The Colored Cadet at West Point

by Henry O. Flipper

Chapter 2: Communications, Etc.

Additional Information
  • Year Published: 1878
  • Language: English
  • Country of Origin: United States of America
  • Source: Flipper, H. O. (1878). The Colored Cadet at West Point. New York, NY: Homer Lee & Co.
  • Readability:
    • Flesch–Kincaid Level: 10.1
  • Word Count: 3,816
  • Genre: Memoir
  • Keywords: equality, overcoming adversity, perseverance
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Having given in the previous a brief account of myself—dropping now, by permission, the third person—prior to my appointment, I shall here give in full what led me to seek that appointment, and how I obtained it. It was while sitting "in his father's quiet shoeshop on Decatur Street"—as a local paper had it—that I overheard a conversation concerning the then cadet from my own district. In the course of the conversation I learned that this cadet was to graduate the following June; and that therefore a vacancy would occur. This was in the autumn of 1872, and before the election. It occurred to me that I might fill that vacancy, and I accordingly determined to make an endeavor to do so, provided the Republican nominee for Congress should be elected. He was elected. I applied for and obtained the appointment. In 1865 or 1866—I do not now remember which: perhaps it was even later than either—it was suggested to my father to send me to West Point. He was unwilling to do so, and, not knowing very much about the place, was reluctant to make any inquiries. I was then of course too young for admission, being only ten or twelve years old; and knowing nothing of the place myself, I did not care to venture the attempt to become a cadet.

At the time I obtained the appointment I had quite forgotten this early recommendation of my father's friend; indeed, I did not recall it until I began compiling my manuscript.

The suggestion given me by the conversation above mentioned was at once acted upon, and decision made in a very short time; and so fully was I determined, so absolutely was my mind set on West Point, that I persisted in my desire even to getting the appointment, staying at the Academy four years, and finally graduating. The following communications will explain how I got the appointment.*

*It has been impossible for the author to obtain copies of his own letters to the Hon. Congressman who appointed him, which is to be regretted. The replies are inserted in such order that they will readily suggest the tenor of the first communications.

DEAR SIR: Your letter of the 21st, asking me, as member-elect to Congress from this State, to appoint you cadet to West Point, was received this morning. You are a stranger to me, and before I can comply with your request you must get your teacher, Mr. James L. Dunning, P.M., Colonel H. P. Fanorr, and other Republicans to indorse for you. Give me assurance you are worthy and well qualified and I will recommend you.

DEAR SIR: On my arrival from Washington I found your letter of the 19th. I have received an invitation from the War Department to appoint, or nominate, a legally qualified cadet to the United States Military Academy from my district.

As you were the first applicant, I am disposed to give you the first chance; but the requirements are rigid and strict, and I think you had best come down and see them. If after reading them you think you can undergo the examination without doubt, I will nominate you. But I do not want my nominee to fail to get in.

DEAR SIR: Your letter of the 24th to hand, and contents noted. While your education may be sufficient, it requires many other qualifications —such as age, height, form, etc.; soundness of lungs, limbs, etc. I will send you up the requirements, if you desire them, and call upon three competent gentlemen to examine you, if you desire it. Let me hear from you again on the subject.

DEAR SIR: Yours of 26th at hand. I have concluded to send the paper sent me to J. A. Holtzclaw, of Atlanta, present Collector of Internal Revenue. You can call on him and examine for yourself. If you then think you can pass, I will designate three men to examine you, and if they pronounce you up to the requirements I will appoint you.

DEAR SIR: The board of examiners pronounce you qualified to enter the Military Academy at West Point. You will oblige me by sending me your given name in full, also your age to a month, and the length of time you have lived in the Fifth District, or in or near Atlanta. I will appoint you, and send on the papers to the Secretary of War, who will notify you of the same. From this letter to me you will have to be at West Point by the 25th day of May, 1873.

