The Negro Cadets – Henry Flipper

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“We publish this morning an account of Cadet Smith s standing at West Point, which should be taken with a few grains of allowance. The embryo colored soldier and all his friends black, white and tan believe that the administrationists have used him shamefully, especially in view of their professions and of the chief source of their political strength. Grant went into the White House by means of colored votes, and his shabby treatment of the first member of the dusky army who reached the point of graduation in the country s military school, is a sore disappointment to them.

“Cadet Smith has been a thorn in the side of the Administration from the start. He could not be bullied out or persecuted out of the institution by the insults or menaces of those who, for consistency s sake, should have folded him to their bosoms. He stood his ground bravely, and much against the will of its rulers. West Point was forced to endure his unwelcome presence up to the time of graduation. At that point a crisis was reached. If the odious cadet were allowed to graduate, his commission would entitle him to assignment in our much officered army, which contains Colonel Fred Grant and a host of other favorites whose only service has been of the Captain Jinks order. The army revolted at the idea. Theoretically they were and are sound on the nigger, but they respectfully and firmly objected to a practical illustration. The Radical General Belknap was easily convinced that the assignment of the unoffending Smith to duty would cause a lack of discipline in any regiment that would be fearful to contemplate.

“Something must be done, and that something was quickly accomplished. They saved the army and the dignity of the horse marines by sacrificing the cadet. To do so, some tangible cause must be alleged, and a deficiency in philosophy was hit upon.

“In vain did Smith appeal to the Secretary of War for an opportunity to be re-examined; in vain did he ask permission to go back and join the class below all appeals were in vain. Gentlemen, says the secretary, I don t wish to be misquoted as saying that I can t give Mr. Smith a re-examination, for I say I won t do it. The victim of the army has since published a three-column card in Fred Douglass s paper, in which he says he was dropped for politico military reasons, and in the course of which he makes an almost unanswerable case for himself, but the Radicals have dropped him in his hour of necessity, and he must submit.”

(From the New York Sun.)

Cadet Smith’s Expulsion.”James W. Smith, the first colored cadet appointed to the Military Academy of West Point, was dismissed after the June examination, having failed to pass an examination in some other studies. Recently the Sun received letters from South Carolina charging that the prejudices of the officers of the Academy led to the dismissal; and to ascertain the truth a Sun reporter went to West Point to investigate the matter. He accosted a soldier thus:

” Were you here before Smith was dismissed?

” Yes, sir; I’ve been here many years.

” Can you tell me why he was dismissed?

” Well, I believe he didn’t pass in philosophy and some other studies.

” What kind of a fellow was he?

” The soldiers thought well of him, but the cadets didn’t. They used to laugh and poke fun at him in Riding Hall, and in the artillery drill all of them refused to join hands with him when the cannoneers were ordered to mount. This is dangerous once in a while, for sometimes they mount when the horses are on a fast trot. But he used to run on as plucky as you please, and always got into his seat without help. Some of the officers used to try to make them carry out the drill, but it was no use. I never saw one of the young fellows give him a hand to make a mount. He was a proud Negro, and had good pluck. I never heard him complain, but his black eyes used to flash when he was insulted, and you could see easy enough that he was in a killin humor. But after the first year he kept his temper pretty well, though he fought hard to do it.

“Captain Robert H. Hall, the post adjutant, said: Young Smith was a bad boy.

Naturally Bad

His temper was hot, and his disposition not honorable. I can assure you that the officers at this post did every thing in their power to help him along in his studies, as well as to improve his standing with his comrades. But his temper interfered with their efforts in the latter direction, while his dulness precluded his passing through the course of studies prescribed.

“Reporter He was always spoken of as a very bright lad.

“Captain Hall He was not bright or ready. He lacked comprehension. In his first year he was very troublesome. First came his assault upon, or affray with, another young gentleman (Cadet Wilson), but the Court of Inquiry deemed it inadvisable to court martial either of them. Then he was insolent to his superior on drill, and being called upon for an explanation he wrote a deliberate falsehood. For this he was court martialled and sentenced to dismissal, but subsequently the findings of the committee were reversed, and Cadet Smith was put back one year. This fact accounts for his good standing on the examination next before the last. You see he went over the same studies twice.

“Reporter What was Cadet Smith found deficient in?

“Captain Hall His worst failure was in natural and experimental philosophy, which embraces the higher mathematics, dynamics, optics, mechanics, and other studies. He missed a very simple question in optics, and the examiners, who were extremely lenient with him, chiefly, I believe, because he was colored and not white, tried him with another, which was also missed.

