called "yearlings," and compulsory for the "Seps," who of course do not become yearlings till the following September. The third class also receive instruction in the duties of a military laboratory, and "target practice." These instructions are not always given during camp. They may be given in the autumn or spring.
Another delight of the yearling is to "bone colors." Immediately in front of camp proper is a narrow path extending entirely across the ground, and known as the "color line." On the 1st of August—sometimes before— the "color line" is established, this name being applied also to the purpose of the color line. This ceremony consists in stacking arms just in rear of the color line, and placing the colors on the two stacks nearest the centre of the line.
From the privates of the guard three are chosen to guard the stacks and to require every one who crosses the color line or passes within fifteen paces of the colors to salute them. These three sentinels are known as the "colors," or "color men," and are numbered "first," "second," and "third."
Those are chosen who are neatest and most soldierlike in their appearance. Cadets prepare themselves specially for this, and they toss up their guns to the adjutant at guard-mounting. This signifies that they intend competing for "colors." The adjutant falls them out after the guard has marched to its post, and inspects them. Absolute cleanliness is necessary. Any spot of dirt, dust, or any thing unclean will often defeat one. Yearlings "bone" their guns and accoutrements for "colors," and sometimes get them every time they toss up.
A "color man" must use only those equipments issued to him. He cannot borrow those of a man who has "boned them up" and expect to get colors. Sometimes— but rarely—plebes compete and win.
The inducement for this extra labor is simply this: Instead of being on duty twenty-four hours, color men are relieved from 4 P. M. till 8 A. M. the next day, when they march off. They of course enjoy all other privileges given the "Old Guard."
"Sentinels for the Color Line.—The sentinels for the color line will be permitted to go to their tents from the time the stacks are broken till 8 A.M. the following morning, when they will rejoin the guard. They will be excused from marching to meals, but will report to the officer of the guard at the roll-call for each meal, and also at tattoo and reveille."—(From Rsum of Existing Orders, U. S. C. C.)
It is the yearling who does most of the hazing. Just emerged from his chrysalis state, having the year before received similar treatment at the hands of other yearlings, he retaliates, so to speak, upon the now plebe, and finds in such retaliation his share of enjoyment.
The practice, however, is losing ground. The cadets are more generous, and, with few exceptions, never interfere with a plebe. This is certainly an advance in the right direction; for although hazing does comprise some good, it is, notwithstanding, a low practice, one which manliness alone should condemn. None need information and assistance more than plebes, and it is unkind to refuse it ; nay, it is even not humane to refuse it and also to haze the asker. Such conduct, more than any thing else, discourages and disheartens him. It takes from him all desire to do and earn, to study or strive for success. At best it can be defended only as being effective where regulations are not, viz., in the cases of rough specimens who now not infrequently manage to win their appointments.
Formerly in yearling camp the corporals were all "acting sergeants." They were so acting in the absence of the de facto sergeants. These corporals got the idea into their heads that to retain their appointments they had to do a certain amount of "skinning," and often "skins" were more fancied than real. This was a rather sad condition of affairs. Plebes would find their demerits accumulating and become disheartened. It was all due to this unnecessary rigor, and "being military," which some of the yearling corporals affected. No one bears, or rather did bear, such a reputation as the yearling corporal. As such he was disliked by everybody, and plebes have frequently fought them for their unmanly treatment. This, however, was. It is no more. We have no yearling corporals, and plebes fare better generally than ever before. Not because all yearling corporals thus subserved their ambition by reporting men for little things that might as well have been overlooked, did they get this bad reputation, but rather because with it they coupled the severest hazing, and sometimes even insults. That was unmanly as well as mean. Hazing could be endured, but not always insults.
Whether for this reason or not I cannot say, the authorities now appoint the corporals from the second class, men who are more dignified and courteous in their conduct toward all, and especially toward plebes. The advantages of this system are evident.
One scarcely appreciates cadet life—if such appreciation is possible—till he becomes a yearling. It is not till in yearling camp that a cadet begins to "spoon." Not till then is he permitted to attend the hops, and of course he has but little opportunity to cultivate female society, nor is he expected to do so till then, for to assume any familiarity with the upper classes would be considered rather in advance of his "plebeship's" rights. How then can he—he is little more than a stranger—become acquainted with the fair ones who either dwell at or are visiting West Point. Indeed, knowing "femmes" are quite as prone to haze as the cadets, and most unmercifully cut the unfortunate plebe. Some are also so very haughty: they will admit only first- classmen to their acquaintance and favor.
But Mr. Plebe, having become a yearling finds that the "Mr." is dropped, and that he is allowed all necessary familiarity. He then begins to enjoy his cadetship, a position which for pleasure and happiness has untold advantages, for what woman can resist those glorious buttons? A yearling has another advantage. The furlough class is absent, and the plebes—well, they are "plebes." Sufficient, isn't it? The spooneying must all be done, then, by the first and third classes. Often a great number of the first class are bachelors, or not inclined to be spooney; and that duty then of course devolves on the more gallant part of that class and the yearlings.
The hop managers of the third class have been mentioned elsewhere. They enjoy peculiar facilities for pleasure, and, where a good selection has been made, do much to dispel the monotony of academic military life. Indeed, they do very much toward inducing others to cultivate a high sense of gallantry and respect for women. The refining influence of female society has greater play, and its good results are inevitable.