DEAR SIR: I this day inclose you papers from the War Department. You can carefully read and then make up your mind whether you accept the position assigned you. If you should sign up, direct and forward to proper authorities, Washington, D. C. If you do not accept, return the paper to my address, Griffin, Ga.

to in the above letter, are the following:
WASHINGTON, April 11, 1873.
SIR: You are hereby informed that the President has conditionally selected you for appointment as a Cadet of the United States Military Academy at West Point.

Should you desire the appointment, you will report in person to the Superintendent of the Academy between the 20th and 25th days of May, 1873, when, if found on due examination to possess the qualifications required by law and set forth in the circular hereunto appended, you will be admitted, with pay from July 1st, 1873, to serve until the following January, at which time you will be examined before the Academic Board of the Academy. Should the result of this examination be favorable, and the reports of your personal, military, and moral deportment be satisfactory, your warrant of appointment, to be dated July 1st, 1873, will be delivered to you; but should the result of your examination, or your conduct reports be unfavorable, you will be discharged from the military service, unless otherwise recommended, for special reasons, by the Academic Board, but will receive an allowance for travelling expenses to your home.

Your attention is particularly directed to the accompanying circular, and it is to be distinctly understood that this notification confers upon you no right to enter the Military Academy unless your qualifications agree fully with its requirements, and unless you report for examination within the time specified.

You are requested to immediately inform the Department of your acceptance or declination of the contemplated appointment upon the conditions annexed.

Acting Secretary of War.
Through Hon. J. C. FREEMAN, M.C.
I. Candidates must be actual bona fide residents of the Congressional district or Territory for which their appointments are made, and must be over seventeen and under twenty-two years of age at the time of entrance into the Military Academy; but any person who has served honorably and faithfully not less than one year as an officer or enlisted man in the army of the United States, either as a Volunteer, or in the Regular service, during the war for the suppression of the rebellion, shall be eligible for appointment up to the age of twenty-four years. They must be at least five feet in height, and free from any infectious or immoral disorder, and, generally, from any deformity, disease, or infirmity which may render them unfit for arduous military service. They must be proficient in Reading and Writing; in the elements of English Grammar; in Descriptive Geography, particularly of our own country, and in the History of the United States.

In Arithmetic, the various operations in addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, reduction, simple and compound proportion, and vulgar and decimal fractions, must be thoroughly understood and readily performed.

The following are the leading physical disqualifications:

1. Feeble constitution and muscular tenuity; unsound health from whatever cause; indications of former disease; glandular swellings, or other symptoms of scrofula. 2. Chronic cutaneous affections, especially of the scalp. 3. Severe injuries of the bones of the head; convulsions. 4. Impaired vision, from whatever cause; inflammatory affections of the eyelids; immobility or irregularity of the iris; fistula, lachrymalis, etc., etc. 5. Deafness; copious discharge from the ears. 6. Loss of many teeth, or the teeth generally unsound. 7. Impediment of speech. 8. Want of due capacity of the chest, and any other indication of a liability to a pulmonic disease. 9. Impaired or inadequate efficiency of one or both of the superior extremities on account of fractures, especially of the clavicle, contraction of a joint, extenuation, deformity, etc., etc. 10. An unusual excurvature or incurvature of the spine. 11. Hernia. 12. A varicose state of the veins of the scrotum or spermatic cord (when large), sarcocele, hydroccle, hemorrhoids, fistulas. 13. Impaired or inadequate efficiency of one or of both of the inferior extremities on account of varicose veins, fractures, malformation (flat feet, etc.), lameness, contraction, unequal length, bunions, overlying or supernumerary toes, etc., etc. 14. Ulcers, or unsound cicatrices of ulcers likely to break out afresh.

Every person appointed, upon arrival at West Point, is submitted to a rigid medical examination, and if any causes of disqualification are found to exist in him to such a degree as may now or hereafter impair his efficiency, he is rejected.

No person who has served in any capacity in the military or naval service of the so-called Confederate States during the late rebellion can receive an appointment as cadet at the Military Academy.