“Reporter Is optical science deemed an absolutely essential branch of learning for an officer in the army?

Deficient In His Studies.

“Captain Hall It is useful to engineers, for instance. But that is not the question. In most educational institutions of the grade of West Point, the standing of a student in his studies is decided by a general average of all studies in which he is examined. Here each branch is considered separately, and if the cadet fails in any one he cannot pass. I will assure you once more that in my opinion Cadet Smith received as fair an examination as was ever given to any student. If anything, he was a little more favored.

“Reporter What was his conduct in the last year of his stay at the Academy?

“Captain Hall Good. He ranked twenty in a class of forty in discipline. Discipline is decided by the number of marks a cadet receives in the term. If he goes beyond a certain number he is expelled.

“Reporter This record seems hardly consistent with his previous turbulent career.

Captain Hall Oh! in the last years of his service he learned to control his temper, but he never seemed happy unless in some trouble.

“Reporter Have you any more colored cadets?

Captain Hall Only one Henry O. Flipper, of Georgia. He is a well built lad, a mulatto, and is bright, intelligent, and studious.

“Reporter Do the cadets dislike him as much as they did Smith?

“Captain Hall No, Sir, I am told that he is more popular. I have heard of no doubt he will get through all right. And here I will say, that had Mr. Smith been white he would not have gone so far as he did.

“Other officers of the post concur with Captain Hall, but the enlisted men seem to sympathize with Smith. One of them said, I don t believe the officers will ever let a Negro get through. They don t want them in the army.

“Cadet Smith s career for the three years of his service was indeed a most unhappy one, but whether that unhappiness arose from

The Infirmities Of Temper or from the persistent persecutions of his comrades cannot be authoritatively said. One officer attributed much of the pugnacity which Smith exhibited early in his course to the injudicious letters sent him by his friends. In some of these he was advised to fight for the honor of his race, and others urged him to brook no insult at the hands of the white cadets. The menial duties which the plebes are called upon to do in their first summer encampment were looked upon by Smith as personal insults thrust upon him, although his comrades made no complaint. Then the social ostracism to a lad of his sensitive nature was almost unbearable, and an occasional outbreak is not to be wondered at.

“Before he had been in the Academy a week he wrote to a friend complaining of the treatment he received from his fellows, and this letter being published intensified the hostility of the other cadets. Soon after this he had a fight with Cadet Wilson and cut his face with a dipper. Then followed the breach of discipline on drill, the court martial and sentence, and finally the Congressional investigation, which did not effect any good. Smith says that frequently on squad drill he was detached from the squad by the cadet corporal, and told that he was not to stand side by side with white men.

“West Point, June 19.”

The Colored Cadet.

His Trials and Persecutions: Three Years of Abuse Settled at Last “Eli Perkins” tells the Story.

To the Editor of the Daily Graphic:

About the 20th of May, 1870, I saw the colored Cadet, James W. Smith land at the West Point Dock. He was appointed by a personal friend of mine, Judge Hoge, Member of Congress from Columbia, South Carolina. The mulatto boy was about five feet eight inches high, with olive complexion and freckles. Being hungry he tipped his hat to a cadet as he jumped from the ferry boat and asked him the way to the hotel.

” Over there, boy, replied the cadet, pointing to the Rose Hotel owned by the government.

“On arriving there the colored boy laid down his carpet bag, registered his name, and asked for something to eat.

” What! A meal of victuals for a nigger? asked the clerk.

” Yes, Sir, I’m hungry and I should like to buy something to eat.

” Well, you’ll have to be hungry a good while if you wait to get something to eat here, and the clerk of the government hotel pushed the colored boy s carpet bag off upon the floor.

“Jimmy Smith s father, who fought with General Sherman, and came back to become an alderman in Columbia, had told the boy that when he got to West Point among soldiers he would be treated justly, and you can imagine how the hungry boy felt when he trudged back over the hot campus to see Colonel Black and General Schriver, who was then Superintendent of the Academy.

“The black boy came and stood before the commandant and handed him his appointment papers and asked him to read them. Colonel Black, Colonel Boynton, and other officers looked around inquiringly. Then they got up to take a good look at, the first colored cadet. The colonel, red in the face, waved the boy away with his hand, and, one by one, the officers departed, speechless with amazement.

“In a few moments the news spread through the Academy. The white cadets seemed paralyzed.