But what a wretched existence was mine when all this was denied me! One would be unwilling to believe I had not, from October, 1875, till May, 1876, spoken to a female of any age, and yet it was so. There was no society for me to enjoy—no friends, male or female, for me to visit, or with whom I could have any social intercourse, so absolute was my isolation.* Indeed, I had friends who often visited me, but they did so only when the weather was favorable. In the winter season, when nature, usually so attractive, presented nothing to amuse or dispel one's gloom, and when, therefore, something or some one suited for that purpose was so desirable, no one of course visited me. But I will not murmur. I suppose this was but another constituent of that mechanical mixture of ills and anxieties and suspense that characterized my cadet life. At any rate I can console myself in my victory over prejudice, whether that victory be admitted or not. I know I have so lived that they could find in me no fault different from those at least common to themselves, and have thus forced upon their consciences a just and merited recognition whether or not they are disposed to follow conscience and openly accept my claim to their brotherly love.
*I could and did have a pleasant chat every day, more or less, with "Bentz the bugler," the tailor, barber, commissary clerk, the policeman who scrubbed out my room and brought around the mail, the treasurer's clerk, cadets occasionally, and others. The statement made in some of the newspapers, that from one year's end to another I never heard the sound of my own voice, except in the recitation room, is thus seen to be untrue.
IT is a common saying among cadets that "first-class camp is just like furlough." I rather think the assertion is an inheritance from former days and the cadets of those days, for the similarity at present between first-class camp and furlough is beyond our conception. There is none, or if any it is chimerical, depending entirely on circumstances. In the case of a small class it would be greater than in that of a large one. For instance, in "train drill" a certain number of men are required. No more are necessary. It would be inexpedient to employ a whole class when the class had more men in it than were required for the drill. In such cases the supernumeraries are instructed in something else, and alternate with those who attend train drill. In the case of a small class all attend the same drill daily, and that other duty or drill is reserved for autumn. Thus there is less drill in camp, and it becomes more like furlough when there is none at all.
Again, first-classmen enjoy more privileges than others, and for this reason their camp is more like furlough. If, however, there are numerous drills, the analogy will fail; for how can duty, drills, etc., coexist with privileges such as first-class privileges? Time which otherwise would be devoted to enjoyment of privileges is now consumed in drills. Still there is much in it which makes first-class camp the most delightful part of a cadet's life. There are more privileges, the duties are lighter and more attractive, and make it withal more enjoyable. First, members of the class attend drill both as assistants and as students. They are detailed as chiefs of platoon, chiefs of section, chiefs of caissons, and as guidons at the light battery; as chiefs of pieces at the several foot batteries; attend themselves at the siege or sea-coast batteries, train drill, pontoon drill, engineering, ordnance, and astronomy, and they are also detailed as officers of the guard. These duties are generally not very difficult nor unpleasant to discharge. Second, from the nature of the privileges allowed first-classmen, they have more opportunity for pleasure than other cadets, and therefore avoid the rather serious consequences of their monotonous academic military life. A solitary monotonous life is rather apt to engender a dislike for mankind, and no high sense of honor or respect for women. I deem these privileges of especial importance, as they enable one to avoid that danger and to cultivate the highest possible regard for women, and those virtues and other Christian attributes of which they are the better exponents. A soldier is particularly liable to fall into this sans-souci way of looking at life, and those to whom its pleasures, as well as its ills, are largely due. We are indebted to our fellows for every thing which affects our life as regards its happiness or unhappiness, and this latter misfortune will rarely be ours if we properly appreciate our friends and those who can and will make life less wretched. To shut one's self up in one's self is merely to trust, or rather to set up, one's own judgment as superior to the world's. That cannot be, nor can there be happiness in such false views of our organization as being of and for each other.
At this point of the course many of the first-class have attained their majority. They are men, and in one year more will be officers of the army. It becomes them, therefore, to lay aside the ordinary student's rle, and assume a more dignified one, one more in conformity with their age and position. They leave all cadet rles, etc., to the younger classes, and put on the proper dignity of men.
There are for them more privileges. They are more independent—more like men; and consequently they find another kind of enjoyment in camp than that of the cadet. It is a general, a proper, a rational sort of pleasure such as one would enjoy at home among relatives or friends, and hence the similarity between first-class camp and furlough.
But it is not thus with all first-classmen. Many, indeed the majority, are cadets till they graduate. They see every thing as a cadet, enjoy every thing as a cadet, and find the duties, etc., of first-class camp as irksome as those of plebe or yearling camp. Of course such men see no similarity between first- class camp and furlough. It is their misfortune. We should enjoy as many things as we can, and not sorrow over them. We should not make our life one of sorrow when it could as well be one of comfort and pleasure. I don't mean comfort and pleasure in an epicurean sense, but in a moral one. Still first-classmen do have many duties to perform, but there is withal one consolation at least, there are no upper classmen to keep the plebe or yearling in his place. There is no feeling of humbleness because of junior rank, for the first class is the first in rank, and therefore need humble itself to none other than the proper authorities.
Again, their honor, as "cadets and gentlemen," is relied upon as surety for obedience and regard for regulations. They are not subject to constant watching as plebes are. The rigor of discipline is not so severe upon them as upon others. It was expended upon them during their earlier years at the Academy, and, as a natural consequence, any violation of regulations, etc., by a first-classman, merits and receives a severer punishment than would be visited upon a junior classman for a like infringement on his part.
