14: Incident, Humor, etc.
<< 13: Furlough || TOC
IT may not be inappropriate to give in this place a
few—as many as I can recall—of the incidents, more
or less humorous, in which I myself have taken part
or have noticed at the various times of their
occurrence. First, then, an adventure on "Flirtation."
During the encampment of 1873—I think it was in July—
Smith and myself had the—for us—rare enjoyment of a
visit made us by some friends. We had taken them around
the place and shown and explained to them every thing of
interest. We at length took seats on "Flirtation," and
gave ourselves up to pure enjoyment such as is found in
woman's presence only. The day was exceedingly beautiful;
all nature seemed loveliest just at that time, and our
lone, peculiar life, with all its trials and cares, was
quite forgotten. We chatted merrily, and as ever in such
company were really happy. It was so seldom we had
visitors—and even then they were mostly males—that we
were delighted to have some one with whom we could converse
on other topics than official ones and studies. While we
sat there not a few strangers, visitors also, passed us,
and almost invariably manifested surprise at seeing us.
I do think uncultivated white people are unapproachable
in downright rudeness, and yet, alas! they are our
superiors. Will prejudice ever be obliterated from
the minds of the people? Will man ever cease to
prejudge his fellow-being for color's sake alone?
Grant, O merciful God, that he may!
But au fait! Anon a cadet, whose perfectly fitting
uniform of matchless gray and immaculate white
revealed the symmetry of his form in all its manly
beauty, saunters leisurely by, his head erect,
shoulders back, step quick and elastic, and those
glorious buttons glittering at their brilliant
points like so many orbs of a distant stellar
world. Next a plebe strolls wearily along, his
drooping shoulders, hanging head, and careless
gait bespeaking the need of more squad drill. Then
a dozen or more "picnicers," all females, laden
with baskets, boxes, and other et ceteras, laughing
and playing, unconscious of our proximity, draw
near. The younger ones tripping playfully in front
catch sight of us. Instantly they are hushed, and
with hands over their mouths retrace their steps to
disclose to those in rear their astounding discovery.
In a few moments all appear, and silently and slowly
pass by, eyeing us as if we were the greatest natural
wonder in existence. They pass on till out of sight,
face about and "continue the motion," passing back and
forth as many as five times. Wearied at length of this
performance, Smith rose and said, "Come, let's end this
farce," or something to that effect. We arose, left the
place, and were surprised to find a moment after that
they were actually following us.
The "Picnicers," as they are called in the corps,
begin their excursions early in May, and continue
them till near the end of September. They manage
to arrive at West Point at all possible hours of
the day, and stay as late as they conveniently can.
In May and September, when we have battalion drills,
they are a great nuisance, a great annoyance to me
especially. The vicinity of that flank of the battalion
in which I was, was where they "most did congregate."
It was always amusing, though most embarrassing, to see
them pointing me out to each other, and to hear their
verbal accompaniments, "There he is, the first"—or such
—"man from the right"—"or left." "Who?" "The colored
cadet." "Haven't you seen him? Here, I'll show him to
you," and so on ad libitum.
All through this encampment being "—young; a novice
in the trade," I seldom took advantage of Old Guard
privileges, or any other, for the reason that I was
not accustomed to such barbarous rudeness, and did not
care to be the object of it.
It has always been a wonder to me why people visiting
at West Point should gaze at me so persistently for
no other reason than curiosity. What there was curious
or uncommon about me I never knew. I was not better
formed, nor more military in my bearing than all the
other cadets. My uniform did not fit better, was not
of better material, nor did it cost more than that of
the others. Yet for four years, by each and every
visitor at West Point who saw me, it was done. I know
not why, unless it was because I was in it.
There is an old man at Highland Falls, N. Y., who is
permitted to peddle newspapers at West Point. He comes
up every Sabbath, and all are made aware of his presence
by his familiar cry, "Sunday news! Sunday news!" Indeed,
he is generally known and called by the soubriquet,
He was approaching my tent one Sunday afternoon but
was stopped by a cadet who called out to him from
across the company street, "Don't sell your papers to
them niggers!" This kind advice was not heeded.
This and subsequent acts of a totally different
character lead me to believe that there is not
so much prejudice in the corps as is at first
apparent. A general dislike for the negro had
doubtless grown up in this cadet's mind from
causes which are known to everybody at all
acquainted with affairs at West Point about
that time, summer of 1873. On several occasions
during my second and third years I was the grateful
recipient of several kindnesses at the hands of
this same cadet, thus proving most conclusively
that it was rather a cringing disposition, a dread
of what others might say, or this dislike of the
negro which I have mentioned, that caused him to
utter those words, and not a prejudiced dislike of
"them niggers," for verily I had won his esteem.
Just after returning from this encampment to our
winter quarters, I had another adventure with Smith,
my chum, and Williams, which cost me dearly.