“Several cadets threatened to resign, some advocated maiming him for life, and a Democratic pleb from Illinois exclaimed, I d rather die than drill with the black devil. But wiser counsels prevailed, and the cadets consented to tolerate Jimmy Smith and not drown or kill him for four weeks, when it was thought the examiners would bilge him.

“On the 16th of June, 1870, I saw Jimmy Smith again at West Point and wrote out my experiences. He was the victim of great annoyance.

“At these insults the colored cadet showed a suppressed emotion. He could not break the ranks to chastise his assaulter. Then if he had fought with every cadet who called him a black hearted nigger, he would have fought with the whole Academy. Not the professors, for they have been as truly gentlemen as they are good officers. If they had feelings against the colored cadet they suppressed them. I say now that the indignities heaped upon Jimmy Smith would have been unbearable to any white boy of spirit. Hundreds of times a day he was publicly called names so mean that I dare not write them.

“Once I met Jimmy Smith after drill. He bore the insulting remarks like a Christian.

” I expected it, he said; but it was not so at the Hartford High School. There I had the second honors of my class. Then he showed me a catalogue of the Hartford High School, and there was the name of James W. Smith as he graduated with the next highest honor.

“On that occasion I asked Jimmy who his father was.

” His name is Israel Smith. He used to belong to Sandres Guignard, of Columbia.

” Then he was a slave?

” Yes, but when Sherman s army freed him he became a Union soldier.

” And your mother?

” She is Catherine Smith, born free. Here Jimmy showed his mother s photograph. She looked like a mulatto woman, with straight hair and regular features. She had a serious, Miss Siddons looking face.

” How did you come to “the Point?” I asked.

” Well, Mr. David Clark, of Hartford, promised to educate me, and he got Congressman Hoge to appoint me.

” How came Mr. Clark to become interested in you?

” Well, a very kind white lady Miss Loomis came to Columbia to teach the freedmen. I went to school to her and studied so hard and learned so fast that she told Mr. Clark about me. My father is able to support me, but Mr. Clark is a great philanthropist and he has taken a liking to me and he is going to stand by me.

” What does Mr. Clark say when you write about how the cadets treat you?

“The colored boy handed me this letter from his benefactor:

” Hartford, June 7, 1870.

” Dear Jemmy: Yours, 1st inst., is at hand and noted. I herewith inclose stamps.

” Let them call “nigger” as much as they please; they will laugh out of the other corner of their mouth before the term is over.

” Your only way is to maintain your dignity. Go straight ahead. If any personal insult is offered, resist it, and then inform me; I will then see what I can do. But I think you need have no fear on that score. Have been out to Windham a few days. All well, and send kind regards. Mary sails for Europe Saturday. President Grant is to be here the 2d. He will be my guest or Governor Jewell s.

” Yours, etc.,
” D. Clark.

” So Mr. Clark knows the President, does he?

” Why, yes; he knows everybody all the great men. He s a great man himself; and this poor colored boy stood up, I thought, the proudest champion David Clark ever had.

” Yes, David Clark is a good man, I mused, as I saw the grateful tears standing in the colored cadet s eyes.

“When I got back to the hotel I heard a wishy washy girl, who came up year after year with a party to flirt with the cadets say:

” O dear! it is hawid to have this colod cadet perfectly dre fful. I should die to see my George standing next to him.

“But Miss Schenck, the daughter of General Schenck, our Minister to the Court of St. James, told Jimmy Smith that she hoped he would graduate at the head of his class, and when the colored boy told me about it he said:

” Oh, sir, a splendid lady called to see me today. I wish I knew her name. I want to tell David Clark.

“Every white boy at West Point now agreed to cut the colored boy. No one was to say a single word to him, or even answer yes or no. At the same time they would abuse him and swear at him in their own conversation loud enough for him to hear. It is a lamentable fact that every white cadet at the Point swears and chews tobacco like the army in Flanders.

“Again I saw Jimmy Smith on the 9th of July. The officers of the Academy had been changed. Old General Schriver had given place to young General Upton. The young general is a man of feeling and a lover of justice. He sent for the colored boy, and taking his hand he said:

” My boy, you say you want to resign, that you can stand this persecution no longer. You must not do it. You are here an officer of the army. You have stood a severe examination. You have passed honorably and you shall not be persecuted into resigning. I am your friend. Come to me and you shall have justice.

“Then General Upton addressed the cadets on dress parade. He told them personal insults against their brother cadet, whose only crime was color, must cease.

“One day a cadet came to Jimmy and said he would befriend him if he dared to, but you know I would be ostracized if I should speak to you.

