|This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.|
In December, 1817, when I was fourteen years old, I was appointed a cadet and directed to report myself at West Point for examination in September of the following year. I had been, previously, busy with Latin and Greek at Saint Mary's College in Baltimore; and after I had played my part in one of Hannah Moore's dramas, and recited "The Battle of New Orleans," written by one of the professors, at the June examination, I fancied myself already in the army; and at once procured a black cockade, such as military and naval men wore in those days, and displayed it on all occasions. I ought to add, that I was led to doubt its value, when I found that it did not prevent my being ignominiously thrust aside by a United States soldier, when I attempted to cross the space that he was keeping open before the house from which Colonel Armistead, of Fort McHenry fame, was that day to be buried. The crowd laughed and jeered at my discomfiture; and as soon as I got clear of it, I quietly put my cockade into my pocket.
On my last visit to West Point, in 1886, I left Baltimore in a luxurious railroad car, between 8 and 9 o'clock A.M., and dined the same day at the West Point Hotel, at 5 P.M. In 1818, I left Baltimore between 8 and 9 o'clock A.M., in one of the earlier steamboats, and reached Frenchtown towards evening; whence I was carried, by stage, across the Peninsula to Newcastle, where I slept; and, on the following morning reached Philadelphia by a Delaware River steamboat, about noon. The next day, a steamboat took me to Trenton, and, by stage again, I got to New Brunswick, where I slept; and, the day after, by another steamboat, I was landed in New York.
At this time, there were but four steamboats on the Hudson — p2 the Richmond, the Paragon, the Firefly and the Chancellor Livingston — all slow boats; and I was told at the hotel where I dined, that if I took an Albany sloop, numbers of which were at the wharves close by, I would reach West Point in season for breakfast, the following day.
Relying on this assurance, I got on board a sloop, whose captain promised to set me ashore at West Point, on his way to Albany. I, thus, began what might have been called the seventh installment — by steam, stage and sail — of a journey which had grown to be as important in my eyes as though I had been Hendrick Hudson himself, seeking, by this route, a highway to Cathay.
The favorable wind which had promised so quick a passage to my future home, died away by the time we had reached the Tappan Sea; and was followed by a northwester, which, after nearly capsizing the sloop, left us without a breath of air until the next morning, when we began to beat our way up the river. With both wind and tide against us, it was late in the afternoon, twenty-four hours after leaving New York, that a promontory on our left, with a gray ruin on a hill above it, dominated by high mountains beyond, was pointed out to me as the place that I was bound to.
By this time, the wind had freshened, and the sloop was headed for Gee's Point; when the boat was lowered and hauled alongside, and I got into it with a sailor who took the helm and told me to jump ashore whenever we were close enough to a dock, that we were rapidly approaching in tow of the sloop — to permit my doing so. I jumped accordingly — my trunk was pitched after me — and away went the sloop to make the next tack near Constitution Island.
With Gee's Point I afterwards became familiar; but it was a rough spot, as I now recall it. There was a house near the dock, however, where I obtained a man to carry my trunk and be my guide to Gridley's, or "Grid's," as the place was commonly called, to which the "new cadets" went on their arrival.
A narrow, steep and ill-conditioned cart-road led to the plain above, with the east front of Fort Clinton on the right, and on the left, a precipice with trees wherever they found root among the rocks. On reaching the summit, the first objects I noticed, at some distance on the plain to the right, were several gray stone buildings, which I was told were the North Barracks, the South Barracks, the Academy and p3 the Mess Hall. Our road lay along the edge of the plain for some distance to a gate, beyond which, and outside of the property of the United States, we came to Gridley's. This, as nearly as I can recollect, was a large two-storied wooden building, standing a few steps to the north of the road down the river. The house was crowded with newly appointed cadets, awaiting examination; and here I had my first experience of sleeping three in a bed.
My letter of appointment had directed me to report to the Superintendent of the Military Academy; but, in some way that I do not remember, I learned that all that was necessary was to report myself to the Adjutant of the Post, whom I found at his office in the South Barracks. Whatever else I may have forgotten, my recollection of this particular interview is most distinct. I was an overgrown boy, •six feet tall, who neither "held his head erect, squared his shoulders, expanded his chest, drew in his belly, turned out his toes, or threw his eyes twenty paces to the front." All this came afterwards. "How old are you?" asked the Adjutant, as I answered to my name, which he called from a list before him. "Fifteen," I replied. The Adjutant marked this age on his list, saying, "Well, if you are that, now, it may be a comfort to you to know that you will look younger than you really are, should you grow old." Sixty-nine years have since verified the Adjutant's prophecy.