It was just after "evening call to quarters." I knew
Smith and Williams were in our room. I had been out
for some purpose, and was returning when it occurred
to me to have some fun at their expense. I accordingly
walked up to the door—our "house" was at the head of
the stairs and on the third floor—and knocked,
endeavoring to imitate as much as possible an officer
inspecting. They sprang to their feet instantly,
assumed the position of the soldier, and quietly
awaited my entrance. I entered laughing. They resumed
their seats with a promise to repay me, and they did,
for alas! I was "hived." Some cadet reported me for
"imitating a tactical officer inspecting." For this I
was required to walk three tours of extra guard duty on
three consecutive Saturdays, and to serve, besides, a
week's confinement in my quarters. The "laugh" was thus,
of course, turned on me.
During the summer of '74, in my "yearling camp," I
made another effort at amusement, which was as complete
a failure as the attempt with Smith and Williams. I had
been reported by an officer for some trifling offence.
It was most unexpected to me, and least of all from this
particular officer. I considered the report altogether
uncalled for, but was careful to say nothing to that
effect. I received for the offence one or two demerits.
A short while afterwards, being on guard, I happened to
be posted near his tent. Determined on a bit of revenge,
and fun too, at half-past eleven o'clock at night I
placed myself near his tent, and called off in the
loudest tone I could command, "No.——half-past eleven
o'clock, and all-l-l-l's well-l-l!" It woke him. He
arose, came to the front of his tent, and called me
back to him. I went, and he ordered me to call the
corporal. I did so. When the corporal came he told him
to "report the sentinel on No.—for calling off
improperly." If I mistake not, I was also reported for
not calling off at 12 P.M. loud enough to be heard by
the next sentinel. Thus my bit of revenge recoiled
twofold upon myself, and I soon discovered that I had
been paying too dear for my whistle.
On another occasion during the same camp I heard a
cadet say he would submit to no order or command of,
nor permit himself to be marched anywhere by "the
nigger," meaning myself. We were in the same company,
and it so happened at one time that we were on guard
the same day, and that I was the senior member of our
company detail. When we marched off the next day the
officer of the guard formed the company details to the
front, and directed the senior member of each fifteen
to march it to its company street and dismiss it. I
instantly stepped to front and assumed command. I
marched it as far as the color line at "support arms;"
brought them to a "carry" there and saluted the colors.
When we were in the company street, I commanded in
loud and distinct tone, "Trail arms! Break ranks!
March!" A cadet in a tent near by recognized my voice,
and hurried out into the company street. Meeting the
cadet first mentioned above, he thus asked of him:
"Did that nigger march you in?"
"Yes-es, the nigger marched us in," speaking slowly
and drawling it out as if he had quite lost the power
At the following semi-annual examination (January,
'75), the gentleman was put on the "retired list,"
or rather on the list of "blasted hopes." I took
occasion to record the event in the following manner,
changing of course the names:
SCENE.—Hall of Cadet Barracks at West Point.
Characters: RANSOM and MARS, both Cadets. RANSOM,
who has been "found" at recent semiannual examination,
meets his more successful chum, MARS, on the stoop.
After a moment's conversation, they enter the hall.
MARS (as they enter).
Ah! how! what say? Found! Art going away?
Unfortunate rather! 'm sorry! but stay!
Who hadst thou? How didst thou? Badly, I'm sure.
Hadst done well they had not treated thee so.
Thou sayest aright. I did do my best,
Which was but poorly I can but confess.
The subject was hard. I could no better
Unless I'd memorized to the letter.
Art unfortunate! but tho' 'twere amiss
Me half thinks e'en that were better than this.
Thou couldst have stood the trial, if no more
Than to come out low. That were better, 'm sure.
But 'tis too late. 'Twas but an afterthought,
Which now methinks at most is worth me naught;
Le sort en est jetté, they say, you know;
'Twere idle to dream and still think of woe.
Thou sayest well! Yield not to one rebuff.
Thou'rt a man, show thyself of manly stuff.
The bugle calls! I must away! Adieu!
May Fortune grant, comrade, good luck to you!
They shake hands, MARS hurries out to answer the bugle
call. RANSOM prepares for immediate departure for home.)
"O dear! it is hawid to have this cullud cadet—
perfectly dre'fful. I should die to see my Geawge
standing next to him." Thus did one of your models
of womankind, one of the negro's superiors, who
annually visit West Point to flirt, give vent to
her opinion of the "cullud cadet," an opinion
thought out doubtless with her eyes, and for which
she could assign no reason other than that some of
her acquaintances, manifestly cadets, concurred in
it, having perhaps so stated to her. And the cadets,
with their accustomed gallantry, have ever striven
to evade "standing next to him." No little amusement
—for such it was to me—has been afforded me by the
many ruses they have adopted to prevent it. Some of
them have been extremely ridiculous, and in many
cases highly unbecoming a cadet and a gentleman.
