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Bill Thayer

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Section 5

This webpage reproduces a section of
The History of West Point

William F. H. Godson

Philadelphia, 1934

The text is in the public domain.

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Section 7
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p45  VI

The ninth decade of West Point's history passed without war or serious interruption to the routine. Unevent­ful to a casual glance, these years were filled with steady progress. High standards were maintained and the Academy kept in step with developments in the country as a whole. Intercollegiate athletics came into prominence. The Academy became more liberal and better known.


The largest gathering of graduates to assemble at West Point up to this time occurred in June, 1883, when 106 alumni and 10 guests were present at the Association of Graduates meeting in connection with graduation exercises.​1 Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.J. Baker, class of '19, then 84 years of age, was the oldest graduate present. Colonel Thayer's remains had been brought to the Academy in 1877​2 and a statue to him was now unveiled with appropriate ceremonies. General Cullum made the principal address, outlining in detail the history of the Father of the Academy.​3 The Board of Visitors at this time was very favorably impressed. Their report includes the statement:​4 'A graduate of West Point is, almost of necessity, a gentleman in the best sense of the word — a man of intelligence, integrity, and truth — . . ." They also commented upon the "military bearing" and "cheerful faces" of the cadets.5

 p46  In 1883 a new set of Regulations was issued.

In 1883, also, the West Point Army Mess was incorporated.6

West Point had long been interested in her sister institutions in France, Germany and England. A reflection of their interest in West Point is to be found in the fact that a foreign review printed a detailed description of the Military Academy (in French) written by Professor Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Michie and an associate.7


That the work at the Academy was still being done in good fashion is evidenced by another congratulatory reference in the report of the Board of Visitors.8

"It may be questioned by some whether or not it is necessary in order that a young man become a good officer, that he should know as much . . . as he . . . is taught at West Point; . . . Were the graduates of the Academy to make no other return to the country than to go back among their own people as an example of what may be done by proper intellectual and physical education, the maintenance of the West Point Academy would still be justified."

More detailed comment followed:9

"The system of grading . . . (insures)

1. That each cadet should have his right place in his class.

2. That the comparative attainments of cadets in different classes may be determined with a good degree of approximation to the last."

"This system, excellent in itself, seems to be applied with scrupulous fidelity, and by so many hands that exact results are habitually attained."

The first record of a Hundredth Night Show is dated February 13, 1884.10

 p47  In 1884, also, first reference is found to the practice of permitting other countries to arrange by special treaty to send a student to West Point.11


February 1, 1885, H. J. Koehler reported for duty as Master of the Sword. Nicknamed "Squaredeal" by the cadets he soon won a place for himself in their esteem remarkable for a non-graduate to attain. He reorganized the gymnastic instruction at once.​12 Later he contributed much to the systematized calisthenics used with the Third and Fourth Classes.

The Officers' Mess was now flourishing. By‑Laws in 1885 show an increasing member­ship.

The Board of Visitors commented in June:13

"The proportion of instructors to students at the Military Academy is very much greater than at other educational institutions, but it is precisely this proportion that makes the excellence of the Academy and renders it possible to take a boy who knows only the rudiments of the English language, history and arithmetic and in four years to turn him out at least a fair mathematician and fair engineer and a faithful public servant."

An interesting feature of this same report is the opportunity afforded heads of departments to comment on the amount of time spent on mathematics in the West Point curriculum.​14 There was no unanimity of opinion.


The Board of Visitors this year commented upon the fact that West Point had contributed much to education.​15 Selection of instructors and textbooks was given very careful consideration.16

An unusually large class graduated this year​17 (seventy-seven cadets instead of classes about half that size).

 p48  1887

John G. Parke, Colonel of Engineers, reported as Superintendent August 28, 1887.

Several innovations mark this year. The first First Class Annual on record was issued in this year. The practice of "extra" instruction started, or was first alluded to in​18 correspondence. The first colored cadet graduated from West Point.​19 (Several had entered but had failed in studies or conduct before this time.)

Henry O. Flipper, the colored cadet in question, wrote a very manly, straightforward account of his cadet days. He admits fair treatment, although denied social recognition, and his book gives a splendid impartial picture of West Point from 1883 to 1887. Upon graduation he was commissioned a Second Lieutenant of Cavalry and assigned to a colored regiment.

In the report of the Board of Visitors for the year​20 is found much interesting material. "The rooms of cadets are more than Spartan in the severe simplicity that prevails," says the account.​21 Recommendation is made that electricity be substituted for gas and a telephone system is deemed necessary.​22 The discipline was approved but in a dissenting report attached one member stated the feeling that it might be too severe.​23 West Point was carefully and favorably compared with Sandhurst​24 (English military school).

Exhibit G‑C to the report​25 makes the first known study of the need for graduate studies after entering the army. (Letter by Professor P. S. Michie.)

In 1887 the only available hotel on the posts was small and inadequate.​26 Steps were taken to bring this matter to the attention of Congress (through Boards of Visitors, reports of the  p49 Superintendent, etc.) but the conditions were to remain unimproved for many years.