The duties of first-classmen in first-class camp are as follows: The officer of the day and two officers of the guard are detailed each day from the class. Their duties are precisely those of similar officers in the regular army. The junior officer of the guard daily reports to the observatory to find the error of the tower clock. Also each day are detailed the necessary assistants for the several light batteries, who are on foot or mounted, as the case may require. The remainder of the class receive instructions in the service of the siege and sea-coast artillery. These drills come in the early forenoon. After them come ordnance and engineering.
The entire class is divided as equally as may be into two parts, which alternate in attendance at ordnance and engineering.
In ordnance the instructions are on the preparation of military fireworks, fixing of ammunition and packing it, the battery wagon and forge. This instruction is thoroughly practical. The cadets make the cases for rockets, paper shells, etc., and fill them, leaving them ready for immediate use. The stands of fixed ammunition prepared are the grape and canister, and shell and shot, with their sabots.
The battery wagon and forge are packed as prescribed in the "Ordnance Manual."
The instructions in engineering are also practical and military. They are in the modes of throwing and dismantling pontoon bridges, construction of fascines, gabions, hurdles, etc., and revetting batteries with them. Sometimes also during camp, more often after, foot reconnoissances are made. A morning and night detail is made daily from the class to receive practical instruction in astronomy in the field observatory.
Night signalling with torches, and telegraphy by day, form other sources of instruction for the first class.
Telegraphy, or train drill, as the drill is called, consists in erecting the telegraph line and opening communication between two stations, and when this is done, in communicating so as to acquire a practical knowledge of the instruments and their use.
These various drills—all of them occurring daily, Sunday of course excepted, and for part of them Saturday also—complete the course of instruction given the first class only during their first-class camp. It will be observed that they all of them are of a military nature and of the greatest importance. The instruction is thorough accordingly.
I have sufficiently described, I think, a cadet's first-class camp. I shall, therefore, close the chapter here.
OUR FUTURE HEROES.
THE WEST POINT CADETS' VACATION.
Ten Days of Centennial Sport for Prospective Warriors —The Miseries of three hundred Young Gentlemen who are limited to Ten Pairs of White Trousers each.
"ALMOST at the foot of George's Hill, and not far to the westward of Machinery Hall, is the camp of the West Point cadets. From morning till night the domestic economy of the three hundred young gentlemen who compose the corps is closely watched, and their guard mountings and dress parades attract throngs of spectators. It would be hard to find anywhere a body of young men so manly in appearance, so perfect in discipline, and so soldier-like and intelligent. The system of competitive examination for admission, so largely adopted within the past few years in many of our large cities, has resulted in recruiting the corps with lads of bright intellect and more than ordinary attainments, while the strict physical examination has rigorously excluded all but those of good form and perfect health. The competitive system has also given to the Academy students who want to learn, instead of lads who are content to scramble through the prescribed course as best they can, escaping the disgrace of being "found" (a cadet term equivalent to the old college word "plucked") by nearly a hair's-breadth.
"The camp.—The camp is laid out in regulation style, and has four company streets. Near the western limit of the Centennial grounds are the tents of the commandant and the cadet captains and lieutenants. Below, on a gentle incline, are the wall tents, occupied by the cadets. Each of these has a board floor, and it is so arranged that when desired it may be thrown open on all sides. From two to four narrow iron cots, a bucket for water, an occasional chair, and now and then a mirror, comprise the furniture. But scanty as it is, every article of this little outfit has a place, and must be kept in it, or woe to the unlucky wight upon whom the duty of housekeeping devolves for the day. The bucket must stand on the left-hand side of the tent, in front; the beds must be made at a certain hour and in a certain style—for the coming heroes of America have to be their own chambermaids; while valises and other baggage must be stowed away in as orderly a way as possible. Every morning the tents are inspected, and any lack of neatness or order insures for the chambermaid of the day a misconduct mark. It may be easily conceived that under a regime so strict as this the cadets are particularly careful as to their quarters, inasmuch as one hundred of these marks mean dismissal from the Academy.
"At daybreak the reveille sounds, and the cadets turn out for roll-call. Then come breakfast, guard mounting, and camp and general police duty, which consume the time until 8.30 A.M., from which hour those who are not on guard have the freedom of the Centennial grounds. At 5 P.M. they must fall in for dress parade; at 9 they answer to 'tattoo' roll-call, and a few minutes later 'taps' or 'lights out' consigns them to darkness and quiet.
"West Point Aristocracy.—Small as is this corps, it is still patent that the distinction of caste is very strong. A first-classman—cadet officers are selected from this class—looks down upon lower grade men, while second-class cadets view their juniors with something nearly allied to contempt, and third-class men are amusingly patronizing in their treatment of 'plebes' or new-comers. For the first year of their Academy life the 'plebes' have rather a hard time of it; but no sooner do they emerge from their chrysalis state than they are as hard upon their unfortunate successors as the third-class men of the year before were upon them.
"The cadets are delighted with their reception and kind treatment in Philadelphia, and look upon their ten days' visit to the Centennial as a most pleasant break in the monotony of Academy life. That they maintain the reputation of the Academy for gallantry and devotion to the fair sex is evidenced by the presence of numbers of beautiful young ladies in their camp after dress parade every evening. Given, a pretty girl, the twilight of a summer evening, and a youth in uniform, and the result is easily guessed.