While I was a plebe, I invariably fell in in the
rear rank along with the other plebes. This is a
necessary and established custom. As soon as I
became a third-classman, and had a right to fall in
in the front rank whenever necessary or convenient,
they became uneasy, and began their plans for keeping
me from that rank. The first sergeant of my company
did me the honor of visiting me at my quarters and
politely requested me—not order me, for he had no
possible authority for such an act—to fall in
invariably on the right of the rear rank. To keep
down trouble and to avoid any show of presumption or
forwardness on my part, as I had been advised by an
officer, I did as he requested, taking my place on
the right of the rear rank at every formation of the
company for another whole year. But with all this
condescension on my part I was still the object of
solicitous care. My falling in there did not preclude
the possibility of my own classmates, now also risen
to the dignity of third-classmen, falling in next to
me. To perfect his plan, then, the first sergeant had
the senior plebe in the company call at his "house,"
and take from the roster an alphabetical list of all
the plebes in the company. With this he (the senior
plebe) was to keep a special roster, detailing one of
his own classmates to fall in next to me. Each one
detailed for such duty was to serve one week—from
Sunday morning breakfast to Sunday morning breakfast.
The keeper of the roster was not of course to be
It is astonishing how little care was taken to
conceal this fact from me. The plan, etc., was
formed in my hearing, and there seems to have
been no effort or even desire to hide it from me.
Returning from supper one evening, I distinctly
heard this plebe tell the sergeant that "Mr.—
refused to serve." "You tell him," said the
sergeant, "I want to see him at my 'house' after
supper. If he doesn't serve I'll make it so hot
for him he'll wish he'd never heard of West Point."
Is it not strange how these models of mankind,
these our superiors, strive to thrust upon each
other what they do not want themselves? It is a
meanness, a baseness, an unworthiness from which
I should shrink. It would be equally astonishing
that men ever submit to it, were it not that they
are plebes, and therefore thus easily imposed upon.
The plebe in this case at length submitted.
When I became a second-classman, no difference was
made by the cadets in their manner of falling in,
whether because their scruples were overcome or
because no fitting means presented themselves for
avoiding it, I know not. If they happened to be near
me when it was time to fall in, they fell in next to
In the spring of '76, our then first sergeant ordered
us to fall in at all formations as nearly according
to size as possible. As soon as this order was given,
for some unknown reason, the old régime was readopted.
If I happened to fall in next to a first-classman, and
he discovered it, or if a first-classman fell in next
to me, and afterward found it out, he would fall out
and go to the rear. The second and third-classmen, for
no other reason than that first-classmen did it, "got
upon their dignity, and refused to stand next to me. We
see here a good illustration of that cringing, "bone-
popularity" spirit which I have mentioned elsewhere.
The means of prevention adopted now were somewhat
different from those of a year before. A file-closer
would watch and follow me closely, and when I fell in
would put a plebe on each side of me. It was really
amusing sometimes to see his eagerness, and quite as
amusing, I may add, to see his dismay when I would
deliberately leave the place thus hemmed in by plebes
and fall in elsewhere.
We see here again that cringing disposition to which
I believe the whole of the ill-treatment of colored
cadets has been due. The file-closers are usually
second-class sergeants and third-class corporals. By
way of "boning popularity" with the upper classmen,
they stoop to almost any thing. In this case they
hedged me in between the two plebes to prevent upper
classmen from falling in next to me.
But it may be asked why I objected to having plebes
next to me. I would answer, for several reasons. Under
existing circumstances of prejudice, it was of the
utmost importance to me to keep them away from me.
First—and by no means the least important reason—to
put them in the front rank was violating a necessary
and established custom. The plebes are put in the
rear rank because of their inexperience and general
ignorance of the principles of marching, dressing,
etc. If they are in the front rank, it would simply
be absurd to expect good marching of them. A second
reason, and by far the most important, results directly
from this one. Being between two plebes, who would not,
could not keep dressed, it would be impossible for me
to do so. The general alignment of the company would be
destroyed. There would be crowding and opening out of
the ranks, and it would all originate in my immediate
vicinity. The file-closers, never over-scrupulous when
I was concerned, and especially when they could forward
their own "popularity-boning" interests, would report
me for these disorders in the company. I would get
demerits and punishment for what the plebes next to me
were really responsible for. The plebes would not be
reported, because if they were their inexperience would
plead strongly in their favor, and any reasonable
explanation of an offence would suffice to insure its
removal. I was never overfond of demerits or punishments,
and therefore strenuously opposed any thing that might
give me either; for instance, having plebes put next to
me in ranks.
Toward the end of the year the plebes, having
learned more about me and the way the corps
looked upon me, became as eager to avoid me as
the others. Not, however, all the plebes, for
there were some who, when they saw others trying
to avoid falling in next to me, would deliberately
come and take their places there. These plebes, or
rather yearlings now, were better disciplined, and,
of course, my own scruples vanished.
