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Bill Thayer

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[image ALT: A head-and‑shoulders photograph of an old man. He is Clinton H. Tebbetts, the subject of this webpage.]

Clinton H. Tebbetts

The preceding image, and the text that follows, are reproduced from (the report of the) Fifty-First Annual Reunion of the Association of the Graduates of the United States Military Academy, June 14th, 1920.

 p126  Clinton H. Tebbetts
No. 2337. Class of 1870.
Died, Feb. 15, 1920, at Pittsburgh, Pa., aged 72 years.

Besides the writer there were four graduates of the class of 1870 appointed to the 4th Cavalry. Only two are living, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Dexter W. Parker and the writer. The dead are Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Jerauld A. Olmsted,º Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Austin L. Peirce,º and Clinton H. Tebbetts.

On account of an epidemic of yellow fever that year in the Southern States and extending up the Mississippi River from New Orleans to Memphis and to Shreveport, La.,​a we all had a most strenuous time, after our graduation leave, in joining our regiment, then stationed in Texas with headquarters at San Antonio.

Olmstead joined me at New Orleans where we, with our brand new wives, were duly quarantined, although we had arrived in ample time to report before our leaves had expired. No boats were permitted to cross the Gulf to Galveston for several weeks.

The writer did not fare so badly, except for the scare which such a dreadful disease with its deadly death toll induced, as his wife's family resided there and we were pleasantly and comfortably fixed.

But not so with Peirce. He, in his anxiety to join before the expiration of his leave, took the desperate chance of getting through to his post by a circuitous route, — via the Red River to Shreveport, La., thence to Marshall, and overland with no railroad or stage transportation, and poor Peirce lost his life. Purchasing an old horse he made his way, alone, across country to old Fort Griffin, then one of the extreme frontier posts on the Western line, consisting of Forts Richardson,  p127 Concho, Griffin, Stockton, Davis, and Bliss. Traveling only by night, hiding from wandering bands of Indians with whom that whole country was then infested, he was caught in a terrific blizzard and arrived at Fort Griffin in an exhausted condition and died of pneumonia in a few days, November 30th, 1870, the first of the class to "go over the divide." The writer when passing there in March following first learned of his tragic death, saw his grave in the wretched little Post Cemetery, where his requiem was nightly sung by the coyotes and lobo wolves as they lurked about the Post.

Tebbetts did not join the regiment till November, 1871, having been detailed as Instructor of Tactics and Military Science at the Kentucky University at Lexington, Ky., from September 12, 1870, to September 12, 1871, when relieved at his own request, giving up the two years remaining of his detail to join his regiment. It was always the writer's belief that the dreadful experience and death of poor "Feetus" Peirce, the forlorn country infested with hostile Indians, the nightly howling of skulking wolves about that far off, isolated Post, and the prospect ahead of him of constant scouting and Indian campaigning, with all its sufferings, the small chance of promotion in those days, with few or no comforts of life, all these with his prospective marriage were some if not all the contributing causes which impelled him to resign before he might perhaps join Peirce in his last resting place upon that lonely, wolf-infested hill by the Clear Fork of the Brazos.

On joining, he was assigned to the troop of Captain Sebastian Guenther, "H." The only time the writer saw Tebbetts after graduation was when he passed through Fort Richardson on his way down to the railroad in June, 1872. He was going on a three-months' leave of absence after tendering his resignation to take effect on or about September 1st, 1872. The writer never served in the field with him.

He was born at Fayetteville, Arkansas, in 1848, and entered West Point in June, 1866, graduating above the middle of his class in 1870. His class nickname was "Betsy," but how or why his classmates gave him that rather effeminate appellation is not now known. He certainly was not effeminate, but was as manly, straightforward and virile a man as his class could boast of. Perhaps it was because he was rather prim, exacting and correct in his deportment. That he was precise, careful, painstaking and scrupulously neat in his dress, bordering on primness none could gainsay, and it was on this account the class name well befitted him. He was, however, possessed of a more perfect sense of duty, for Tebbetts was a most conscientious, careful, correct and dutiful soldier and if ever a graduate had the love and devotion to the discharge of his duties and all the principles which he had so continuously absorbed for four years from his Alma Mater, with its cherished motto, "Honor, Duty, Country,"º he was that man. In addition  p128 to these traits and qualities inculcated every day, every month and every year at his beloved Academy, he combined inherent or inborn principle of chivalry to a more than marked degree. During his short stay at Fort Richardson an officer, who later was transferred to another regiment, and who was somewhat inclined to be a bully, was overheard by Tebbetts scolding his wife in a tent near by and was using rather abusive language to her, all within the hearing of others. She was crestfallen and humiliated. As soon as he could well do so without intruding upon their privacy, but without any hesitation whatever and without mincing his words, Tebbetts told that officer that he must cease that sort of talk immediately and regulate his conduct to comport or standardize with that of an "officer and gentleman" — or take the consequences. There was no bluster on Tebbetts' part; he was dignified and gentlemanly in his warning, but firm. He was prepared to back up his rebuke by immediate action, and as soon as the nagging husband had taken his measure and Tebbetts' words had begun to sink in, the hint was taken and the effect was almost startling.

Had Tebbetts remained in the regiment his service would not only have been a most honorable and creditable one, but it would undoubtedly have measured up to all of the best traditions of the Academy and all regretted the step from Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Mackenzie down, but Tebbetts must have felt it was best for his own private interest and future happiness.

Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Robert G. Carter

After resigning his commission Tebbetts settled as a Civil Engineer and conducted also a building and contracting business at Harrodsburg, Kentucky, but a fire one night wiped out practically all his property. While living at Harrodsburg he was married to Miss Kate Curry of that city, who after forty‑six years of ideal married life survives him with their four daughters, Mary, Elizabeth, Marian and Ruth, and one son, James T. He was immediately offered a flattering partner­ship in a business in Pittsburgh, Pa., and moved there in August, 1883, but the panic of 1893 engulfed his firm with thousands of others, and he lost everything. He was also in poor health, but full of fight and determination, and almost at once accepted the Presidency of the Culver Military Academy at Culver, Indiana. Culver was then, and is yet, the leading Military College outside of West Point, and its success and standing was largely due to the steady, conscientious, unrelenting work of Tebbetts. Again his health broke down and after a rest he took charge of the Howe Military School at Howe, Indiana, and made it a successful school, second only to Culver. Again his health from incessant work gave way and he returned to Pittsburgh and for many years was with the famous firm of Heinz, and later as an inspector of iron and steel for the American  p129 Bridge Co. at McKees Rocks, a few miles below Pittsburgh, and remained with them for over eight years, when again his health broke down.

In 1907, the writer was sent on General Recruiting Service at Pittsburgh, and, no doubt as a punishment for his sins, was also assigned as Depot Quartermaster at the Pittsburgh Storage and Supply Depot. This was an immense establishment for those days, occupying the old Allegheny Arsenal, built in 1812, as shown by the date over the Sally Port. There were some twenty warehouses crammed with stores of every kind, and also a purchasing depot, especially for iron, steel, structural steel for railroad bridges in the Philippines, putty, paint, glass, hardware, fire bricks, and so on, all by car‑load lots, were brought there and even a locomotive complete which the writer was ordered to "inspect, test and if found all right to accept, pay for and ship to the Pacific coast." The writer knew just about as much about an engine as he did about Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Mahan's old pump on which he (the writer, not old "Denny") got a big, fat zero.

A contract was made with a firm about twenty miles above Pittsburgh for four thousand five hundred "wall lockers" (steel) and another contract for four thousand "fibre" lockers for soldiers, and the orders were he was to personally supervise all these contracts as Quartermaster.

But the gods were propitious, for one blazing hot day in August Tebbetts walked into the office and hailed, "Hello, 'Whiskey.' " I had not seen him since graduation, forty years before and did not know he lived in Pittsburgh, and he was one of two of my classmates who always dubbed me "Whiskey." We talked for hours, of course. He said he was in poor health and was thinking of going to Winston Salem, North Carolina, and start an apple orchard so as to be in the open air. A project was taking shape in my head right then, but I said nothing for fear of disappointing him. That night I applied to the War Department for authority to employ an Inspector of Purchases, and in a few days received telegraphic authority to employ one at one hundred and twenty-five dollars per month, which in those days was a fair salary. Immediately I phoned Tebbetts to come to the office and asked him if he would accept the place and "come back into the service of Uncle Sam." He looked at me for a moment, then gulped and said, "Good God, yes," and his salary commenced that day, and until I was relieved from duty at Pittsburg, a year after, we were in daily contact. When I left he still held the job, and so far as I know held it till his death. He was a splendid inspector, thoroughly reliable, knowing his business from end to end, affable and pleasant to all contractors but as unyielding as a hickory stump in requiring exact compliance with the contract.

 p130  His health improved considerably, and he was happy to be back at work. I was at his house more than once and the remembrance of those Southern Sunday dinners still lingers. His home life was ideal. With four beautiful daughters and stately Southern wife I spent many happy evenings. Of course, we talked West Point to our hearts' content. He had kept track of every member of the class and had figured just where he would have stood had he remained in the service — a Colonel of Cavalry.

He loved West Point, loved the service and once told me he was sorry he had resigned — like nine out of ten.

He was a devout member of the Calvary Protestant Episcopal Church and lived up to his ideals.

In February, 1920, he was taken ill suddenly, presumably a cold, which quickly developed into pneumonia and after only four days' sickness, on February 13th, he quietly passed away, serene, unafraid, ready to obey orders as he had always been, and thus Seventy lost its thirty-seventh member out of fifty-eight, but in the hearts and memories of his friends, and especially of his classmates, "Betsy" Tebbetts will long be remembered, the soldier, the gentleman, the Christian.

Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.F. E. Phelps

Thayer's Note:

a Yellow fever remained the scourge of the South, and of Louisiana in particular, thruout the nineteenth century and into the twentieth, with epidemics every few years. The epidemic of 1870 was not one of the worst. Chapter 10 and Chapter 35 of Kendall's History of New Orleans and most of Chapter 47 (titled "Medical Progress, 1900‑1922") are about yellow fever, and in Chapter 12 of New Orleans, The Place and the People, Grace King provides a vivid account of the impact of these recurring yellow fever and cholera epidemics.

In connection with the epidemic of 1873, just three years after the account given in the above obituary, West Pointer Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Eugene Woodruff is still remembered today in Shreveport as a hero: the details are given in his AOG obituary, to which I've appended a long newspaper article of the time.

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Page updated: 23 Nov 14