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Appendix A

This webpage reproduces an appendix to
The History of West Point

William F. H. Godson

Philadelphia, 1934

The text is in the public domain.

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Appendix C
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p82  Appendix B

(Letters dated January 16 and January 31, 1934, from Dr. Robert Fletcher; and a 12‑page handwritten MS. by him.)


Hanover, N. H., Jan. 16, 1934.

Robert Fletcher, D. Sc., Civ. Engr. (Dartmouth College)
Lately Director, now Professor Emeritus,
Thayer School of Civil Engineering,
Pres. and Eng'r Hanover Water Works Co.,
Pres. N. H. State Board of Health.

Lieut. W. F. H. Godson, Jr.
Norwood, Pa.

Dear Sir:

Your note of the 13th inst. is at hand.

As to your request, it happens just now that the present dean of the Thayer School has persuaded me to prepare a brief memoir of recollections and reminiscences concerning the Thayer School and its relation to Gen. Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Thayer and Dartmouth College. At present it is only in the state of a first draft and incomplete, typed doublespace on letter size sheets. About 6 pages relate to the inception of the Thayer School in conferences with Prof. Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Mahan and Gen. Thayer at West Point.

When it is all in more complete form I can let you have excerpts to suit your purpose. Let me know:

1. How soon do you want it?

2. How much? I could enlarge a little on some aspects not suitable to the proposed memoir, because concerned more exclusively about U. S. M. A.

Truly yours,

(signed) Robert Fletcher.


 p83  Hanover, N. H., Jan. 31, 1934.

Robert Fletcher, D. Sc., Civ. Engr. (Dartmouth College)
Lately Director, now Professor Emeritus,
Thayer School of Civil Engineering,
Pres. and Eng'r Hanover Water Works Co.,
Pres. N. H. State Board of Health

Lieut. W. F. H. Godson, Jr.
Norwood, Pa.

Dear Sir:

The enclosed matter may not all be pertinent to your purpose. Portions of my story of the Thayer School have been used, either as written or modified; and other matter added which would be out of place in the "story."

Presumably you know of and have access to the address of Gen. Cullum given at the unveiling of the statue of Gen. Thayer at West Point, June 11, 1883, — in the Report of the Association of Graduates for that year, — a short biography covering 30 pages.

You may not know of a passage in the life of George Ticknor by his daughter, which tells of Ticknor's experience as one of the Board of Visitors, when he was a guest of Gen. Thayer, a close view of Gen. Thayer's characteristics and his official attitude. I could have a copy made of this if desired. It covers about 3 or 4 book pages, 8 vo. The General and Ticknor were lifelong friends, both graduates of Dartmouth College.

Truly yours,

(signed) Robert Fletcher.


Personal and Educational. Concerning the Writer

Born in New York City, August 23rd, 1847, son of Edward H. and Mary A. (Hill) Fletcher. Educated in the public schools of New York and (three years) at what was then "Free Academy" (but of high college grade) which soon after became College of the City of New York. Chose the "classical course," — three years of Latin, two of Greek, history, rhetoric, public speaking, etc., which also included lectures on physics and chemistry; descriptive geometry and perspective, and free-hand drawing. In August, 1864, won by competitive examination (21 contestants) appointment as a cadet at the U. S. Military Academy, and passed examination there in the same month. (Thus became  p84 what Gen. Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Porter termed an "August Sept.")​1 During the four years there the courses included usual mathematics, through analytical geometry and calculus, descriptive geometry (then a new work from the pen and brain of Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Prof. Church), Bartlett's Analytical Mechanics, and his books on physics and astronomy; surveying, French two years and Spanish one year, military science, and infantry, artillery and Cavalry drills. At graduation in June, 1868, the class of 55 men received their diplomas from the hand of Gen. Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Grant, then General in command of the armies. Next November he was elected President of the United States.


