May 20th, 1873! Auspicious day! From the deck of the little ferry boat that steamed its way across from Garrison s on that eventful afternoon I viewed the hills about West Point, her stone structures perched thereon, thus rising still higher, as if providing access to the very pinnacle of fame, and shuddered. With my mind full of the horrors of the treatment of all former cadets of color, and the dread of inevitable ostracism, I approached tremblingly yet confidently.
The little vessel having been moored, I stepped ashore and inquired of a soldier there where candidates should report. He very kindly gave me all needed information, wished me much success, for which I thanked him, and set out for the designated place. I soon reached it, and walked directly into the adjutant s office. He received me kindly, asked for my certificate of appointment, and receiving that or assurance that I had it: I do not now remember which directed me to write in a book there for the purpose the name and occupation of my father, the State, Congressional district, county and city of his residence, my own full name, age, State, county, and place of my birth, and my occupation when at home. This done I was sent in charge of an orderly to cadet barracks, where my “plebe quarters” were assigned me.
The impression made upon me by what I saw while going from the adjutant s office to barracks was certainly not very encouraging. The rear windows were crowded with cadets watching my unpretending passage of the area of barracks with apparently as much astonishment and interest as they would, perhaps, have watched Hannibal crossing the Alps. Their words, jeers, etc., were most insulting.
Having reached another office, I was shown in by the orderly. I walked in, hat in hand nay, rather started in when three cadets, who were seated in the room, simultaneously sprang to their feet, and welcomed me somewhat after this fashion:
“Well, sir, what do you mean by coming into this office in that manner, sir? Get out of here, sir.”
I walked out, followed by one of them, who, in a similar strain, ordered me to button my coat, get my hands around “fins” he said heels together, and head up.
“Now, sir,” said he, leaving me, “when you are ready to come in, knock at that door,” emphasizing the word “knock.”
The door was open. I knocked. He replied, “Come in.” I went in. I took my position in front of and facing him, my heels together, head up, the palms of my hands to the front, and my little fingers on the seams of my pantaloons, in which position we habitually carried them. After correcting my position and making it sufficiently military to suit himself, one of them, in a much milder tone, asked what I desired of them. I told him I had been sent by the adjutant to report there. He arose, and directing me to follow him, conducted me to the bath rooms. Having discharged the necessary duty there, I returned and was again put in charge of the orderly, who carried me to the hospital. There I was subjected to a rigid physical examination, which I “stood” with the greatest ease. I was given a certificate of ability by the surgeon, and by him sent again to the adjutant, who in turn sent me to the treasurer. From him I returned alone to barracks.
The reception given to “plebes” upon reporting is often very much more severe than that given me. Even members of my own class can testify to this. This reception has, however, I think, been best described in an anonymous work, where it is thus set forth:
“How dare you come into the presence of your superior officer in that grossly careless and unmilitary manner? I’ll have you imprisoned. Stand, attention, sir!” (Even louder than before.) “Heels together and on the same line, toes equally turned out, little fingers on the seams of your pantaloons, button your coat, draw in your chin, throw out your chest, cast your eyes fifteen paces to the front, don t let me see you wearing standing collars again. Stand steady, sir. You’ve evidently mistaken your profession, sir. In any other service, or at the seat of war, sir, you would have been shot, sir, without trial, sir, for such conduct, sir.”
The effect of such words can be easily imagined. A “plebe” will at once recognize the necessity for absolute obedience, even if he does know all this is hazing, and that it is doubtless forbidden. Still “plebes” almost invariably tremble while it lasts, and when in their own quarters laugh over it, and even practice it upon each other for mutual amusement.
On the way to barracks I met the squad of “beasts” marching to dinner. I was ordered to fall in, did so, marched to the mess hall, and ate my first dinner at West Point. After dinner we were marched again to barracks and dismissed. I hastened to my quarters, and a short while after was turned out to take possession of my baggage. I lugged it to my room, was shown the directions on the back of the door for arrangement of articles, and ordered to obey them within half an hour. The parts of the regulations referred to are the following:
Special Regulations For Barracks.