"The Cadet Corps is to return to West Point to-morrow morning. There the cadets are to go into camp until September. General Sherman at one time purposed to have them march from this city to the Academy, but it was finally decided that the march would consume time which might be more profitably devoted to drill.
"One of the complaints of the cadets is that in the arrangements for their visit, the Quartermaster's Department was stricken with a spasm of economy as regarded transportation, and each of the future heroes was limited to the miserably insufficient allowance of ten pairs of white trousers.
"The cadets speak in warmly eulogistic terms of the Seventh New York, to whose kindly attentions, they say, much of their pleasure is due."
Of this article, which was taken from the Philadelphia Times, I need only say, those "two or four narrow iron cots" and that "occasional chair" existed solely in the imagination of the reporter, as they were nowhere visible within the limits of our encampment.
A brave and honorable and courteous man Will not insult me; and none other can."—Cowper.
"How do they treat you?" "How do you get along?" and multitudes of analogous questions have been asked me over and over again. Many have asked them for mere curiosity's sake, and to all such my answers have been as short and abrupt as was consistent with common politeness. I have observed that it is this class of people who start rumors, sometimes harmless, but more often the cause of needless trouble and ill-feeling. I have considered such a class dangerous, and have therefore avoided them as much as it was possible. I will mention a single instance where such danger has been made manifest.
A Democratic newspaper, published I know not where, in summing up the faults of the Republican party, took occasion to advert to West Point. It asserted in bold characters that I had stolen a number of articles from two cadets, had by them been detected in the very act, had been seen by several other cadets who had been summoned for the purpose that they might testify against me, had been reported to the proper authorities, the affair had been thoroughly investigated by them, my guilt established beyond the possibility of doubt, and yet my accusers had actually been dismissed while I was retained.* This is cited as an example of Republican rule; and the writer had the effrontery to ask, "How long shall such things be?" I did not reply to it then, nor do I intend to do so now. Such assertions from such sources need no replies. I merely mention the incident to show how wholly given to party prejudices some men can be. They seem to have no thought of right and justice, but favor whatever promotes the aims and interests of their own party, a party not Democratic but hellish. How different is the following article from the Philadelphia North American, of July 7th, 1876:
*This article was cut from a newspaper, and, together with the name of the paper, was posted in a conspicuous place, where other cadets, as well as myself, saw and read it.
"It is very little to the credit of the West Point cadets, a body of young men in whose superior discipline and thoroughly excellent deportment we feel in common with nearly all others a gratified pride, that they should be so ungenerous and unjust as they confess themselves to be in their treatment of the colored boy, who, like themselves, has been made a ward of the nation. We know nothing of this young man's personal character or habits, but we have seen no unkind criticism of them. For that reason we condemn as beneath contempt the spirit which drives him to an isolation, in bearing which the black shows himself the superior of the white. We do not ask nor do we care to encourage any thing more than decent courtesy. But the young gentlemen who boast of holding only official intercourse with their comrade should remember that no one of them stands before the country in any different light from him. West Point is an academy for the training of young men, presumably representative of the people, for a career sufficiently honorable to gratify any ambition. The cadets come from all parts of the country, from all ranks of the social scale. Amalgamated by the uniform course of studies and the similarity of discipline, the separating fragments at the end of the student life carry similar qualities into the life before them, and step with almost remarkable social equality into the world where they must find their level. It would be expecting too much to hope that the companionship which surmounts or breaks down all the barriers of caste, should tread with equal heel the prejudices of color. But it would be more manly in these boys, if they would remember how easy ordinary courtesy would be to them, how much it would lighten the life of a young man whose rights are equal to their own. It is useless to ignore the inevitable. This colored boy has his place; he should have fair, encouragement to hold it. Heaping neglect upon him does not overcome the principle involved in his appointment, and while we by no means approve of such appointments we do believe in common justice."
On the other hand, many have desired this information for a practical use, and that, too, whether they were prejudiced or not. That is, if friends, they were anxious to know how I fared, whether or not I was to be a success, and if a success to use that fact in the interest of the people; and if enemies, they wanted naturally to know the same things in order to use the knowledge to the injury of the people if I proved a failure.
I have not always been able to distinguish one class from the other, and have therefore been quite reticent about my life and treatment at West Point. I have, too, avoided the newspapers as much as possible. I succeeded in this so well that it was scarcely known that I was at the Academy. Much surprise was manifested when I appeared in Philadelphia at the Centennial. One gentleman said to me in the Government building: "You are quite an exhibition yourself. No one was expecting to see a colored cadet."
But I wander from my theme. It is a remarkable fact that the new cadets, in only a very few instances, show any unwillingness to speak or fraternize. It is not till they come in contact with the rougher elements of the corps that they manifest any disposition to avoid one. It was so in my own class, and has been so in all succeeding classes.
When I was a plebe those of us who lived on the same floor of barracks visited each other, borrowed books, heard each other recite when preparing for examination, and were really on most intimate terms. But alas! in less than a month they learned to call me "nigger," and ceased altogether to visit me. We did the Point together, shared with each other whatever we purchased at the sulter's, and knew not what prejudice was. Alas! we were soon to be informed! In camp, brought into close contact with the old cadets, these once friends discovered that they were prejudiced, and learned to abhor even the presence or sight of a "d—d nigger."
