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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 weight 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 tomorrow 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.