Orderlies Of Rooms.
The particular attention of Orderlies is directed to those paragraphs of the Regulations for the U. S. Military Academy specifying their duties.
The hours of Recitation of each Cadet will be posted on the back of the door of his room. When a room is being washed out by the policeman, on reporting to the Officer of the Day, and stating to him the number of some room in his own Division he wishes to visit, a Cadet will be permitted to visit that particular room until his own can be occupied. The uniform coat will be worn from 8 till 10 A.M.; at Inspection before 10 A.M. the coat will be buttoned throughout; at Sunday Morning Inspection gloves and side arms will also be worn. After 10 A.M. any uniform garment or dressing gown may be worn in their own rooms, but at no time will Cadets be in their shirt sleeves unnecessarily. During the “Call to Quarters,” between “Inspection Call” in the morning and “Tattoo,” the following Arrangement of Furniture, etc., will be required:
- Dress Cap On gun rack shelf.
- Cartridge Boxes, Waist Belts, Sabres, Forage Caps Hung on pegs near gun rack shelf.
- Muskets In gun rack, Bayonets in the scabbards.
- Spurs Hung on peg with Sabres.
- Bedsteads And Bedding.
- Bedsteads In alcove, against side wall of the room, the head against the back wall.
- Bedding Mattress to be folded once; Blankets and Comforters, each one to be neatly and separately folded, so that the folds shall be of the width of an ordinary pillow, and piled at the head of the Bedstead in the following order, viz.: Mattress, Sheets, Pillows, Blankets, And Comforters, the front edge of sheets, pillows, etc., to be vertical. On Sunday afternoons the Beds may be made down and used.
Books On the top of the Press, against the wall, and with the backs to the front. Brushes (Tooth And Hair), Combs, Shaving Implements And Materials, Such small boxes as may be allowed, vials, etc., to be neatly arranged on the upper shelf. Belts, Collars, Gloves, Handkerchiefs, Socks, etc., to be neatly arranged on the second shelf from the top. Sheets, Pillow Cases, Shirts, Drawers, White Pants, etc., to be neatly arranged on the other shelves, the heaviest articles on the lower shelves.
Arrangement All articles of the same kind are to be carefully and neatly placed in separate piles. The folded edges of these articles to be to the front, and even with the front edge of the shelf. Nothing will be allowed between these piles of clothing and the back of the press, unless the want of room on the front edge renders it necessary.
Dirty Clothes To be kept in clothes bag
Shoes and Over Shoes To be kept clean, dusted, and arranged in a line where they can be seen by the Inspector, either at the foot of the bedstead or at the side near the foot.
Woollen Clothing, Dressing Gown, and Clothes Bag To be hung on the pegs in alcove in the following general order, from the front of the alcove to the back: Over Coat, Dressing Gown, Uniform Coats, Jackets, Pants, Clothes Bag.
- Broom to be kept behind the door.
- Tin box for cleaning materials to be kept clean and in the fire place.
- Spittoon to be kept on one side of the hearth near mantel piece.
- Chairs and tables on no occasion to be in alcoves, the chairs, when not in use, to be against the owners tables.
- Looking glass at the centre of the mantel piece.
- Wash stand to be kept clean, in front and against alcove partition.
- Wash basin to be kept clean, and inverted on the top of the wash stand.
- Water bucket to be kept on shelf of wash stand.
- Slop bucket to be kept near to and on side of wash stand, opposite door.
- Baskets, pictures, clocks, statues, trunks, and large boxes will not be allowed in quarters.
- Curtains Window Curtains Only uniform allowed, and to be kept drawn back during the day.
- Alcove Curtains Only uniform allowed, and to be kept drawn, except between “Tattoo” and “Reveille” and when dressing.
- Curtains Of Clothes Press To be kept drawn, except when policing room.