Just two years after my entrance into the Academy, I met in New York a young man who was a plebe at the time I was, and who then associated with me. He recognized me, hurried to me from across the street, shook my hand heartily, and expressed great delight at seeing me. He showed me the photograph of a classmate, told me where I could find him, evidently ignorant of my ostracism, and, wishing me all sorts of success, took his leave. After he left me I involuntarily asked myself, "Would it have been thus if he had not been 'found on his prelim?' " Possibly not, but it is very, very doubtful.
There are some, indeed the majority of the corps are such, who treat me on all occasions with proper politeness. They are gentlemen themselves, and treat others as it becomes gentlemen to do. They do not associate, nor do they speak other than officially, except in a few cases. They are perhaps as much prejudiced as the others, but prejudice does not prevent all from being gentlemen. On the other hand, there are some from the very lowest classes of our population. They are uncouth and rough in appearance, have only a rudimentary education, have little or no idea of courtesy, use the very worst language, and in most cases are much inferior to the average negro. What can be expected of such people? They are low, and their conduct must be in keeping with their breeding. I am not at all surprised to find it so. Indeed, in ordinary civil life I should consider such people beneath me in the social scale, should even reckon some of them as roughs, and consequently give them a wide berth.
What surprises me most is the control this class seems to have over the other. It is in this class I have observed most prejudice, and from it, or rather by it, the other becomes tainted. It seems to rule the corps by fear. Indeed, I know there are many who would associate, who would treat me as a brother cadet, were they not held in constant dread of this class. The bullies, the fighting men of the corps are in it. It rules by fear, and whoever disobeys its beck is "cut." The rest of the corps follows like so many menials subject to command. In short, there is a fearful lack of backbone. There is, it seems at first sight, more prejudice at West Point than elsewhere. It is not really so I think.
The officers of the institution have never, so far as I can say, shown any prejudice at all. They have treated me with uniform courtesy and impartiality. The cadets, at least some of them, away from West Point, have also treated me with such gentlemanly propriety. The want of backbone predominates to such an alarming extent at West Point they are afraid to do so there. I will mention a few cases under this subject of treatment.
During my first-class camp I was rather surprised on one occasion to have a plebe—we had been to the Centennial Exhibition and returned, and of course my status must have been known to him—come to my tent to borrow ink of me. I readily complied with his request, feeling proud of what I thought was the beginning of a new era in my cadet life. I felt he would surely prove himself manly enough, after thus recognizing me, to keep it up, and thus bring others under his influence to the same cause. And I was still further assured in this when I observed he made his visits frequent and open. At length, sure of my willingness to oblige him, he came to me, and, after expressing a desire to "bone up" a part of the fourth- class course, and the need he felt for such "boning," begged me to lend him my algebra. I of course readily consented, gave him my key, and sent him to my trunk in the trunk rooms to get it. He went. He got it, and returned the key. He went into ecstasies, and made no end of thanks to me for my kindness, etc. All this naturally confirmed my opinion and hope of better recognition ultimately. Indeed, I was glad of an opportunity to prove that I was not unkind or ungenerous. I supposed he would keep the book till about September, at which time he would get one of his own, as every cadet at that time was required to procure a full course of text-books, these being necessary for reference, etc., in future life. And so he did. Some time after borrowing the book, he came to me and asked for India ink. I handed him a stick, or rather part of one, and received as usual his many thanks. Several days after this, and at night, during my absence—I was, if I remember aright, at Fort Clinton making a series of observations with a zenith telescope in the observatory there—he came to the rear of my tent, raised the wall near one corner, and placed the ink on the floor, just inside the wall, which he left down as he found it.
I found the ink there when I returned. I was utterly disgusted with the man. The low, unmanly way in which he acted was wholly without my approval. If he was disposed to be friendly, why be cowardly about it? If he must recognize me secretly, why, I would rather not have such recognition. Acting a lie to his fellow- cadets by appearing to be inimical to me and my interests, while he pretended the reverse to me, proved him to have a baseness of character with which I didn't care to identify myself.
September came at last, and my algebra was returned. The book was the one I had used my first year at the Academy. I had preserved it, as I have all of my books, for future use and as a sort of souvenir of my cadet life. It was for that sole reason of great value to me. I enjoined upon him to take care of the book, and in nowise to injure it. My name was on the back, on the cover, and my initial, "F," in two other places on the cover. When the book was returned he had cut the calfskin from the cover, so as to remove my name. The result was a horrible disfiguration of the book, and a serious impairment of its durability. The mere sight of the book angered me, and I found it difficult to retrain from manifesting as much. He undoubtedly did it to conceal the fact that the book was borrowed from me. Such unmanliness, such cowardice, such baseness even, was most disgusting; and I felt very much as if I would like to—well, I don't know that I would. There was no reason at all for mutilating the book. If he was not man enough to use it with my name on it, why did he borrow it and agree not to injure it? On that sole condition I lent it. Why did he not borrow some one else's and return mine?