II. The pay of a cadet is $500 per annum, with one ration per day, to commence with his admission into the Military Academy, and is sufficient, with proper economy, for his support.

III. Each cadet must keep himself supplied with the following mentioned articles, viz.:

One gray cloth coatee; one gray cloth riding- jacket; one regulation great-coat; two pairs of gray cloth pantaloons, for winter; six pairs of drilling pantaloons for summer; one fatigue-jacket for the encampment; one black dress cap; one forage cap; one black stock; *two pairs of ankle-boots; *six pairs of white gloves; two sets of white belts; *seven shirts and twelve collars; *six pairs winter socks; *six pairs summer socks; *four pairs summer drawers; *three pairs winter drawers; *six pocket-handkerchiefs; *six towels; *one clothes- bag, made of ticking; *one clothes-brush; *one hair-brush; *one tooth-brush; *one comb; one mattress; one pillow; *two pillow-cases; *two pairs sheets; one pair blankets; *one quilted bed-cover; one chair; one tumbler; *one trunk; one account-book; and will unite with his room- mate in purchasing, for their common use, one looking-glass, one wash-stand, one wash-basin, one pail, and one broom, and shall he required to have one table, of the pattern that may be prescribed by the Superintendent.

The articles marked thus * candidates are required to bring with them; the others are to be had at West Point at regulated prices, and it is better for a candidate to take with him as little clothing of any description as is possible (excepting what is marked), and no more money than will defray his travelling expenses; but for the parent or guardian to send to "The Treasurer of the Military Academy" a sum sufficient for his necessary expenses until he is admitted, and for his clothes, etc., thereafter.

The expenses of the candidate for board, washing, lights, etc., prior to admission, will be about $5 per week, and immediately after being admitted to the Institution he must be provided with an outfit of uniform, etc., the cost of which will be $88.79. If, upon arrival, he has the necessary sum to his credit on the books of the Treasurer, he will start with many advantages, in a pecuniary point of view, over those whose means are more limited, and who must, if they arrive, as many do, totally unprovided in this way, go in debt on the credit of their pay —a burden from which it requires many months to free themselves; while, if any accident compels them to leave the Academy, they must of necessity be in a destitute condition.

No cadet can receive money, or any other supplies, from his parents, or from any person whomsoever, without permission from the Superintendent.

IV. If the candidate be a minor, his acceptance must be accompanied by the written consent of his parent or guardian to his signing articles, binding himself to serve the United States eight years from the time of his admission into the Military Academy, unless sooner discharged.

V. During the months of July and August the cadets live in camp, engaged only in military duties and exercises and receiving practical military instruction.

The academic duties and exercises commence on the 1st of September, and continue till about the end of June.

The newly appointed cadets are examined at the Academy prior to admission, and those not properly qualified are rejected.

Examinations of the several classes are held in January and June, and at the former such of the new cadets as are found proficient in studies and have been correct in conduct are given the particular standing in their class to which their merits entitle them. After either examination cadets found deficient in conduct or studies are discharged from the Academy, unless, for special reasons in each case, the Academic Board should otherwise recommend.

These examinations are very thorough, and require from the cadet a close and persevering attention to study, without evasion or slighting of any part of the course, as no relaxations of any kind can be made by the examiners.

VI. A sound body and constitution, a fixed degree of preparation, good natural capacity, an aptitude for study, industrious habits, perseverance, an obedient and orderly disposition, and a correct moral deportment are such essential qualifications that candidates knowingly deficient in any of these respects should not, as many do, subject themselves and their friends to the chances of future mortification and disappointment, by accepting appointments to the Academy and entering upon a career which they can not successfully pursue.

Method of Examining Candidates for Admission into the Military Academy.

Candidates must be able to read with facility from any book, giving the proper intonation and pauses, and to write portions that are read aloud for that purpose, spelling the words and punctuating the sentences properly.