- To be kept clean, and free from grease spots and stains.
- Walls And Wood Work.
- To be kept free from cobwebs, and not to be injured by nails or otherwise.
- Heating Apparatus, Screen And Top.
- To be kept clean, and not to be scratched or defaced.
- These Regulations will be strictly obeyed and enforced.
By order of Lieut. Colonel Upton, George L. Turner, Cadet Lieut. and Adjutant.
Headquarters, Corps Of Cadets, West Point, N. Y., Sept. 4, 1873.
At the end of the time specified every article was arranged and the cadet corporal returned to inspect. He walked deliberately to the clothes press, and, informing me that every thing was arranged wrong, threw every article upon the floor, repeated his order, and withdrew. And thus three times in less than two hours did I arrange and he disarrange my effects. I was not troubled again by him till after supper, when he inspected again, merely opening the door, however, and looking in. He told me I could not go to sleep till “tattoo.” Now tattoo, as he evidently used it, referred in some manner to time, and with such reference I had not the remotest idea of what it meant. I had no knowledge whatever of military terms or customs. However, as I was also told that I could do any thing writing, etc. I might wish to do, I found sufficient to keep me awake until he again returned and told me it was then tattoo, that I could retire then or at any time within half an hour, and that at the end of that time the light must be extinguished and I must be in bed. I instantly extinguished it and retired.
Thus passed my first half day at West Point, and thus began the military career of the fifth colored cadet. The other four were Smith of South Carolina, Napier of Tennessee, Howard of Mississippi, and Gibbs of Florida.
What I had seen and experienced during the few hours from my arrival till tattoo filled me with fear and apprehension. I expected every moment to be insulted or struck, and was not long in persuading myself that the various reports which I had heard concerning Smith were true I had not seen him yet, or, if I had, had not recognized him and that my life there was to be all torture and anguish. I was uneasy and miserable, ever thinking of the regulations, verbal or written, which had been given me. How they haunted me! I kept repeating them over and over, fearful lest I might forget and violate them, and be dismissed. If I wanted any thing or wished to go anywhere, I must get permission of the cadet officers on duty over us. To get such permission I must enter their office cleanly and neatly dressed, and, taking my place in the centre of the room, must salute, report my entrance, make known my wants, salute again, and report my departure.* At the instant I heard the sound of a drum I must turn out at a run and take my place in the ranks.
Somewhat after this fashion:
“Candidate F , United States Military Academy, reports his entrance into this office, sir.”
“Well, sir, what do you want in this office?”
“I desire permission, sir, to walk on public lands till retreat.”
“No, sir, you can’t walk on public lands till retreat. Get out of my sight.”
“Candidate F, United States Military Academy, reports his departure from this office, sir.”
At five o clock the next morning two unusual sounds greeted my ears the reveille, and a voice in the hall below calling out in a loud martial tone:
“Candidates, turn out promptly!” In an astonishingly short time I had dressed, “turned out,” and was in ranks. We stood there as motionless as statues till the fifers and drummers had marched up to barracks, the rolls of the companies had been called, and they themselves dismissed. We were then dismissed, our roll having been also called. We withdrew at a run to our quarters and got them ready for inspection, which, we were informed, would take place at the expiration of half an hour. At the end of this time our quarters were inspected by a corporal. In my own room he upset my bedding, kicked my shoes into the middle of the room, and ordered me to arrange them again and in better order. This order was obeyed immediately. And this upsetting was done in every room, as I learned afterward from the occupants, who, strange to say, manifested no prejudice then. Twas not long ere they learned that they were prejudiced, and that they abhorred even the sight of a “d d nigger.”
Just before, or perhaps just after breakfast, our quarters were again inspected. This time I was somewhat surprised to hear the corporal say, “Very well, Mr. Flipper, very well, sir.”