During the last few months of the year no distinction
was made, save by one or two high-toned ones.
When the next class of plebes were put in the battalion,
the old cadets began to thrust them into the front rank
next to me. At first I was indignant, but upon second
thought I determined to tolerate it until I should be
reported for some offence which was really an offence
of the plebes. I intended to then explain the case, à
priori, in my written explanation to the commandant. I
knew such a course would cause a discontinuance of the
practice, which was plainly malicious and contrary to
regulations. Fortunately, however, for all concerned,
the affair was noticed by an officer, and by him
summarily discontinued. I was glad of this, for the
other course would have made the cadets more unfriendly,
and would have made my condition even worse than it was.
Thereafter I had no further trouble with the plebes.
One day, during my yearling camp, when I happened to
be on guard, a photographer, wishing a view of the
guard, obtained permission to make the necessary
negative. As the officer of the day desired to be
"took" with the guard, he came down to the guard tents,
and the guard was "turned out" for him by the sentinel.
He did not wish it then, and accordingly so indicated
by saluting. I was sitting on a camp-stool in the shade
reading. A few minutes after the officer of the day
came. I heard the corporal call out, "Fall in the guard."
I hurried for my gun, and passing near and behind the
officer of the day, I heard him say to the corporal:
"Say, can't you get rid of that nigger? We don't want
him in the picture."
The corporal immediately ordered me to fetch a pail
of water. As he had a perfect right to thus order
me, being for the time my senior officer, I proceeded
to obey. While taking the pail the officer of the day
approached me and most politely asked: "Going for
water, Mr. Flipper?"
I told him I was.
"That's right," continued he; "do hurry. I'm nearly
dead of thirst."
It is simply astonishing to see how these young men
can stoop when they want any thing. A cadet of the
second class—when I was in the third class—was once
arrested for a certain offence, and, from the nature
of the charge, was likely to be court-martialed. His
friends made preparation for his defence. As I was
not ten feet from him at the time specified in the
charge, my evidence would be required in the event
of a trial. I was therefore visited by one of his
friends. He brought paper and pencil and made a
memorandum of what I had to say. The cadet himself
had the limits of his arrest extended and then visited
me in person. We conversed quite a while on the subject,
and, as my evidence would be in his favor, I promised
to give it in case he was tried. He thanked me very
cordially, asked how I was getting along in my studies,
expressed much regret at my being ostracized, wished me
all sorts of success, and again thanking me took his
There is an article in the academic regulations which
provides or declares that no citizen who has been a
cadet at the Military Academy can receive a commission
in the regular army before the class of which he was a
member graduates, unless he can get the written consent
of his former classmates.
A classmate of mine resigned in the summer of '75, and
about a year after endeavored to get a commission. A
friend and former classmate drew up the approval, and
invited the class to his "house" to sign it. When half
a dozen or more had signed it, it was sent to the guard-
house, and the corporal of the guard came and notified
me it was there for my consideration. I went to the
guard- house at once. A number of cadets were sitting
or standing around in the room. As soon as I entered
they became silent and remained so, expecting, no doubt,
I'd refuse to sign it, because of the treatment I had
received at their hands. They certainly had little cause
to expect that I would add my signature. Nevertheless I
read the paper over and signed it without hesitation.
Their anxiety was raised to the highest possible pitch,
and scarcely had I left the room ere they seized the
paper as if they would devour it. I heard some one who
came in as I went out ask, "Did he sign it?"
Another case of condescension on the part of an upper
classman occurred in the early part of my third year
at the Academy, and this time in the mess hall. We
were then seated at the tables by classes. Each table
had a commandant, who was a cadet captain, lieutenant
or sergeant, and in a few instances a corporal. At
each table there was also a carver, who was generally
a corporal, occasionally a sergeant or private. The
other seats were occupied by privates, and usually
in this order: first-classmen had first and second
seats, second-classmen second and third seats, third-
classmen third and fourth seats, and fourth-classmen
fourth and fifth seats, which were at the foot of the
table. I had a first seat, although a second-classman.
For some reason a first-classman, who had a first seat
at another table, desired to change seats with me. He
accordingly sent a cadet for me. I went over to his
room. I agreed to make the change, provided he himself
obtained permission of the proper authorities. It was
distinctly understood that he was to take my seat, a
first seat, and I was to take his seat, also a first
seat. He obtained permission of the superintendent of
the mess hall, and also a written permit from the
commandant. The change was made, but lo and behold!
Instead of a first seat I got a third. The agreement
was thus violated by him, my superior (?), and I was
dissatisfied. The whole affair was explained to the
commandant, not, however, by myself, but by my consent,
the permit revoked, and I gained my former first seat.
A tactical officer asked me, "Why did you exchange
with him? Has he ever done any thing for you?"