In ARITHMETIC they must be able to perform with facility examples under the four ground rules, and hence must be familiar with the tables of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, and be able to perform examples in reduction and in vulgar and decimal fractions, such as—

Add 2/3 to 3/4; subtract 2/5 from 5/6; multiply 3/4 by 7/8; divide 2/5 by 3/8;

Add together two hundred and thirty-four thousandths (.234), twenty-six thousandths (.026), and three thousandths (.003).

Subtract one hundred and sixty-one ten thousandths (.0161) from twenty-five hundredths (.25).

Multiply or divide twenty-six hundredths (.26) by sixteen thousandths (.016).

They must also be able to change vulgar fractions into decimal fractions, and decimals into vulgar fractions, with examples like the following:

Change 15/16 into a decimal fraction of the same value.

Change one hundred and two thousandths (.102) into a vulgar fraction of the same value.

In simple and compound proportion, examples of various kinds will be given, and candidates will be expected to understand the principles of the rules which they follow.

In ENGLISH GRAMMAR candidates will be required to exhibit a familiarity with the nine parts of speech and the rules in relation thereto; must be able to parse any ordinary sentence given to them, and, generally, must understand those portions of the subject usually taught in the higher academies and schools throughout the country, comprehended under the heads of Orthography, Etymology, Syntax, and Prosody.

In DESCRIPTIVE GEOGRAPHY they are to name, locate, and describe the natural grand and political divisions of the earth, and be able to delineate any one of the States or Territories of the American Union, with its principal cities, rivers, lakes, seaports, and mountains.

In HISTORY they must be able to name the periods of the discovery and settlement of the North American continent, of the rise and progress of the United States, and of the successive wars and political administrations through which the country has passed.

Davies' Legendre's Geometry
and Trigonometry. Church's
Descriptive Geometry.
French Language...........Bolmar's Levizac's Grammar
and Verb Book. Agnel's
Tabular System. Berard's
Lecons Francaises. *Spier's
and Surenne's Dictionary.
Tactics of Artillery......Practical Instruction in the
and Infantry Schools of the Soldier,
Company, and Battalion.
Practical Instruction in
Use of Small Arms.........Instruction in Fencing and
Bayonet Exercise.
Geometry, with its
applications to Spherical
Projections. Church's Shades,
Shadows and Perspective.
Davies' Surveying. Church's
Analytical Geometry.
Church's Calculus.
French Language...........Bolmar's Levizac's Grammar and
Verb Book. Berard's Lecons
Francaises. Chapsal's Lecons
Et Modeles de Litterature
Francaise. Agnel's Tabular
System. Rowan's Morceaux
Choisis des Auteurs Modernes.
*Spier's and Surenne's
Spanish...................Josse's Grammar. Morales'
Progressive Reader. Ollen-
Dorff's Oral Method applied to
the Spanish, by Velasquez and
Simonne. Seoane's Neuman and
Baretti's Dictionary.
Drawing...................Topography, etc. Art of
Tactics of Infantry,......Practical Instruction in the
Artillery, and Cavalry Schools of the Soldier, Company,
and Battalion. Practical
Instruction in Artillery and
Philosophy Acoustics and Optics. Bartlett's
Chemistry.................Fowne's Chemistry. Chemical
Physics, from Miller.
Drawing...................Landscape. Pencil and Colors.
Tactics of Infantry,......Practical Instruction in the
Artillery, and Cavalry Schools of the Soldier, Company,
and Battalion. Practical
Instruction in Artillery and
Practical Military........Myers' Manual of Signals.
Engineering Practical and Theoretical
Instruction in Military
Signaling and Telegraphy.
Engineering, andMahan's Outlines of
Sciences of War.Permanent Fortification.
Mahan's Fortification and
Stereotomy. Mahan's
Advanced Guard and Outpost,
etc. *Moseley's Mechanics
of Engineering.
Mineralogy and Geology....Dana's Mineralogy.
Hitchcock's Geology.
Ethics and Law............French's Practical Ethics.
Halleck's International
Law. Kent's Commentaries
(portion on Constitutional
Law). Law and Military
Law, by Prof. French.
Benet's Military Law and
the Practice of Courts-
Tactics of Artillery,.....United States Tactics for
Cavalry, and InfantryCalvary. Practical
Instruction in the
Schools of the Soldier,
Company, and Battalion.
Practical Instruction in
Artillery and Cavalry.
Ordnance and Gunnery......Benton's Ordnance and
Gunnery. Practical
Practical Military........Practical Instruction in
Engineeringfabricating Fascines, Sap
Faggots, Gabions, Hurdles,
Sap-rollers, etc.; manner
of laying out and
constructing Gun and Mortar
Batteries, Field Fortific-
ations and Works of Siege;
formation of Stockades,
Abatis, and other military
obstacles; and throwing and
dismantling Pontoon Bridges.
Myer's Manual of Signals.
Practical Instruction in
Military Signaling and
The second paper was a printed blank, a letter of acceptance or non-acceptance, to be filled up, as the case may be, signed by myself, countersigned by my father, and returned to Washington, D. C.