And this with other things shows there was a friendly feeling toward me from the first. After having thus expressed himself, he directed me to print my name on each of four pieces of paper, and to tack them up in certain places in the room, which he indicated to me. I did this several times before I could please him; but at last succeeded. Another corporal visited me during the day and declared everything out of order, although I had not touched a single thing after once satisfying the first corporal. Of course I had to rearrange them to suit him, in which I also finally succeeded.
At eleven o clock the mail came. I received a letter, and to my astonishment its postmark was “West Point, N. Y., May 21st.” Of course I was at a loss to know who the writer was. I turned it over and over, looked at it, studied the postmark, finally opened it and read it.*
*This letter by some means has been misplaced, and all efforts to find it, or to discover what its exact contents were, have failed. However, it was from James Webster Smith, the first and then only cadet of color at West Point. It reassured me very much, telling me not to fear either blows or insults, and advising me to avoid any forward conduct if I wished also to avoid certain consequences, “which,” said the writer, “I have learned from sad experience,” would be otherwise inevitable. It was a sad letter. I don t think any thing has so affected me or so influenced my conduct at West Point as its melancholy tone. That “sad experience” gave me a world of warning. I looked upon it as implying the confession of some great error made by him at some previous time, and of its sadder consequences.
This was another surprise a welcome surprise, however. I read it over several times. It showed me plainly that Smith had not been dismissed, as had been reported to me at home. I at once formed a better opinion of West Point than I before had, and from that day my fears gradually wore away.
The candidates now reported rapidly, and we, who had reported the day previous, were comparatively undisturbed. At four o clock I visited Smith at his quarters by permission. My visit was necessarily a short one, as he was then preparing for drill. It sufficed, however, for us to become acquainted, and for me to receive some valuable advice. An hour and place were designated for us to meet next day, and I took my leave of him. The “plebes” turned out en masse, walked around the grounds and witnessed the drilling of the battalion. We enjoyed it immensely. They were that day skirmishing and using blank cartridges. We thought the drill superb. I was asked by a fellow “plebe,” “Think you’ll like that?”
“Oh yes,” said I, “when I can do it as easily as they do.”
We had quite a lengthy conversation about the fine appearance of the cadets, their forms, so straight and manly, evoking our greatest admiration. This, alas! was our only conversation on any subject. The gentleman discovered ere long that he too was prejudiced, and thus one by one they “cut” me, whether for prudential reasons or not I can not presume to say.
I went into the office one day, and standing uncovered at about the middle of the room, in the position of the soldier, saluted and thus addressed a cadet officer present:
“Candidate Flipper, United States Military Academy, reports his entrance into this office, sir.”
“Well, what do you want?” was the rather gruff reply.
“I desire permission to visit Smith, sir,” answered I, thoughtlessly saying “Smith,” instead of “Mr.” or “Cadet Smith.”
He instantly sprang from his seat into rather close proximity to my person and angrily yelled:
“Well, sir, I want to hear you say Mr. Smith. I want you to understand, sir, he is a cadet and you re a plebe, and I don t want to see such familiarity on your part again, sir,” putting particular emphasis on “Mr.”
Having thus delivered himself he resumed his seat, leaving me, I imagine, more scared than otherwise.
“What do you want?” asked he again, after a pause of a moment or so.
“Permission to visit Mr. Smith.”
Without condescending to notice for the time my request he gave the interview a rather ludicrous turn, I thought, by questioning me somewhat after this manner:
“Can you dance, Mr. Flipper?”
Having answered this to his entire satisfaction, he further asked:
“Expect to attend the hops this summer?”
“Oh no, sir,” replied I, smiling, as he also was, for I had just discovered the drift of his questions. After mischievously studying my countenance for a moment, he returned to the original subject and queried, “Where do you want to go?”
I told him.
“Well, get out of my sight.”
I considered the permission granted, and hastily withdrew to take advantage of it.
Between breakfast and supper those of us who had been there at least a day had quite a pleasant time. We were not troubled with incessant inspections or otherwise. We either studied for examination or walked around the grounds. At or near seven o clock, the time of retreat parade, we were formed near our barracks and inspected. Our ranks were opened and the cadet lieutenant inspected our clothing and appearance generally. A not infrequent occurrence on these occasions was:
“Well, mister, what did you shave with a shoehorn?”