I told him he had not, and that I did it merely to
oblige him. It was immaterial to me at what table I
sat, provided I had a seat consistent with the dignity
of my class.
The baseness of character displayed by the gentleman,
the reflection on myself and class would have evoked
a complaint from me had not a classmate anticipated
me by doing so himself.
This gentleman (?) was practically "cut" by the whole
corps. He was spoken to, and that was about all that
made his status in the corps better than mine.
Just after the semiannual examination following this
adventure, another, more ridiculous still, occurred,
of which I was the innocent cause. The dismissal of
a number of deficient plebes and others made necessary
a rearrangement of seats. The commandant saw fit to
have it made according to class rank. It changed
completely the former arrangement, and gave me a third
seat. A classmate, who was senior to me, had the second
seat. He did not choose to take it, and for two or more
weeks refused to do so. I had the second seat during all
this time, while he was fed in his quarters by his chum.
He had a set of miniature cooking utensils in his own
room, and frequently cooked there, using the gas as a
source of heat. These were at last "hived," and he was
ordered to " turn them in. He went to dinner one day
when I was absent on guard. At supper he appeared again.
Some one asked him how it was he was there, glancing at
the same time at me. He laughed—it was plainly forced
—and replied, "I forgot to fall out."
He came to his meals the next day, the next, and
every succeeding day regularly. Thus were his
scruples overcome. His refusing to go to his meals
because he had to sit next to me was strongly
disapproved by the corps for two reasons, viz.,
that he ought to be man enough not to thrust on
others what he himself disliked; and that as others
for two years had had seats by me, he ought not to
complain because it now fell to his lot to have one
Just after my return, in September, 1875, from a
furlough of two months, an incident occurred which,
explained, will give some idea of the low, unprincipled
manner in which some of the cadets have acted toward
me. It was at cavalry drill. I was riding a horse that
was by no means a favorite with us. He happened to fall
to my lot that day, and I rather liked him. His greatest
faults were a propensity for kicking and slight inequality
in the length of his legs. We were marching in a column
of fours, and at a slow walk. I turned my head for some
purpose, and almost simultaneously my horse plunged
headlong into the fours in front of me. It was with
difficulty that I retained my seat. I supposed that when
I turned my head I had accidentally spurred him, thus
causing him to plunge forward. I regained my proper place
None of this was seen by the instructor, who was riding
at the head of the column. Shortly after this I noticed
that those near me were laughing. I turned my head to
observe the cause and caught the trooper on my left in
the act of spurring my horse. I looked at him long and
fiercely, while he desisted and hung his head. Not long
afterwards the same thing was repeated, and this time
was seen by the instructor, who happened to wheel about
as my horse rushed forward. He immediately halted the
column, and, approaching, asked me, "What is the matter
with that horse, Mr. F.?" To which I replied, "The trooper
on my left persists in kicking and spurring him, so that
I can do nothing with him."
He then caused another trooper in another set of fours
to change places with me, and thereafter all went well.
Notwithstanding the secrecy of hazing, and the great
care which those who practised it took to prevent
being "hived," they sometimes overreached themselves
and were severely punished. Cases have occurred where
cadets have been dismissed for hazing, while others
have been less severely punished.
Sometimes, also, the joke, if I may so call it, has
been turned upon the perpetrators to their utter
discomfort. I will cite an instance.
Quite often in camp two robust plebes are selected and
ordered to report at a specified tent just after the
battalion returns from supper. When they report each is
provided with a pillow. They take their places in the
middle of the company street, and at a given signal
commence pounding each other. A crowd assembles from
all parts of camp to witness the "pillow fight," as it
is called. Sometimes, also, after fighting awhile, the
combatants are permitted to rest, and another set
continues the fight.
On one of these occasions, after fighting quite a
while, a pillow bursted, and one of the antagonists
was literally buried in feathers. At this a shout of
laughter arose and the fun was complete. But alas for
such pleasures! An officer in his tent, disturbed by
the noise, came out to find its cause. He saw it at a
glance, aided no doubt by vivid recollections of his
own experience in his plebe camp. He called an orderly
and sent for the cadet captain of the company. When he
came he was ordered to send the plebes—he said new
cadets—to their tents, and order them to remain there
till permission was given to leave them. He then had
every man, not a plebe, who had been present at the
pillow fight turned out. When this was done he ordered
them to pick up every feather within half an hour, and
the captain to inspect at the end of that time and to
see that the order was obeyed. Thus, therefore, the
plebes got the better part of the joke.
It was rumored in camp one day that the superintendent
and commandant were both absent from the post, and that
the senior tactical officer was therefore acting
superintendent. A plebe sentinel on Post No. 1, seeing
him approaching camp, and not knowing under the
circumstances how to act, or rather, perhaps, I should
say, not knowing whether the report was true or not,
called a corporal, and asked if he should salute this
officer with "present arms." To this question that
dignitary replied with righteous horror, "Salute him
with present arms! No, sir! You stand at attention, and
when he gets on your post shout, 'Hosannah to the supe!'