Instructor at West Point

After vacation following graduation I was assigned to garrison duty with light battery "I", stationed at Brownsville, Texas. In the following spring the battery was transferred to Fort Trumbull, Conn. While there, in August 1869, at the request (as it appeared later) of Prof. Church, I was assigned to duty at the Military Academy as instructor of mathematics. It is well to state here that during the greater part of my cadet life, Gen. Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Cullum was Superintendent of the Academy; and that, during my service as instructor, Gen. Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Thomas G. Pitcher was in command. In the latter period, Gen. Grant's son Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Fred was a cadet; he had seen some of the operations of the Civil War when with his father in the Vicksburg campaign. It is in order to state that, among the privileges of our first‑class-year a group of us were allowed to procure an eight-oared "shell" with outriggers, which afforded good exercise when off duty. When serving as instructor, three of us got permission to use Fred Grant's "working boat" as it was called, which gave exercise to one at a time. Built of light cedar, shaped something like a spoon-bowl, with very little keel, the long spoon-oars in outriggers would almost make it jump out of the water.

Early in the summer of 1870, Prof. D. H. Mahan, almost a life-time head of the department of civil and military engineering, asked me to consider a proposal to take charge of a school of civil engineering at Dartmouth College, for which Gen. Sylvanus (Thayer) then in retirement more than ten years, had given funds to establish a foundation. This led to a visit, made in the summer of 1870, to Dartmouth College, and a conference with President Smith; thence to a visit and conference with General Thayer at his home in South Braintree, Mass. To the objection of unpreparedness and incompetence for such a responsibility  p85 Prof. Mahan argued that there was preparation enough to start with, that the growth must be slow at best, and it would be easy to keep ahead of the few pupils; also that the training and teaching experience already gained which put emphasis on major attention to essentials (correct definitions, exact statement of principles, etc.) was training enough. He was the author of a (then) leading text book on civil engineering (which we used) and of the course on stereotomy which required much drafting; and presumably was familiar with the course at Ecole des Ponts et Chaussees in Paris. Be that as it may the writer was constrained to accept the proposal, and it was arranged that I should remain at West Point until January, taking special lessons in French under Prof. Agnel (then the never-excelled head of French Department), with the idea of having a possible term at l'Ecole des Ponts et Chaussees.

The arrangement with Prof. Agnel was rather unique. He was much devoted to chess I had played enough to learn some points of the game; and he would give lessons two evenings in the week without charge if I would play a game of chess with him after the lesson. The result was many agreeable (and busy) evenings spent in the professor's study. But the plan was not to be realized, and I resigned from the army, effective, December 31, 1870. That date because Congress had passed a law reducing the army, and called for resignations of officers, — allowing a year's pay and allowances if resignation was offered before January 1, 1871.

Another feature of the situation must be noted, — the educational aspect. There were few state universities. Only the larger cities had public high schools. Massachusetts Institute of Technology was scarcely two years old, in a new main building. Cornell was then hardly started. West Point had been the nursery of several distinguished civil engineers, who had done much in building the public works of the country. The Harvard School of Engineering was then nearly moribund. The Rensselaer at Troy had already a high reputation in its own field. It was not too presumptuous to believe that a school of Civil Engineering at Dartmouth College had a reason to be.


The Older Military Academy, West Point in 1864

From Revolutionary times until about 1885 West Point was nearly isolated. There was no road from the north (the Storm King highway was a future achievement); the Highlands of the Hudson were mostly a wilderness; the approach from the west was through rough country sparsely settled; the road from the south was through the region of Revolutionary traditions, where people seemed to take little notice of affairs in the world south of Dunderberg mountain. The Academy was reached by the Hudson River Railroad to  p86 Garrison on the east side, and thence by a small steam ferry boat; also by the Hudson River day boats (plying between New York and up‑river towns) which were then famous for their speed and punctuality in making their landings. The West Shore railroad was not built until several years later. From the landing-wharf a steep road ascended 150 ft. to the broad plateau, where were the library, old chapel, old "academic" building, the long graystone barracks on the south, and the row of faculty residences on the west side. There was "Roe's hotel" on the north, old fort Clinton on the northeast and no buildings east of the "parade" and the bare camp-grounds. Here the cadet was isolated where there were no distractions, under discipline, firm but not harsh, but which imposed severe penalties if reported "off limits" without a permit.