At this we would smile, when the lieutenant, sergeant, or corporal would jump at us and yell:
“Wipe that smile off your face, sir! What do you mean, sir, by laughing in ranks?”
If any one attempted to reply he was instantly silenced with
“Well, sir, don t reply to me in ranks.”
The inspection would be continued. Some one, unable to restrain himself the whole affair was so ridiculous would laugh right out in ranks. He was a doomed man.
“What do you mean, sir, by laughing in ranks, sir?”
Having been once directed not to reply in ranks, the poor “plebe” would stand mute.
“Well, sir, don t you intend to answer me?”
“Well, sir, step it out. What were you grinning at?”
“Nothing! Well, sir, you re a pretty thing to be grinning at nothing. Get in ranks.”
The inspection would, after many such interruptions, be continued. Ranks would at length be closed and the command, “In place, rest!” given. The battalion would march in from parade at double time and form in the area to our rear. The delinquencies of the day previous would then be published by the cadet adjutant.
What most strikes a “plebe” is this same publication. He hasn t the remotest idea of what it is. Not a word uttered by the adjutant is understood by him. He stands and wonders what it is. A perfect jargon of words, unintelligible and meaningless to him! I remember distinctly how I used to wonder, and how I was laughed at when I asked for information concerning it. We “plebes” used to speak of it often, and wonder if it was not French. When we were better acquainted with the rules and customs of the Academy we learned what it was. It was something of this nature, read from the “Delinquency Book:”
Delinquencies, Tuesday, Oct. 12.
|Adams||Late at reveille roll call.|
|Bejay||Sentinel not coming to “Arms, Port,” when addressed by the officer of the day.|
|Same||Not conversant with orders at same.|
|Barnes||Same at same.|
|Same||Sentinel, neglect of duty, not requiring cadet leaving his post to report his departure and destination.|
|Same||Hanging head, 4 P.M.|
|Bulow||Dust on mantel at inspection, 9.30 A.M.|
|Same||Executing manual of arms with pointer in section room, 9 A.M.|
|Same||Using profane expression, 1 P.M.|
|Cullen||Out of bed at taps.|
|Douns||Light in quarters, 11 p.m.|
|Same||Not prepared on 47 Velasquez.*|
*For these delinquencies the cadets are allowed to write explanations. If the offence is absence from quarters or any duty without authority, or is one committed in the Academical Department, called an Academical Delinquency, such as not being prepared on some lesson, an explanation is required and must be written. For all other offences the cadet can write an explanation or not as he chooses. If the explanation is satisfactory, the offence is removed and he gets no demerits, otherwise he does. For form of explanation see Chapter X., latter part.
On the 26th of May, another colored candidate reported. It is said he made the best show at the preliminary examination. Unfortunately, however, he was “found” at the following semi annual examination. He was brought up to my quarters by a corporal, and I was ordered to give him all instruction which had previously been given me. This I did, and his first days at West Point were much more pleasant than mine had been.
The candidates had now all reported, and Monday afternoon, May 28th, we were each given by the Adjutant in person a slip of paper upon which was written the number of each man s name in an alphabetically arranged roll. This we had special directions to preserve. The next day we were marched up to the Drawing Academy, and examined in grammar, history, and geography; the following day in orthography and reading. On the same day, also, we were required to write out a list of all the textbooks we had used in our previous school days. The day following we were divided into sections and marched to the library, where the Academic Board was in readiness to examine us in mathematics. It took quite a while to examine our class of more than one hundred members thus orally. I am not positive about the dates of the examination. I know it occurred in the immediate vicinity of those named.