This rather startled the plebe, who found himself more
confused than ever. When it was about time for the
sentinel to do something the corporal told him what to
do, and returned to the guard tents. The officer was at
the time the commanding officer of the camp.
While walking down Sixth Avenue, New York, with a
young lady, on a beautiful Sabbath afternoon in the
summer of 1875, I was paid a high compliment by an
old colored soldier. He had lost one leg and had been
otherwise maimed for life in the great struggle of
1861-65 for the preservation of the Union. As soon
as he saw me approaching he moved to the outside of
the pavement and assumed as well as possible the
position of the soldier. When I was about six paces
from him he brought his crutch to the position of
"present arms," in a soldierly manner, in salute to
me. I raised my cap as I passed, endeavoring to be as
polite as possible, both in return for his salute and
because of his age. He took the position of "carry
arms," saying as he did so, "That's right! that's
right! Makes me glad to see it."
We passed on, while he, too, resumed his course,
ejaculating something about "good-breeding," etc.,
all of which we did not hear.
Upon inquiry I learned, as stated, that he had served
in the Federal army. He had given his time and energy,
even at the risk of his life, to his country. He had
lost one limb, and been maimed otherwise for life. I
considered the salute for that reason a greater honor.
During the summer of 1873 a number of cadets, who were
on furlough, visited Mammoth Cave. While there they
noticed on the wall, written in pencil, the name of an
officer who was an instructor in Spanish at West Point.
One of them took occasion to add to the inscription the
following bit of information:
"Known at the U. S. Military Academy as the 'Spanish
A number of cadets accosted a plebe, who had just
reported in May, 1874, and the following conversation
"Well, mister, what's your name?"
"Sir!" yelled rather than spoken.
"Well, sir, I want to see you put a 'sir' on it,"
with another yell.
"Sir John Walden," was the unconcerned rejoinder.
Now it was not expected that the "sir" would be put
before the name after the manner of a title, but this
impenetrable plebe put it there, and in so solemn and
"don't-care" a manner that the cadets turned away in
a roar of laughter.
Ever afterward he was known in the corps as "Sir John."
Another incident, even more laughable perhaps than
the preceding, occurred between a cadet and plebe,
which doubtless saved the plebe from further hazing.
Approaching him with a look of utter contempt on his
face, the cadet asked him:
"Well, thing, what's your name?"
"Wilreni, sir," meekly responded he.
"Wilreni, sir!" repeated the cadet slowly, and bowing
his head he seemed for a moment buried in profoundest
thought. Suddenly brightening up, he rejoined in the
most unconcerned manner possible: "Oh! yes, yes, I
remember now. You are Will Reni, the son of old man
Bill Reni," put particular stress on "Will" and "Bill."
I think, though, the most laughable incident that has
come under my notice was that of a certain plebe who
made himself famous for gourmandizing.
Each night throughout the summer encampment, the
guard is supplied from the mess hall with an
abundance of sandwiches. The old cadets rarely eat
them, but to the plebes, as yet unaccustomed to guard
duty, they are quite a treat.
On one occasion when the sandwiches were unusually
well prepared, and therefore unusually inviting, it
was desirable to preserve them till late in the night,
till after the guard had been turned out and inspected
by the officer of the day. They were accordingly—to
conceal them from the plebes—transferred, with the
vessel containing them, to one of the chests of a
caisson of the light battery, just in front of camp in
park. Here they were supposed to be safe. But alas for
such safety! At an hour not far advanced into the night,
two plebes, led by an unerring instinctiveness,
discovered the hiding-place of the sandwiches and
devoured them all.
Now when the hour of feasting was come, a corporal was
dispatched for the dainty dish, when, lo, and behold!
it had vanished. The plebes—for who else could thus
have secretly devoured them—were brought to account
and the guilty ones discovered. They were severely
censured in that contemptuous manner in which only a
cadet, an upper classman, can censure a plebe, and
threatened with hazing and all sorts of unpleasantness.
Next morning they were called forth and marched
ingloriously to the presence of the commandant.
Upon learning the object of the visit he turned
to the chief criminal—the finder of the sandwiches
—and asked him, "Why did you eat all the sandwiches,
"I didn't eat them all up, sir. I ate only fifteen,"
was his ready reply.
The gravity of the occasion, coupled with the enormity
of the feast, was too much, and the commandant turned
away his head to conceal the laughter he could not
withhold. The plebe himself was rather short and fleshy,
and the picture of mirth. Indeed to see him walking even
along the company street was enough to call forth laughter
either at him as he waddled along or at the humorous
remarks the act called forth from onlooking cadets.