The third, which follows, is simply a memorandum for use of the candidate.

It is suggested to all candidates for admission into the Military Academy that, before leaving their place of residence for West Point, they should cause themselves to be thoroughly examined by a competent physician, and by a teacher or instructor in good standing By such an examination any serious physical disqualification, or deficiency in mental preparation, would be revealed, and the candidate probably spared the expense and trouble of a useless journey and the mortification of rejection. The circular appended to the letter of appointment should be carefully studied by the candidate and the examiners.

It should be understood that the informal examination herein recommended is solely for the convenience and benefit of the candidate himself, and can in no manner affect the decision of the Academic and Medical Examining Boards at West Point.

NOTE.—There being no provision whatever for the payment of the travelling expenses of either accepted or rejected candidates for admission, no candidate should fail to provide himself in advance with the means of returning to his home, in case of his rejection before either of the Examining Boards, as he may otherwise be put to considerable trouble, inconvenience, and even suffering, on account of his destitute situation. If admitted, the money brought by him to meet such a contingency can be deposited with the Treasurer on account of his equipment as a cadet, or returned to his friends.

After I had secured the appointment the editor of one of our local papers, which was at the time publishing— weekly, I think—brief biographies of some of the leading men of the city, together with cuts of the persons themselves, desired to thus bring me into notoriety. I was duly consulted, and, objecting, the publication did not occur. My chief reason for objecting was merely this: I feared some evil might befall me while passing through Georgia en route for West Point, if too great a knowledge of me should precede me, such, for instance, as a publication of that kind would give.

At this interview several other persons—white, of course—were present, and one of them—after relating the trials of Cadet Smith and the circumstances of his dismissal, which, apropos, had not yet occurred, as he would have me believe— advised me to abandon altogether the idea of going to West Point, for, said he, "Them northern boys wont treat you right." I have a due proportion of stubbornness in me, I believe, as all of the negro race are said to have, and my Southern friend might as well have advised an angel to rebel as to have counselled me to resign and not go. He was convinced, too, before we separated, that no change in my determination was at all likely to occur. Next day, in a short article, the fact of my appointment was mentioned, and my age and degree of education. Some days after this, while in the post-office, a gentleman beckoned to me, and we withdrew from the crowd. He mentioned this article, and after relating—indeed, repeating, to my amusement, the many hardships to which I should be subjected, and after telling me he had a very promising son—candid, wasn't he?—whom he desired to have educated at West Point, offered me for my appointment the rather large sum of five thousand dollars. This I refused instantly. I had so set my mind on West Point that, having the appointment, neither threats nor excessive bribes could induce me to relinquish it, even if I had not possessed sufficient strength of character to resist them otherwise. However, as I was a minor, I referred him to my father. I have no information that he ever consulted him. If he had, my reply to him would have been sustained. I afterward had reason to believe the offer was made merely to test me, as I received from strangers expressions of confidence in me and in my doing faithfully all that might devolve upon me from my appointment.