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Bill Thayer

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[image ALT: A head-and-shoulders photograph, three-quarters right, of a man in his thirties, with a drooping V‑shaped moustache. He wears a very plain civilian jacket, with wide lapels, over his shirt and tie. He has a serious, pensive air. He is John T. Honeycutt, a West Point graduate, whose career is detailed on this webpage.]

Captain John T. Honeycutt

The preceding image, and the text that follows, are reproduced from (the report of the) Thirtieth Annual Reunion of the Association of the Graduates of the United States Military Academy, June 7th, 1899.

 p91  John Thomas Honeycutt
No. 2515. Class of 1874.
Died October 6, 1898, at St. Augustine, Fla., aged 48.

There are excellent men, who are unable to do anything impromptu, or superficially, but whose nature demands that they should quietly and deeply penetrate into every subject they may take in hand. Such minds often make us impatient, for we seldom get from them what we want at the moment; but in this way alone the noblest tasks are accomplished. — Goethe.

Something related to this was the character of our dear classmate; careful, patient and thorough, and very rarely trifling even in trivial matters.

John Thomas Honeycutt was born at Brimsville, Kemper County, Miss., on the 3d day of January, 1851. The family is of English extraction, his ancestors coming to this country soon after the Revolution, settling first in Virginia, and finally in Mississippi. The father of our classmate was wise enough to invest largely in land, rather than in slaves, so that at the close of the War of the Rebellion he was more fortunately situated than most of his neighbors. During the father's absence in the war, his son John, young as he was, conducted and managed, with only the help of the negroes of the place, all of his father's affairs, and, what is more to the point, on the return of the latter, everything was found to be in a flourishing condition.

The amusements of his boyhood were fortunately those of the open air, as the association with nature is often safer than that of people in developing character; moreover, his life in the country developed his powers of observation (as is generally the case with country boys as compared with city boys), and that quality stood him in good stead in his after life. His books, however, were then, as always, his chief delight. The schools were excellent in his part of the country, and he was enabled to take full advantage of them. His interest in his work, his consciousness in the performance of his duties, and his warm heart  p92 won him invariably the affection of his teachers, who encouraged him to continue his studies. His last two years at home were spent as instructor at Professor Gathright's College, and it was through this loved professor that he received his appointment to the Military Academy.

He entered the Military Academy on the 1st day of September, 1870. He was very reserved and retiring in his disposition, his early responsibilities at home probably condu­cing to this, so that he did not have many intimates, but he was not averse to a little fun, and occasionally even indulged in mischief. The writer was probably more intimate with him than any other member of the class, and this was partly due to the fact that some trace of the war feeling was still left, and the boys from the south seemed to find those from the west more congenial than those from the east.

He was graduated on the 17th of June, 1874, number seven in a class numbering forty-one, and appointed Second Lieutenant, First Artillery, on the same day. His first service was at Charleston, S. C., where he made many friends. After the regiment came north he served for a short time at Fort Preble, Maine, and then, May 1st, 1876, came to the Artillery School and we were again classmates. We had adjoining rooms, and I remember one day his coming into my sitting room, and picking up an open copy of some work on Goethe, reading two lines of German there quoted in the original and translating them. Much surprised, I inquired where he had learned German, and he told me he had learned it since graduating by studying by himself, and acquired the pronunciation from an enlisted man in the battery. He became so proficient in a year or two that he read it with ease, and derived much pleasure from the works of the great German authors.

At the Artillery School, as at West Point, he opened his heart to but few, but I was one of the fortunate ones. His nature was extremely simple, and his faith, when once given, was correspondingly deep and firm.

 p93  During the Hayes' election troubles, our battery was stationed at Bennetsville, S. C., and as there is no place like camp life to cultivate friendship and intimacy, ours grew apace. Camp life also tries patience and tests character, and in both respects John stood the trial so well that not only we Lieutenants, but also his Captain (dear old Sam Elder) became very fond of him. An incident that occurred here illustrates his strong character. He was brough up, of course, (in Mississippi,) with strong southern feelings. One Sunday in church the minister, a very old white-haired, fine-looking man, preached a sermon which treated principally of Sherman's march through that garden spot of the south. We were there in uniform, and it looked very much as if the sermon was directed particularly at us, so when the minister referred to General Sherman as "the great incendiary," John felt it was a reflection on the uniform and insisted upon leaving the church. His personal feelings were nothing, now that he wore the uniform of the government.

After graduating at the Artillery School, he was stationed for a short time at Fort Trumbull, Connecticut, and then accepted a detail at West Point in the Department of Mathematics, of which he was made Assistant Professor. His ability in mathematics was unusual, and as an instructor he was in his element. His study of the probability of the fire of sea coast mortars, though opposed to the teachings of so great an authority as General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Abbot of the Engineers, and contested by a board of which Captain Ingalls of the Artillery was president, received the support of such men as Professor Merriman of Lehigh University, and others equally prominent in higher mathematics.

In 1879 he was promoted to First Lieutenant, First Artillery, and after leaving West Point served with his regiment first at Alcatraz Island, California, then at Vancouver Barracks, Washington Territory.

In 1885 he was detailed as Professor of Military Science and Tactics at Rutgers College, New Brunswick, New Jersey, where he also had a class in mathematics and one in drawing. Here  p94 he won the respect and affection of the members of the faculty for his marked ability and his conscientious attention to duty, as well as his sterling qualities of heart.

In 1888 he again joined his regiment on the Pacific Coast and came east with it to Fort Hamilton, where he commanded a battery. His Lieutenants always had the greatest respect and admiration for him, especially for that great quality in a superior — fairness; and his men loved him.

During these years he devoted much time to teaching his children (the education of the children is always such a great problem in army life), and his marked ability in this direction was shown by the fact that his boy, at the age of fourteen, was able to take his place with boys of sixteen and eighteen, leading his classes in mathematics, Greek and Latin, never before having been to school except to his father.

On the 8th of March, 1898, he received his promotion to Captain, First Artillery, and was assigned, when the war broke out, to the command of Fort Clinch, Florida, which had been abandoned for thirty years, and was in no condition to be occupied by troops. Here, with only an inexperienced Lieutenant to help him, he devoted himself to the instruction of his battery of two hundred men, his only real assistant being Dr. Francis Lieber, the contract doctor, who helped him in many ways outside of his own duties.

In September, 1898, his battery was ordered to St. Augustine, and there the surgeon, struck with his worn out appearance, told him he ought to take a sick leave, but he replied: "I cannot leave my battery." Two weeks later he died of typhoid fever, and so, through his devotion to his duty, he met his death, as truly giving his life for his country, as if he had been killed by Spanish bullets.

Our beloved classmate has passed away from us. The army has lost a fine soldier, the country a splendid man, and his family a loving and devoted husband and father. As a soldier he was devoted to duty, and brave and fearless in the discharge of  p95 it; as a man he was absolutely reliable and trustworthy, and as a husband and father he was a model. His pure, simple, sincere and consistent christian character (never paraded before the world, and known to but few of his most intimate friends) shaped his life, and made it, as it was, a beautiful poem, with some little blank verse for the grandest heights, some little lyric for the happy, jovial days, but mainly epic, on a plane above that of the average human life, not depressed by sorrow, nor too much elated by joy, but pursuing the even tenor of its way, unaffected by either. He is gone and we are left to mourn —

"The broken song, the uncompleted life,

That seemed a broken song."

Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.J. P. W.

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Page updated: 20 Jul 14