He was confined to one of the guard tents by order of
the commandant, and directed by him to submit a written
explanation for eating all the sandwiches of the guard.
The explanation was unsatisfactory, and the gentleman
received some other light punishment, the nature of
which has at this late day escaped my memory.
The other plebe, being only a particeps criminis, was
not so severely punished. A reprimand, I think, was
the extent of his punishment.
The two gentlemen have long since gone where the
"woodbine twineth"—that is, been found deficient
in studies and dismissed.
There was a cadet in the corps who had a wonderful
propensity for using the word "mighty."
With him everything was "mighty." I honestly do not
believe I ever heard him conversing when he did not
Speaking of me one day, and unconscious of my presence,
he said, "I tell you he does 'mighty' well."
During drill at the siege battery on the 25th of April,
1876, an accident occurred which came near proving fatal
to one of us. I had myself just fired an 8-inch howitzer,
and gone to the rear to observe the effect of the other
shots. One piece had been fired, and the command for the
next to fire had been given. I was watching intently the
target when I was startled by the cry of some one near
me, "Look out! look out!" I turned my eyes instinctively
toward the piece just fired, but saw only smoke. I then
looked up and saw a huge black body of some kind moving
rapidly over our heads. It was not until the smoke had
nearly disappeared that I knew what was the cause of the
disturbance. A number of cannoneers and our instructor
were vociferously asking, "Anybody hurt? Anybody hurt?"
We all moved up to the piece, and, finding no one was
injured, examined it. The piece, a 41/2-inch rifle,
mounted on a siege carriage, had broken obliquely from
the trunnions downward and to the rear. The re-enforce
thus severed from the chase broke into three parts, the
nob of the cascabel, and the other portion split in the
direction of the bore. The right half of the re-enforce,
together with the nob of the cascabel, were projected
into the air, describing a curve over our heads, and
falling at about twenty feet from the right of the
battery, having passed over a horizontal distance of
about sixty or seventy feet. The left half was thrown
obliquely to the ground, tearing away in its passage
the left cheek of the carriage, and breaking the left
trunnion plate. A cannoneer was standing on the platform
of the next piece on the left with the lanyard in his
hand. His feet were on two adjacent deck planks, his
heels being on line with the edge of the platform. These
two planks were struck upon their ends, and moved bodily,
with the cadet upon them, three or four inches from their
proper place. The bolts that held them and the adjacent
planks together were broken, while not the slightest
injury was done the cadet.
It was hardly to be believed, and was not until two or
three of the other cannoneers had examined him and found
him really uninjured. It was simply miraculous. The
instructor sent the cannoneers to the rear, and fired the
next gun himself.
After securing the pieces and replacing equipments, we
were permitted to again examine the bursted gun, after
which the battery was dismissed.
There had been some difficulty in loading the piece,
especially in getting the projectile home. It was
supposed that this not being done properly caused the
I was one summer day enjoying a walk on "Flirtation."
I was alone, and, if I remember aright, "on Old Guard
privileges." Walking leisurely along I soon observed
in front of me a number of young ladies, a servant girl,
and several small children.
They were all busily occupied in gathering wild
flowers, a kind of moss and ferns which grow here
in abundance. I was first seen by one of the children,
a little girl. She instantly fixed her eyes upon me,
and began vociferating in a most joyous manner, "The
colored cadet! the colored cadet! I'm going to tell
mamma I've seen the colored cadet."
The servant girl endeavored to quiet her, but she
continued as gayly as ever:
"It's the colored cadet! I'm going to tell mamma. I'm
going to tell mamma I've seen the colored cadet."
All the others stopped gathering flowers, and watched
me till I was out of sight.
A similar display of astonishment has occurred at every
annual examination since I became a cadet, and on these
occasions the ladies more than anybody else have been
the ones to show it.
Whenever I took my place on the floor to receive my
enunciation or to be questioned, I have observed
whisperings, often audible, and gestures of surprise
among the lady visitors. I have frequently heard such
exclamations as this: "Oh! there's the colored cadet!
there's the colored cadet!"
All of this naturally tended to confuse me, and it was
only by determined effort that I maintained any degree
of coolness. Of course they did not intend to confuse
me. Nothing was, I dare say, further from their thoughts.
But they were women; and it never occurs to a woman to
think before she speaks.
It was rather laughable to hear a cadet, who was
expounding the theory of twilight, say, pointing
to his figure on the blackboard: "If a spectator
should cross this limit of the crepuscular zone
he would enter into final darkness."
Now "final darkness," as we usually understand it,
refers to something having no resemblance whatever
to the characteristics of the crepuscular zone.