I have been asked, "What is the general feeling of the corps towards you? Is it a kindly one, or is it an unfriendly one. Do they purposely ill-treat you or do they avoid you merely?" I have found it rather difficult to answer unqualifiedly such questions; and yet I believe, and have always believed, that the general feeling of the corps towards me was a kindly one. This has been manifested in multitudes of ways, on innumerably occasions, and under the most various circumstances. And while there are some who treat me at times in an unbecoming manner, the majority of the corps have ever treated me as I would desire to be treated. I mean, of course, by this assertion that they have treated me as I expected and really desired them to treat me, so long as they were prejudiced. They have held certain opinions more or less prejudicial to me and my interests, but so long as they have not exercised their theories to my displeasure or discomfort, or so long as they have "let me severely alone," I had no just reason for complaint. Again, others, who have no theory of their own, and almost no manliness, have been accustomed "to pick quarrels," or to endeavor to do so, to satisfy I don't know what; and while they have had no real opinions of their own, they have not respected those of others. Their feeling toward me has been any thing but one of justice, and yet at times even they have shown a remarkable tendency to recognize me as having certain rights entitled to their respect, if not their appreciation.
As I have been practically isolated from the cadets, I have had little or no intercourse with them. I have therefore had but little chance to know what was really the feeling of the corps as a unit toward myself. Judging, however, from such evidences as I have, I am forced to conclude that it is as given above, viz., a feeling of kindness, restrained kindness if you please.
Here are some of the evidences which have come under my notice.
I once heard a cadet make the following unchristian remark about myself when a classmate had been accidentally hurt at light-battery drill: "I wish it had been the nigger, and it had killed him." I couldn't help looking at him, and I did; but that, and nothing more. Some time after this, at cavalry drill, we were side by side, and I had a rather vicious horse, one in fact which I could not manage. He gave a sudden jump unexpectedly to me. I almost lost my seat in the saddle. This cadet seized me by the arm, and in a tone of voice that was evidently kind and generous, said to me, "For heaven's sake be careful. You'll be thrown and get hurt if you don't." How different from that other wish given above!
Another evidence, and an important one, may be given in these words. It is customary for the senior, or, as we say, the first class, to choose, each member, a horse, and ride him exclusively during the term. The choice is usually made by lot, and each man chooses according to the number he draws. By remarkable good fortune I drew No. 1, and had therefore the first choice of all the horses in the stables.
As soon as the numbers drawn were published, several classmates hastened to me for the purpose of effecting an exchange of choice. It will at once be seen that any such change would in no manner benefit me, for if I lost the first choice I might also lose the chance of selecting a good horse. With the avowed intention of proving that I had at least a generous disposition, and also that I was not disposed to consider, in my reciprocal relations with the cadets, how I had been, and was even then treated by them, I consented to exchange my first choice for the fourteenth.
This agreement was made with the first that asked for an exchange. Several others came, and, when informed of the previous agreement, of course went their way. A day or two after this a number of cadets were discussing the choice of horses, etc., and reverted to the exchange which I had made. One of them suggested that if an exchange of a choice higher than fourteen were suggested to me, I might accept it.
What an idea, he must have had of my character to suppose me base enough to disregard an agreement I had already made!
However, all in the crowd were not as base as he was, and one of them was man enough to say:
"Oh no! that would be imposing upon Mr. Flipper's good nature." He went on to show how ungentlemanly and unbecoming in a "cadet and gentleman" such an act would be. The idea was abandoned, or at least was never broached to me, and if it had been I would never have entertained it. Such an act on the part of the cadet could have arisen only from a high sense of manly honor or from a feeling of kindness.
There are multitudes of little acts of kindness similar to these, and even different ones. I need not—indeed as I do not remember them all I cannot —mention them all. They all show, however, that the cadets are not avowedly inclined to ill-treat me, but rather to assist me to make my life under the circumstances as pleasant as can be. And there may be outside influences, such as relatives or friends, which bias their own better judgments and keep them from fully and openly recognizing me. For however hard either way may be, it is far easier to do as friends wish than as conscience may dictate, when conscience and friends differ. Under such conditions it would manifestly be unjust for me to expect recognition of them, even though they themselves were disposed to make it. I am sure this is at least a Christian view of the case, and with such view I have ever kept aloof from the cadets. I have not obtruded myself upon them, nor in any way attempted to force recognition from them. This has proved itself to be by far the better way, and I don't think it could well be otherwise.
The one principle which has controlled my conduct while a cadet, and which is apparent throughout my narrative, is briefly this: to find, if possible, for every insult or other offence a reason or motive which is consistent with the character of a gentleman. Whenever I have been insulted, or any thing has been done or said to me which might have that construction, I have endeavored to find some excuse, some reason for it, which was not founded on prejudice or on baseness of character or any other ungentlemanly attribute; or, in other words, I wanted to prove that it was not done because of my color. If I could find such a reason—and I have found them—I have been disposed not only to overlook the offence, but to forgive and forget it. Thus there are many cadets who would associate, etc., were they not restrained by the force of opinion of relatives and friends. This cringing dependence, this vassalage, this mesmerism we may call it, we all know exists. Why, many a cadet has openly confessed to me that he did not recognize us because he was afraid of being "cut."
Again, I find some too high-toned, too punctilious, to recognize me. I attribute this not to the loftiness of their highnesses nor to prejudice, but to the depth of their ignorance, and of course I forgive and forget. Others again are so "reckless," so "don't care" disposed, that they treat me as fancy dictates, now friendly, now vacillating, and now inimical. With these I simply do as the Romans do. If they are friendly, so am I; if they scorn me, I do not obtrude myself upon them; if they are indifferent, I am indifferent too.
