- 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.
- Flesch–Kincaid Level: 10.1
- Word Count: 8,473
Flipper, H. (1878). Chapter 14: Incident, Humor, Etc.. The Colored Cadet at West Point (Lit2Go Edition). Retrieved February 14, 2016, from
Flipper, Henry O.. "Chapter 14: Incident, Humor, Etc.." The Colored Cadet at West Point. Lit2Go Edition. 1878. Web. <>. February 14, 2016.
Henry O. Flipper, "Chapter 14: Incident, Humor, Etc.," The Colored Cadet at West Point, Lit2Go Edition, (1878), accessed February 14, 2016,.
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, "Sunday News."
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:
"Yes-es, the nigger marched us in," speaking slowly and drawling it out as if he had quite lost the power of speech.
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 jett´, 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 detailed.
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 me.
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 r´gime 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?"
"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 leave.
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 there too.
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 in ranks.
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:
A number of cadets accosted a plebe, who had just reported in May, 1874, and the following conversation ensued:
"Well, sir, I want to see you put a 'sir' on it," with another yell.
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.
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:
"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, Mr. S—?"
"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 use "mighty."
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 bursting.
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 quite laughable.
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, exercise!"
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:
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?"
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:
"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 his rations."
"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 of 1873.
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 as follows:
"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."