The solemn manner in which he spoke it, together
with their true significations, made the circumstance
The most ludicrous case of hazing I know of is, I
think, the following:
For an unusual display of grossness a number of
plebes were ordered by the cadet lieutenant on
duty over them to report at his "house" at a
specified hour. They duly reported their presence,
and were directed to assume the position of the
soldier, facing the wall until released. After
silently watching them for a considerable time,
the lieutenant, who had a remarkable penchant for
joking, called two of them into the middle of the
room. He caused them to stand dos à dos, at a
distance of about one foot from each other, and
then bursting into a laugh, which he vainly
endeavored to suppress, he commanded, "Second,
Now to execute this movement the hands are extended
vertically over the head and the hands joined. At
the command "Two!" given when this is done, the arms
are brought briskly forward and downward until the
hands touch if possible the ground or floor. The
plebes having gone through the first motion, the
lieutenant thus cautioned them:
"When I say 'Two!' I want to see you men come down
with life, and touch the floor. Two!"
At the command they both quickly, and "with life"
brought their bodies forward and their arms downward;
nay, they but attempted, for scarcely had they left
the vertical ere their bodies collided, and they were
each hurled impetuously, by the inevitable reaction in
opposite directions, over a distance of several feet.
Their bodies being in an inclined position when struck,
and the blow being of great force, they were necessarily
forced still further from the erect attitude, and were
with much difficulty able to keep themselves from falling
outright on the floor. Of course all present, save those
concerned, enjoyed it immensely. Indeed it was enjoyable.
Even the plebes themselves had a hearty laugh over it
when they were dismissed.
Again a cadet lieutenant, who was on duty at the time
over the "Seps," ordered a number of them to report
at his "house" at a given hour. They had been unusually
gross, and he intended to punish them by keeping them
standing in his quarters. They reported, and were put
in position to serve their punishment. For some reason
the lieutenant left the room, when one of the "Seps"
faced to the others and thus spoke to them:
"Say, boys, let's kick up the devil. P—has gone out."
Now it so happened that P—'s chum was present, but in
his alcove, and this was not known to the Seps. When
the Sep had finished speaking, this chum came forth and
"went for" him. He made the Sep assume the soldier's
position, and then commanded, "Second, exercise!" which
command the Sep proceeded to obey.
Another cadet coming in found him vigorously at it, and
queried, "Well, mister, what's all that for?"
"Eccentricity of Mr. M—, sir," he promptly replied.
The word eccentricity was not interpreted by the cadet,
of course, as the Sep meant it should be, but in the
sense we use it when we speak of the eccentricity of
an orbit for instance.
Hence it was that Mr. M—asked, "Well, sir, what's the
expression for my eccentricity?"
There is another incident remotely connected with my
first tour of guard duty which may be mentioned here.
At about eleven o'clock A.M., in obedience to a then
recent order, my junior reported at the observatory
to make the necessary observations for finding the
error of the Tower clock. After an elaborate explanation
by an officer then present upon the graduation of the
vernier and the manner of reading it, the cadet set the
finders so as to read the north polar distance of the
sun for that day at West Point apparent noon. When it
was about time for the sun's limb to begin its transit
of the wires, the cadet took position to observe it. The
instructor was standing ready to record the times of
transit over each wire. Time was rapidly passing, and
not yet had the cadet called out "Ready." The anxious
instructor cautiously queried:
"Do you see any light, Mr. P—?,"
"Can you see the wires?"
"No, sir, not yet."
"Any light yet, Mr. P—?"
"Yes, sir, it is getting brighter."
"Can you see the wires at all?"
"No, Sir; it keeps getting brighter, but I can't see
the wires yet."
Fearing he might be unable to make his observations
that day unless the difficulty was speedily removed,
the instructor himself took position at the transit,
and made the ridiculous discovery that the cap had
not been removed from the farther end of the telescope,
and yet it kept getting brighter.
One day in the early summer of 1875, a cadet was
showing a young lady the various sights and wonders
at West Point, when they came across an old French
cannon bearing this inscription, viz., "Charles de
Bourbon, Compte d'Eu, ultima ratio regum."
She was the first to notice it, and astonished the
cadet with the following rendition of it:
"I suppose that means Charles Bourbon made the gun,
and the Spanish (?) that the artilleryman must have
What innocence! Or shall I say, what ignorance?
"The authorities of West Point have entered an
interdict against the cadets loaning their sashes
and other military adornments to young ladies, and
great is the force of feminine indignation." Summer
Come Kiss Me, Love
A young lieutenant at the Academy and his fiancée
were seen by an old maid at the hotel to kiss each
other. At the first opportunity she reproved the
fair damsel for, to her, such unmaidenly conduct.
With righteous indignation she repelled the reproof
"Not let S—kiss me! Why, I should die!" Then lovingly,
"Come kiss me, love, list not what they say,
Their passions are cold, wasted away.
They know not how two hearts like ours are
Long to mingle i' the sweetness o' the kiss,
That like the soft light of a heavenly star,
As it wanders from its world to this,
Diffuses itself through ev'ry vein
And meets on the lips to melt again."
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