No reference to year 1888 is complete without mention of the "Great Storm." The entrances to the sally ports were closed by snow. The necessary routine of classes and meals was interrupted and followed with difficulty.

Additions were made to the reservation at this time. The Kinsley tract was added providing additional ground for drills, field training, and future expansion.27

In July the Corps of Cadets visited Poughkeepsie.28

Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.George Greene, class of '23, in an address during "June Week," called attention to the fact that there were now about 1,000 living graduates of the Military Academy.29


John M. Wilson, Lieutenant-Colonel of Engineers, reported as Superintendent August 26, 1889.

The Corps of Cadets visited New York April 30th.30

George W. Cullum,​31 class of '23, was the oldest alumnus at graduation exercises in June.32

The Board of Visitors​33 (which included General Lew Wallace and Captain Charles King) reported favorably and made complimentary reference to Mr. H. J. Koehler, Master of the Sword.​34 General Wallace recommended extension of the West Point system to the training of the entire army.35

 p50  1890

The physical equipment of the post was improved in 1890. A telephone system was authorized​36 and the water supply increased.37

The cadets were beginning to take an interest in baseball and football playing among themselves.

The graduation address in this year was delivered by the eloquent Dr. Edward Everett Hale.38


In 1891 appeared the first edition of the Cullum register, a roster of graduates of the Military Academy with brief biographies.

The Corps of Cadets went to New York for the funeral of General Sherman.​39 Later in the year they had another trip, to Bennington, Vt., in connection with the dedication of a Battle Monument there.40

More extensive and detailed than United States was the study made by the Board of Visitors in 1891. A Corps of Cadets, numbering 1,000, was given serious study.​41 (At that time the authorized strength was 284 and the actual strength was about 23 per cent under this figure.)​42 Distinguished educators were asked to make suggestions in regard to the Military Academy (particularly in regard to the department of modern languages) and many did so. Among those to respond were:

Professor W. A. Lamberton of the University of Pennsylvania, who felt the professors at West Point should not necessarily be graduates of West Point.​43

President E. D. Warfield of Lafayette College, who suggested the addition of German.​44

Professor Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Henry Coppee (U. S. M. A., '45) of Lehigh, who thought the courses might be expanded.​45

 p51  President R. H. Jesse of the University of Missouri, who recommended spending more time on English and foreign languages.​46

President C. W. Elliot of Harvard, whose reply was evasive.​47

President G. Stanley Hall of Clark University (Mass.), who felt department heads should be the best men available regardless of whether found in military or civil life.​48

President C. K. Adams of Cornell, whose opinion was the same as that of Dr. Hall.​49

President Cyrus Northrup of the University of Minnesota, who expressed much the same opinion saying, "I do not see that it makes much difference whether the Professor of French is a warrior or not";​50 and

President W. P. Johnson of Tulane, who thought that English, French, German and Spanish all were important.51

In the same report​52 portraits in Grant Hall were listed as those of:

Generals Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Reynolds, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Sedgwick, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Schofield, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Grant, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Sherman, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Sheridan, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Ord, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Merritt, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Warren, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Swords, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Meade, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Tyler, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Ricketts, and Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.McClellan; Colonels Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Abert and Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Benton; and Captain Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Alden. These were all donated by friends and hang "in the hall in which the cadets daily assemblyº three times for meals."53

Also to be found in this same report is the address of the Hon. J. C. Burrows (June 12, 1891)​54 to the graduating class. His concluding words were:

"Go then to your posts of duty, and, though peace smiles continually upon the land, serve the country with the same fidelity as if involved in war. And though your names may never be sounded in the trumpet of fame, chiseled in marble, or cut in brass, yet you will have the consolation of knowing that  p52 you have desolated no homes, made no graves, broken no human hearts; and your enduring monument will be blossoming fields, happy homes, and the plaudits of a free people reposing in security and peace behind the bulwark of a disciplined, patriotic and invincible army."​55

In 1891 athletic clothing was worn for football.56

The same year cadet service began to be counted toward retirement.57


In 1892 West Point methods were made public through the writings of graduates and others, and the newspapers paid more attention to the Academy than heretofore. Educational methods at West Point were explained by Professor Michie.​58 The Military Academy was described as a school of technology by the U. S. Commissioner of education.​59 The New York Times made increasingly frequent allusions to the Academy (which was evidently now considered as news).60

In his annual report the Superintendent recommended that entrance examinations be held all over the United States and not merely at West Point.61

The Corps of Cadets made another trip when the Columbian Celebration was the cause of another excursion to New York.62

In June the will of General George W. Cullum was read and Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Thomas B. Arden, '35, eulogized General Cullum in an address before the Association of Graduates.63

The Board of Visitors made special commendation of Professor  p53 G. L. Andrews who was about to retire after 21 years of​64 efficient and distinguished service at the Military Academy.

So the fourth decade of West Point's second fifty years came to a close. Less spectacular than the periods of war it was nevertheless a period of steady growth and improvement and a period in which the country came to know its qualities even better than heretofore.