There is a rather remarkable case under this subject which has caused me no little surprise and disappointment. I refer to those cadets appointed by colored members of Congress.
It was quite natural to expect of them better treatment than of others, and yet if in any thing at all they differed from the former, they were the more reserved and discourteous. They most "severely let me alone." They never associated, nor did they speak, except officially, and then they always spoke in a haughty and insolent manner that was to me most exasperating. And in one case in particular was this so. One of those so appointed was the son of the colored Congressman who sent him there, and from him at least good treatment was reasonably expected. There have been only two such appointments to my knowledge, and it is a singular fact that they were both overbearing, conceited, and by no means popular with their comrades. The status of one was but little better than my own, and only in that his comrades would speak and associate. He was not "cut," but avoided as much as possible without making the offence too patent.
There was a cadet in the corps with myself who invariably dropped his head whenever our eyes met. His complexion was any thing but white, his features were rough and homely, and his person almost entirely without symmetry or beauty. From this singular circumstance and his physique, I draw the conclusion that he was more African than Anglo-Saxon. Indeed, I once heard as much insinuated by a fellow-cadet, to whom his reply was: "It's an honor to be black."
Near the close of this chapter I have occason to speak of fear. There I mean by fear a sort of shrinking demeanor or disposition to accept insults and other petty persecutions as just dues, or to leave them unpunished from actual cowardice, to which fear some have been pleased to attribute my generally good treatment. This latter fact has been by many, to my personal knowledge, attributed to fear in another quarter, viz., in the cadets themselves. It has many times been said to me by persons at West Point and elsewhere: "I don't suppose many of those fellows would care to encounter you?"
This idea was doubtless founded upon my physical proportions—I am six feet one and three-quarter inches high, and weigh one hundred and seventy-five pounds. In behalf of the corps of cadets I would disclaim any such notions of fear,
First. Because the conception of the idea is not logical. I was not the tallest, nor yet the largest man in the corps, nor even did I give any evidence of a disposition to fight or bully others.
Second. Because I did not come to West Point purposely to "go through on my muscle." I am not a fighting character, as the cadets—those who know me—can well testify.
Third. Because it is ungenerous to attribute what can result from man's better nature only to such base causes as fear or cowardice. This seems to be about the only way in which many have endeavored to explain the difference between my life at West Point and that of other colored cadets. They seem to think that my physique inspired a sort of fear in the cadets, and forced them at least to let me alone, while the former ones, smaller in size, did therefore create no such fear until by persistent retaliation it was shown they were able to defend themselves.
Now this, I think, is the most shallow of all reasoning and entirely unworthy our further notice.
Fourth. I should be grieved to suppose any one feared me. It is not my desire to go through life feared by any one. I can derive no pleasure from any thing which is accorded me through motives of fear. The grant must be spontaneous and voluntary to give me the most pleasure. I want nothing, not even recognition, unless it be freely given, hence have I not forced myself upon my comrades.
"But the sensible Flipper accepted the situation, and proudly refused to intrude himself on the white boys." — Atlanta (Ga.) Herald.
Fifth. Because it is incompatible with the dignity of a "cadet and a gentleman" for one to fear another.
Sixth. Because it is positively absurd to suppose that one man of three hundred more or less would be feared by the rest individually and collectively, and no rational being would for an instant entertain any such idea. There is, however, a single case which may imply fear on the part of the cadet most concerned. A number of plebes, among them a colored one, were standing on the stoop of barracks. There were also several cadets standing in the doorway, and a sentinel was posted in the hall. This latter individual went up to one of the cadets and said to him, "Make that nigger out there get his hands around," referring to this plebe mentioned above.
I happened to come down stairs just at that time, and as soon as he uttered those words he turned and saw me. He hung his head, and in a cowardly manner sneaked off, while the cadets in the door also dispersed with lowered heads. Was it fear? Verily I know not. Possibly it was shame.
Again I recall a rather peculiar circumstance which will perhaps sustain this notion of fear on the part of the cadets. I have on every occasion when I had command over my fellow-cadets in any degree, noticed that they were generally more orderly and more obedient than when this authority was exercised by another.
Thus whenever I commanded the guard there were very few reports for offences committed by members of the guard. They have ever been obedient and military. In camp, when I was first in command of the guard, I had a most orderly guard and a very pleasant tour, and that too, observe, while some of the members of it were plebes and on for the first time. On all such occasions it is an immemorial custom for the yearlings to interfere with and haze the plebe sentinels. Not a sentinel was disturbed, not a thing went amiss, and why? Manifestly because it was thought —and rightly too—that I would not connive at such interference, and because they feared to attempt it lest they be watched and reported. Later, however, even this semblance of fear disappeared, and they acted under me precisely as they do under others, because they are convinced that I will not stoop to spy or retaliate.
"The boys were rather afraid that when he should come to hold the position as officer of the guard that he would swagger over them; but he showed good sense and taste, merely assuming the rank formally and leaving his junior to carry out the duty."—New York Herald.
And just here it is worthy of notice that the press, in commenting upon my chances of graduating, has never, so far as I know, entertained any doubts of my ability to do so. It has, on the contrary, expressed the belief that the probability of my graduating depended upon the officers of the Academy, and upon any others who, by influence or otherwise, were connected with the Academy. Some have even hinted at politics as a possible ground upon which they might drop me.