” What was the cadet s name? I asked.

” Oh, I dare not tell? replied the colored boy. He would be ruined, too.

” Did your father write to you when you thought of resigning?


” Yes; here is his letter, replied the colored boy:

” Columbia, S.C., July 3, 1870.

” My Dear Son: I take great pleasure in answering your kind letter received last night. I pray God that my letter may find you in a better state of consolation than when you wrote to me. I told you that you would have trials and difficulties to endure. Do not mind them, for they will go like chaff before the wind, and your enemies will soon be glad to gain your friendship. They do the same to all newcomers in every college. You are elevated to a high position, and you must stand it like a man. Do not let them run you away, for then they will say, the “nigger” won t do. Show your spunk, and let them see that you will fight. That is what you are sent to West Point for. When they find you are determined to stay, they will let you alone. You must not resign on any account, for it is just what the Democrats want. They are betting largely here that you won t get in. The rebels say if you are admitted, they will devil you so much that you can t stay. Be a man; don t think of leaving, and let me know all about your troubles. The papers say you have not been received. Do write me positively whether you are received or not.

” Times are lively here, for everybody is preparing for the Fourth of July. There are five colored companies here, all in uniform, and they are trying to see who shall excel in drill.

” Stand your ground; don t resign, and write me soon.

” From your affectionate father,
” Israel Smith. ”


“On the 11th of January I visited West Point again. I found all the cadets still against the colored boy. A system of terrorism reigned supreme. Every one who did not take sides against the colored boy was ostracized.

“At drill one morning Cadet Anderson trod on the colored boy s toes. When Smith expostulated Anderson replied, Keep your toes away. When Smith told about it Anderson got two other white cadets to say he never said so. This brought the colored boy in a fix.

“Last July I saw the colored cadet again. He was still ostracized. No cadet ever spoke to him. He lived a, hermit life, isolated and alone.

“When I asked him how he got on with his studies he said: As well as I am able, roaming all alone, with no one to help me and no one to clear up the knotty points. If there is an obscure point in my lesson I must go to the class with it. I cannot go to a brother cadet.

” If you should ask them to help you what would they say?

” They would call me a nigger, and tell me to go back to the plantation.

“Yesterday, after watching the colored cadet for three years, I saw him again. He has grown tall and slender. He talks slowly, as if he had lost the use of language. Indeed many days and weeks he has gone without saying twenty lines a day in a loud voice, and that in the recitation room.

“When they were examining him the other day he spoke slowly, but his answers were correct. His answers in philosophy were correct. But they say he answered slowly, and they will find him deficient for that. Find him deficient for answering slowly when the boy almost lost the use of language! When he knew four hundred eyes were on him and two hundred malign arts all praying for his failure!

“The colored cadet is now in his third year. The great question at West Point is, Will he pass his examination? No one will know till the 30th of June. It is my impression that the young officers have marked him so low that he will be found deficient. The young officers hate him almost as bad as the cadets, and whenever they could make a bad mark against him they have done it.

” Does anyone ever speak to you now? I asked.

” No. I dare not address a cadet. I do not want to provoke them. I simply want to graduate. I am satisfied if they do not strike or harm me; though if I had a kind word now and then I should be happier, and I could study better, Then the colored boy drew a long sigh.

“Today I met General Howard, who was present at the colored cadet s court-martial. I asked him to tell me about it.

” Well, Mr. Perkins, said the General, they tried to make out that the colored boy lied.

” Yes, I interrupted, and they all say he did lie at the Point now. How was it?

” It was this way: They accused him of talking on parade, and, while trying to convict him out of his own mouth, they asked him “If on a certain day he did not speak to a certain cadet while on drill?” “I did not speak to this cadet while on drill the day you mention,” answered Cadet Smith, “for the cadet was not in the parade that day.”

“This answer startled the prosecutors, and, looking over the diary of parade days, they were astonished to find Cadet Smith correct.

” What then? I asked.

” Why they accuse him of telling a lie in spirit, though not in form, for he had talked on a previous day. Just as if he was obliged to say any thing to assist the prosecutors except to answer their questions.

“General Howard believes Cadet Smith to be a good, honest boy. I believe the same.



MLA Source Citation:

Flipper, Henry Ossian. The Colored Cadet at West Point: Autobiography of Lieut. Henry Ossian Flipper, first graduate of color from the U. S. Military Academy. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 24 September 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/military/the-negro-cadets-henry-flipper.htm - Last updated on Mar 7th, 2013


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