Living conditions. The pay of a cadet was $600 a year and the daily ration. He received no money, and parents were requested not to send any. Each month's pay was credited on the cadet's "check book." He put in a written re­quisition for what he needed, — books, clothes, and sundries; and, if his check book showed sufficient credit balance, he might obtain the article at the commissary store. The cost of his first cadet uniform and bedding was covered by an initial deposit of $100 with the treasurer. If the cadet used ordinary care he might have credit enough to buy a suit of clothes when going on his only furlough at the end of two years, and have some spending money besides; also, at graduation, for his army uniform.

At the time of my entrance in 1864 the Civil War was in progress. The Corps numbered less than 300, since there were no representatives from the seceded states. Several of my class had been appointed from the army. My first room-mate had been sergeant of a light artillery battery, and a prisoner behind the Confederate lines after the battle of Shiloh. Another was Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.the son of Admiral/or Commodore Dahlgren; another Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.the son of Admiral Farragut, etc. We were all housed in the eight "divisions" of what now is named "the old South barracks"; then there was no other. The only gymnasium​2 was in part of first floor or basement of the old "academic building," in which the recitation rooms, etc. were nearly all up stairs excepting the chemistry department. In the barracks, as you know, were four rooms on each floor two men in each room; two plain iron bedsteads each in an alcove separated by a low partition; a single washstand at the end of this partition held a water pail filled daily by the janitor; and a pail at one side received the wash water. No water pipes upstairs; bath rooms and bootblacking in the basement. Toilets for the entire Corps in an outside building, known as "the sink." Barracks heated by steam; the fireplaces in the rooms disused except  p87 as hiding places for forbidden articles. An iron table and a chair completed the furniture supplied. Curtains for the windows, and a table cover, might be procured at the commissary store if the cadet's credit was sufficient. No trunks in rooms. All clothing arranged on open "dresser" shelves so as to be quite visible. Rooms liable to be inspected at any time by the officer of the day; or, at night by a company officer with a "dark lantern" (Flash-lights then unknown).

As to the daily routine, nothing need be said to a graduate, as it probably has not changed much, excepting to soften the discipline and give cadets more liberties /freedom, and more contacts away from West Point through yielding to the football craze. It is enough to state that, in my day, the months before the first January examination were a probation period; and that examination sifted out the "misfits." There was no favoritism; all fared alike. Our class received one admiral's son who was found deficient in the preceding class, and turned back. If sons of wealthy families had money (contrary to the rules) there was little chance to make a display, beyond treating a classmate to ice cream and confectionery at a little store which the authorities tolerated. Although much weight was given to proficiency in military science and exercises, and, of course, there was the coveted distinction of wearing the chevrons of a cadet officer; yet class standing was determined by brains, — mental ability; it was a healthy and good-natured rivalry through the four years.

A few words as to hazing; Although I had no experience of "plebe" camp, I think it was not really as bad as later when, by reports, it descended to brutality. Three classmates maintained their sensitive personal dignity by fisticuffs according to the rules of the "ring"; but those who accepted the situation and were willing to "play the game" acquiesced as to their "inferiority complex" and "bided their time."​3 The matter had begun to come to public  p88 notice and the Secretary of War had decreed that the regular furlough would be denied any cadet who refused to sign a certificate that he had "not improperly interfered with, molested, harassed or injured new cadets." The class of '68 argued that they could not hold the entire Corps in summer camp on the ground against fort Clinton and agreed to do something to prevent, in honor, signing the certificate. The simplest thing was to steal out at night and yank at least one plebe into the company way, during our yearling camp. We missed our guess. The class was crowded into camp, three or four on a tent floor, had to do guard duty and undergo all the company drills through six weeks, but finally were allowed the last four weeks of the furlough.