All such opinions have been created and nurtured by the hostile portion of the press, and, I regret to say, by that part also which ought to have been more friendly, if not more discreet. No branch of the government is freer from the influences and whims of politicians than the National Military Academy. Scarcely any paper has considered how the chances of any cadet depended upon himself alone. The authorities of the Academy are, or have been, officers of the army. They are, with one or two exceptions, graduates, and therefore, presumably, "officers and gentlemen." To transform young men into a like ilk as themselves is their duty. The country intrusts them with this great responsibility. To prove faithless to such a charge would be to risk position, and even those dearer attributes of the soldier, honor and reputation. They would not dare ill-treat a colored cadet or a white one. Of course the prejudice of race is not yet overcome entirely, and possibly they may be led into some indiscretion on account of it; but I do not think it would be different at any other college in the country. It is natural.
There are prejudices of caste as well as prejudices of race, and I am most unwilling to believe it possible that any officer would treat with injustice a colored cadet who in true gentlemanly qualities, intelligence, and assiduousness equals or excels certain white ones who are treated with perfect equanimity. With me it has not been so. I have been treated as I would wish to be in the majority of cases. There have been of course occasions where I've fancied wrong had been done me. I expected to be ill-treated. I went to West Point fully convinced that I'd have "a rough time of it." Who that has read the many newspaper versions of the treatment of colored cadets, and of Smith in particular would not have been so convinced? When, therefore, any affront or any thing seemingly of that nature was offered me, I have been disposed, naturally I think, to unduly magnify it, because I expected it. This was hasty and unjust, and so I admit, now that I am better informed. What was apparently done to incommode or discourage me has been shown to have been done either for my own benefit or for some other purpose, not to my harm. In every single instance I have, after knowing better the reason for such acts, felt obliged to acknowledge the injustice of my fears. At other times I have been agreeably surprised at the kindnesses shown me both by officers and cadets, and have found myself at great loss to reconcile them with acts I had already adjudged as malicious wrongs.
I have, too, been particularly careful not to fall into an error, which, I think, has been the cause of misfortune to at least one of the cadets of color. If a cadet affront another, if a white cadet insult a colored one for instance, the latter can complain to The proper authorities, and, if there be good reason for it, can always get proper redress. This undoubtedly gives the consolation of knowing that the offence will not be repeated, but beyond that I think it a great mistake to have so sought it. A person who constantly complains, even with some show of reason, loses more or less the respect of the authorities. And the offenders, while they refrain from open acts, do nevertheless conduct their petty persecutions in such a manner that one can shape no charge against them, and consequently finds himself helpless. One must endure these little tortures—the sneer, the shrug of the shoulder, the epithet, the effort to avoid, to disdain, to ignore— and thus suffer; for any of them are—to me at least— far more hard to bear than a blow. A blow I may resist or ignore. In either case I soon forget it. But a sneer, a shrug of the shoulder, mean more. Either is a blow at my sensitiveness, my inner feelings, and which through no ordinary effort of mind can be altogether forgotten. It is a sting that burns long and fiercely. How much better to have ignored the greater offences which could be reached, and to have thus avoided the lesser ones, which nothing can destroy! How much wiser to stand like a vast front of fortification, on some rocky moral height absolutely unassailable, passively resisting alike the attack by open assault and the surer one by regular approaches! The assault can be repulsed, but who can, who has ever successfully stopped the mines and the galleries through which an entrance is at length forced into the interior?
"We cannot expect the sons to forget the lessons of the sires; but we have a right to demand from the general government the rooting out of all snobbery at West Point, whether it is of that kind which sends poor white boys to Coventry, because they haven't a family name or wealth, or whether it be that smallest, meanest, and shallowest of all aristocracies—the one founded upon color.
"If the government is not able to root out these unrepublican seeds in these hotbeds of disloyalty and snobbery, let Congress shut up the useless and expensive appendages and educate its officers at the colleges of the country, where they may learn lessons in true Republican equality and nationality. The remedy lies with Congress. A remonstrance, at least, should be heard from the colored members of Congress, who are insulted whenever a colored boy is ill-treated by the students or the officers of these institutions. So far from being discouraged by defeats, the unjust treatment meted out to the young men should redouble the efforts of others of their class to conquer this new Bastile by storm. It should lead every colored Congressman to make sure that he either sends a colored applicant or a white one who has not the seeds of snobbery or caste in his soul."
I shall consider this last clause at the end of this chapter, where I shall quote at length the article from which this passage is taken.
If I may be pardoned an opinion on this article, I do not think the true remedy lies with Congress at all. I do not question the right to demand of Congress any thing, but I do doubt the propriety or need of such a proceeding, of course, in the case under consideration. As to "that kind which sends poor white boys to Coventry," because of their poverty, etc., I can say with absolute truthfulness it no longer exists. When it did exist the power to discontinue it did not lie with Congress. Congress has no control over personal whims or prejudices. But I make a slight mistake. There was a time when influence, wealth, or position was able to secure a cadetship. At that time poor boys very rarely succeeded in getting an appointment, and when they did they were most unmercifully "cut" by the snobs of aristocracy who were at the Academy. Then the remedy did lie with Congress. The appointments could have been so made as to exclude those snobs whose only recommendation was their position in society, and so also as to admit boys who were deserving, although they were perhaps poor. This remedy has been made, and all classes (white), whether poor or rich, influential or not, are on terms of absolute equality.