Not many days after this the result of the examination was made known to us. The familiar cry, “Candidates, turn out promptly,” made at about noon, informed us that something unusual was about to occur. It was a fearful moment, and yet I was sure I had “passed.” The only questions I failed on were in geography. I stood motionless while the order was being read until I heard my name among the accepted ones. I felt as if a great burden had been removed from my mind. It was a beginning, and if not a good one, certainly not a bad one. What has been the ending? Let the sequel show.
Now that the examination was over and the deficient ones gone, we were turned out for drill every morning at half past five o clock and at four in the afternoon. We were divided into squads of one each, and drilled twice a day in the “settings up” until about June 20th. After a few drills, however, the squads were consolidated into others of four, six, and eight each. The surplus drill masters were “turned in.” Their hopes were withered, for it was almost a certainty that those who were “turned in” would not be “made.” They expected to be “made” on their proficiency in drilling, and when it was shown by being “turned in” that others had been thought better drill masters, they were not a little disappointed. How they “boned” tactics! What proficiency they manifested! How they yelled out their commands! What eagerness they showed to correct errors, etc. And yet some could not overcome their propensity for hazing, and these were of course turned in. Not always thus, however. Those who were not “turned in” were not always “made” corporals. Often those who were so treated “got the chevrons” after all.
“Plebe drill,” or, more familiarly, “squad drill,” has always been a source of great amusement to citizens, but what a horror to plebes. Those torturous twistings and twirlings, stretching every nerve, straining every sinew, almost twisting the joints out of place and making life one long agonizing effort. Was there ever a “plebe,” or recruit, who did not hate, did not shudder at the mere mention of squad drill? I did. Others did. I remember distinctly my first experience of it. I formed an opinion, a morbid dislike of it then, and have not changed it. The benefit, however, of “squad drill” can not be overestimated. It makes the most crooked, distorted creature an erect, noble, and manly being, provided, of course, this distortion be a result of habit and not a natural deformity, the result of laziness in one s walking, such as hanging the head, dropping the shoulders, not straightening the legs, and crossing them when walking.
Squad drill is one of the painful necessities of military discipline, and no one regrets his experience of it, however displeasing it may have been at the time. It is squad drill and hazing that so successfully mould the coarser characters who come to West Point into officers and gentlemen. They teach him how to govern and be governed. They are more effectual in polishing his asperities of disposition and forming his character than any amount of regulations could be. They tame him, so to speak.
Squad drill was at once a punishment, a mode of hazing, and a drill. For the least show of grossness one was sure to be punished with “settings up, second time!” “settings up, fourth time! “Continue the motion, settings up second (or fourth) time!” We would be kept at these motions until we could scarcely move. Of course all this was contrary to orders. The drill master would be careful not to be “hived.” If he saw an officer even looking at him, he would add the command “three,” which caused a discontinuance of the motion. He would change, however, to one of the other exercises immediately, and thus keep the plebes continually in motion. When he thought the punishment sufficient he would discontinue it by the command, “three,” and give “place, rest.” When the “place, rest” had been just about sufficient to allow the plebe to get cool and in a measure rested, the drill would be resumed by the command ” tion, squad” (abbreviated from “attention” and pronounced “shun”). If the plebe was slow, “place, rest” was again given, and
“When I give the command tion, squad, I want to see you spring up with life.”
” Tion, squad!”
Plebe is slow again.
“Well, mister, wake up. This is no trifling matter. Understand?”
“Well, sir, don t reply to me in ranks.”
And many times and terms even more severe than these.