The Author's Notes:

1 Annual Report, Association of Graduates, 1883.

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2 Ibid., p143.

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3 General Cullum's address was privately printed and bound. It outlined General Thayer's life as follows:

Dartmouth, entered 1803, graduated 1807.

West Point, entered 1807, graduated 1808 ("No. 1").

Engineer service 1808‑1812 (and Adjutant at West Point).

War of 1812, Chief Engineer with various forces in the field; breveted Major.

Tour of Europe, 1815.

Superintendent, U. S. M. A. July 28, 1817–July 1, 1833.

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4 Report, Board of Visitors, 1883, p4.

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5 From this time on frequent references are to be found to the bearing of the cadets. Military reports, official orders, even fiction, offer evidence that something more than military erectness was expected of the West Pointer. G.

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6 Papers of Incorporation, December 24, 1883. To be found in the Library, U. S. M. A.

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7 Michie, P. S. and Forsyth, J., "L'académie militaire des Etats‑Unis à West Point." Revue Internationale de l'enseignement, Tome 5, 1883, pp611 et seq.

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8 Report, Board of Visitors, 1884, p9.

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9 Ibid., p22.

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10 Since this time it has been customary to celebrate, with increasingly pretentious entertainment, amateur theatricals, and other events the arrival of the one hundredth day prior to graduation. (Freshmen are supposed to have the number of days constantly memorized so as to be able to reply at once to the inquiry, "How many days?") G.

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11 Act of Congress, February 2, 1884 (re Guatamala,º Nicaragua).

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12 Centennial, U. S. M. A., Vol. 1, p899.

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13 Annual Report, Board of Visitors, 1885, p10.

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14 Annual Report, Board of Visitors, 1885, pp11‑16.

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15 Ibid., 1886, p192.

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16 Ibid., p18.

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17 Berard, A. B., Miss, Reminiscences of West Point (Tables.) See Appendix J.

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18 With almost every minute of the day allotted to some task it has always been hard for the West Point cadet to find time for any extra work. Help by instructors at examination times has been arranged since 1887. G.

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19 H. O. Flipper, The Colored Cadet.

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20 Annual Report, Board of Visitors, 1887.

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21 Ibid., p23.

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22 Ibid., p52.

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23 Mr. G. H. Bates.

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24 Annual Report, Board of Visitors, 1887, p787.

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25 Ibid., p114.

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26 Report of the Superintendent, 1891, p11.

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27 Act of Congress, September 22, 1888. War Department Circular No. 3, Office of the Adjutant General, Washington, D. C., December 1, 1888.

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28 Post Orders, Vol. 12, p21, July 26, 1888.

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29 Report, Association of Graduates, June 11, 1888, p103.

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30 Post Orders, Vol. 12, p109. The purpose of the celebration was to commemorate the first inauguration of Washington as President.

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31 After whom Cullum Hall is named. (See 1892.)

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32 Report, Association of Graduates, 1889.

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33 Report, Board of Visitors, U. S. M. A., 1889.

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34 Ibid., p1051.

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35 Ibid., p1026.

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36 Act of Congress, June 20, 1890.

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37 Report of Superintendent, 1890, p228.

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38 Report, Board of Visitors, 1890, pp21‑24.

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39 Post Orders, Vol. 12, p380.

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40 Ibid., p443.

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41 Report, Board of Visitors, 1891, p762.

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42 Ibid., p763.

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43 Ibid., pp793‑5.

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44 Ibid., p795.

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45 Ibid., p796.

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46 Ibid., p797.

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47 Report, Board of Visitors, 1891, p799.

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48 Ibid., p798‑9.

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49 Ibid., p799.

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50 Ibid., pp799‑800.

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51 Ibid., p801.

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52 Ibid., pp850‑1.

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53 Having eaten three meals a day under the influence of these portraits I can vouch for their value and appropriateness. Others have been added from time to time. G.

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54 Report, Board of Visitors, 1891, p854.

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55 These words, frequently quoted, have served to express the West Pointer's philosophy of life in times of peace. G.

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56 Photograph, Album, Class of 1892.

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57 Circular No. 13, Adjutant General's Office, Washington, D. C.

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58 Michie, P. S., "Educational Methods at West Point," an article in the Educational Review, Vol. 4, No. 19, November, 1892, pp350‑365. (See Appendix K.)

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59 Professor Riedler, in Report, U. S. Commissioner of Education, 1892‑1893, Vol. I, p657.

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60 As an example, Article on "Flirtation Walk" (previously mentioned), N. Y. Times, June 8, 1892, p3, Column 1.

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61 Superintendent's Annual Report, 1892, p4.

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62 Post Orders, Vol. 13, p74, October 12, 1892.

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63 Report, Association of Graduates, June 9, 1892. General Cullum left the funds with which "Cullum Hall" was built. This beauti­ful memorial hall contains battle flags, trophies, bronze tablets to groups and individuals, and is the scene of cadet dances, receptions and formal social occasions. G.

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64 Annual Report, Board of Visitors, 1892, p11.

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