Gen. Thayer's Purpose in Founding the Thayer School

Immediately after resignation from the army I visited General Thayer​4 at his home (January, 1871). There he revealed his general intention and views in particular regarding the effective education of a civil engineer. He was strongly opposed to lavish expenditures on buildings; insisting that the main purpose should be to secure instructors of approved competence; and that classes should be small, and the instruction thorough and intense. His ideal was mental discipline through individual application by the students, according to the system which he perfected at West Point. (He told me that his rules forbade card-playing; the violation of the rule was almost a dismissable offense, — not because an innocent game of cards was evil in itself, but because of the distraction from tasks and the waste of time.) And, furthermore, he insisted that civil engineering is as much a "learned profession" as the law, the ministry or medical practice. That engineering training should be superimposed upon a preparation of college grade which would include the essential and auxiliary subjects of mathematics, physics, chemistry, languages, history, and the so‑called "humanities" in general. This was then a unique proposition and has governed the operation of the Thayer School ever since. As the old college courses were in 1870 this made it necessary to adopt a "six-year course" during the first 20 years; but, as the college (Dartmouth) modified its curriculum to give more room for mathematics and the physical sciences, adjustment was made so that a "five-year course" has been in success­ful operation more than thirty years.

During the first 25 years our Board of Overseers was almost exclusively West Point men of distinction: Gen. Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Henry L. Abbot, Gen. Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Palfrey, Col. Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Michie, Gen. Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Andrews, Col. Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Fiebeger, and the Board visited the School once each year,  p89 to be present at the examination of the candidates for the degree of Civil Engineer.


To answer the question: "What are the fruits?" I enclose a copy of the last Thayer School biennial, issued four months ago. The marked pages​5 are pertinent to your inquiries, but do not tell the whole story as they show only the present situation. Graduates have done responsible work in the Philippine Islands, in Mexico, Alaska, Brazil, Argentina, etc. Five had responsible charge in the building of the Panama Canal: one directed the dredging of the seven-mile ship channel in Limon bay, and built the two two-mile breakwaters; another was practically resident engineer in construction of the Balboa terminal, with several thousand men and all needed machinery at command. I went over their works with both on my visit in 1913. Others have been concerned in the design and building of some of the largest steel bridges in America; others have been either head, or chief, or resident engineers of great contracting firms (in New York, in the Northwest, etc.); — but the list is too long and would be of little use in your quest.6

The Author's Notes:

1 The term "Sept" was applied to new cadets who reported for duty in September instead of in June. They lost the benefit of the summer training in camp and had to work hard to catch up with their classmates in military requirements at the same time they were starting their academic courses. G.

[decorative delimiter]

2 There was no course of gymnastics for the Corps. The gymnasium (tan bark floor) was used by the officers for exercise on the parallel bars, trapezes, etc. R. F.

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3 Dr. Fletcher does not specify what the imposed expressions of inferiority were. Surely time has not altered them much. In 1915 the plebe was supposed to reply to any upperclassman who asked him just where he ranked: "Higher than the highest admiral in the navy of course; but lower than the Commandant's dog or the latrine fleas." Such expressions of humility were all in fun of course, in 1915 as in 1864 the freshmen "bided their time." One result of the investigations into hazing which dated from this period and lasted until it was broken up, was the concern with which upperclassmen inquired into the feelings of plebes they had talked to unofficially. "Do you feel hazed, Mister," was usually the final question. It was understood that the plebe was not free, as a matter of honor, to change his mind later and report that he had been hazed, if at this time he had said that he did not feel hazed. I well recall, in my own plebe year, the excitement aroused when one of my classmates with an incorrigible sense of humor told an upperclassman who had asked him a few harmless but foolish questions that he DID feel hazed. Dozens of friends of the startled upperclassman visited the plebe and reasoned with him with an unusual courtesy and restraint which was a joy to the rest of us to behold. G.

[decorative delimiter]

4 Since General Thayer is known as the "Father of the Military Academy" and gave to it its one complete reorganization it is interesting to have this first hand account of Dr. Fletcher's contact with him. G.

[decorative delimiter]

5 While the Dartmouth College Bulletin, September, 1933, New Series, Vol. XXII, No. 4, has no bearing on this thesis and is not included (even as an Appendix) it is attached thereto as an additional exhibit in order that the Graduate Committee supervising this thesis may refer to it if they so desire. G.

[decorative delimiter]

6 While Dr. Fletcher does not say so in so many words there is a connection here with the history of West Point. It seems that the contributions of graduates of the Military Academy have not all been in the military service of the Nation. Such indirect contributions as the participation in the foundation of the Thayer School and its supervision as it grew to strength and usefulness should be noted. G.

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