Now that Williams and myself were admitted, the newspapers made their usual comments on such occurrences. I shall quote a single one from The New National Era and Citizen, published in Washington, D.C., and the political organ of the colored people. The article, however, as I present it, is taken from another paper, having been by it taken from the Era and Citizen:
Colored Cadets At West Point
“The New National Era and Citizen, which is the national organ of the colored people, contains a sensible article this week on the status of colored cadets at West Point. After referring to the colored young men, Plebes Flipper of Georgia, and Williams of Virginia, who have passed the examination requisite for entering the Academy, the Era and Citizen says: Now that they are in, the stiff and starched protégés of the Government make haste to tell the reporters that “none of the fellows would hurt them, but every fellow would let them alone.” Our reporter seems to think that “to be let alone” a terrible doom. So it is, if one is sent to Coventry by gentlemen. So it is, if one is neglected by those who, in point of education, thrift, and morality are our equals or superiors. So it is not, if done by the low minded, the ignorant, and the snobbish. If it be possible, among the four hundred young charity students of the Government, that Cadet Smith, for instance, finds no warm friends, and has won no respect after the gallant fight he has made for four years a harder contest than he will ever have in the sterner field then we despair of the material which West Point is turning out. If this be true, it is training selfish, snobbish martinets not knightly soldiers, not Havelocks, Hardinges, and Kearneys but the lowest type of disciplined and educated force and brutality the Bluchers and Marlboroughs. We scarcely believe this, however, and we know that any young man, whether he be poor or black, or both, may enter any first class college in America and find warm sympathetic friends, both among students and faculty, if he but prove himself to be possessed of some good qualities. If the Smiths, Flippers, and Williamses in their honorable school boy careers can not meet social as well as intellectual recognition while at West Point, let them study on and acquit themselves like men, for they will meet, out in the world, a worthy reception among men of worth, who have put by the prejudices of race and the shackles of ignorance. Emerson says somewhere that “Solitude, the nurse of Genius, is the foe of mediocrity.” If our young men of ability have the stuff in them to make men out of, they need not fear “to be let alone” for a while; they will ultimately come to the surface and attain worthy recognition.
“That is plain, practical talk. We like it. It has the ring of the true metal. It shows that the writer has faith in the ultimate triumph of manhood. It is another form for expressing a firm belief that real worth will find a reward. Never has any bond people emerged from slavery into a condition full of such grand opportunities and splendid possibilities as those which are within the reach of the colored people of the United States; but if those opportunities are to be made available, if those possibilities are to be realized, the colored people must move into the fore front of action and study and work in their own behalf. The colored cadets at West Point, the colored students in the public schools, the colored men in the professions, the trades, and on the plantations, can not be idlers if they are to compete with the white race in the acquisition of knowledge and property. But they have examples of notable achievements in their own ranks which should convince them that they have not the slightest reason to despair of success. The doors stand wide open, from the plantation to the National Capitol, and every American citizen can, if he will, attain worthy recognition.”
And thus, ere we had entered upon our new duties, were we forewarned of the kind of treatment we should expect. To be “sent to Coventry,” “to be let severely alone,” are indeed terrible dooms, but we cared naught for them. “To be let alone” was what we wished. To be left to our own resources for study and improvement, for enjoyment in whatever way we chose to seek it, was what we desired. We cared not for social recognition. We did not expect it, nor were we disappointed in not getting it. We would not seek it. We would not obtrude ourselves upon them. We would not accept recognition unless it was made willingly. We would be of them at least independent. We would mark out for ourselves a uniform course of conduct and follow it rigidly. These were our resolutions. So long as we were in the right we knew we should be recognized by those whose views were not limited or bound by such narrow confines as prejudice and caste, whether they were at West Point or elsewhere. Confident that right on our own part would secure us just treatment from others, that “if we but prove ourselves possessed of some good qualities” we could find friends among both faculty and students.
I came to West Point, notwithstanding I had heard so much about the Academy well fit to dishearten and keep one away. And then, too, at the time I had no object in seeking the appointment other than to gratify an ordinary ambition. Several friends were opposed to my accepting it, and even persuaded me, or rather attempted to persuade me, to give up the idea altogether. I was inexorable. I had set my mind upon West Point, and no amount of persuasion, and no number of harrowing narratives of bad treatment, could have induced me to relinquish the object I had in view. But I was right. The work I chose, and from which I could not flinch without dishonor, proved far more important than either my friends or myself at first thought it would be.
Let me not, however, anticipate. Of this importance more anon.