From the Adjutant's office, I was taken to a room in the second story of the east wing of the Academy building, where, with some half dozen others, we were examined touching our proficiency in the knowledge required to justify admission, before some members of the Academic staff. The only one, I now remember, was Mr. Andrew Ellicott, the Professor of Mathematics, an old friend of my father, to whom, as I afterwards learned, the latter had written concerning me; to which I have often thought that I was quite as much indebted for a "plus 3," when the Professor visited the section-room, as to any especial merit of my own on the particular occasion. When my turn came to be examined, I was made to read a page, write some lines from dictation and answer some questions in Arithmetic, including the "rule of three."
p4 I am not certain whether it was on this day, or the next, that I had assigned to me quarters in the barracks, and went to the Mess Hall with the corps. "Board and lodging," however, were soon provided; and I was quartered with Campbell and Alfred Graham,º on the third stoop on the south side of the South Barracks, in the last room to the west. The South Barracks consisted of three tiers of rooms, placed back to back, fronting north and south respectively, and opening on galleries, which abutted, at either end, on buildings containing offices and officers' quarters. The galleries were reached by a stairway in the centre of the building. At the end of the several galleries were large woodboxes for the use of the neighboring rooms. Each room was, perhaps, •about eleven feet square; and, speaking only of mine, was furnished with three cots, that were nothing more than camp stools widened and lengthened to accommodate a person six feet tall. The head of my cot was in the recess on one side of the fire-place, and on the other side was Campbell Graham's; while Alfred's was at right angles to the latter and directly under the window. The door was opposite to the foot of my cot; and on the wall between it and the window was the rack for our three muskets and accoutrements. There was a shelf above the fire-place and shelves in the recesses over our heads as we lay in our cots. A table and three chairs, a pair of andirons and a fender completed the furniture of a room in which three tall men were "cabinned, cribbed, confined." I forgot where we kept out clothes — probably in our trunks under the cots. I often smile, when I remember our first winter's experiences in the South Barracks, — as we sat with our feet on the fender around the fire, with the candle on the table behind us, or, on the mantlepiece, so called out of compliment to a narrow board on two brackets.
In 1818, the battalion was divided, when in winter quarters, into two companies of equal numbers, the tallest cadets occupying the South Barracks, and forming the first company, and the second company the North Barracks. This was changed in 1819, when I went into the North Barracks, to my great delight. A long corridor, running north and south, divided this building lengthwise; and at either end were broad stairways to the upper stories, or "stoops," so‑called. On the first floor were the guard room and recitation rooms; and above these were the rooms occupied by the cadets. Each of these was p5 •some eighteen feet square, and was divided by a wooden partition, into two rooms of unequal size, the smaller one containing the cots of the occupants, one in each corner. In the larger were a table and four or five chairs, the gunrack with pegs above it for the accoutrements, and a large woodbox in a recess next the fireplace.
The two barracks were at right angles to each other, a space of •about fifty feet intervening, through which many a cap and plume were carried toward the Hudson, when the owner attempted to cross the funnel thus formed, in a northwest gale.b Prolonging the line of the South Barracks, west, was the Academy, so‑called — a building with wings, containing in the centre, the chapel, over which was the library. The former, a long, narrow and high-ceilinged room, with bare white-washed walls, was lighted by windows at each end. At the east end, were a platform and reading desk; on either side of which, were seats for the officials of the Academy and their families. The body of the hall was occupied by the cadets, seated on narrow benches, as close together as they could well be put, on either side of a centre aisle. Here, any general reading could be indulged in, in every row except the front one, without fear of detection. Both floors of the east wing were used by the Teacher of Drawing, and the Professor of Chemistry had as much as he wanted of the west wing.
Beyond the Academy, on the same line, and •some seventy feet, or more, west of it, was the Mess Hall, a long, two-storied stone building, the west end of which was a hotel, where officers messed, and visitors generally were received; while the two stories of the east end contained the Mess Hall proper of the cadets. The west end of the building abutted upon a road, running north and south, on which were the houses of the Professors and the Superintendent.c In front of the Mess Hall were the only trees worthy of the name on the Point — six elms, still standing — under which the cadets constructed a mighty bower for their 4th of July celebrations. General Thayer's statue has been erected in their midst.
Both floors of the east end of the Mess Hall were used for the cadets — the upper story being reached by a flight of steps on the south side. p6 Nothing could have been plainer than the interior arrangement:— three or four long tables, with the commonest benches for seats, across which we had to stride to take our places. Tablecloths were unknown then, and, indeed, for a long time after. The food, however, was good, and there was plenty of it. The bread, I remember, was excellent, and we often surreptitiously took it away with us in our high leather caps enough to have "a toast," with butter, obtained in the same way, in our rooms, at a later hour. Ah, these were merry days, — when we ate with our knives and two-pronged forks, on plain boards; and when the reply to the carver standing up at the head of the table when he asked a cadet what part of the roast or boiled beef he preferred, was "a big bit anywhere." Ah, I repeat, these were merry days, and the buttered toast after "taps," was more enjoyed than many a feast which, later in life, it has been my fortune to partake of.
From my room in the South Barracks, I overlooked a large yard, enclosed by a high board fence. Between it and the river bank ran the road which I had passed on my way to Grid's; and within it were the barber and shoeblack premises, opposite to the east end of the North Barracks. The woodyard, too, was within this yard; and here, also, opposite to the Academy, was Mr. Dewitt's (the suttler's) store. The gun sheds mentioned by Mrs. Davies in her reminiscences I do not distinctly recall. Beyond the woodyard, the eye rested on the forest-clad mountains of the Hudson — the river itself unseen — which bounded the horizon.
The view from the north side of the South Barracks was very different. Immediately in the foreground was the plain of West Point, beyond which was seen the river, dividing the Cro' Nest on the one side from the giant mass of mountains above Cold Spring on the other, and forming, with Newburg in the distance and the still remoter range of the Shawangunk, a picture that is not surpassed in beauty in America. From this elevation, the plain seemed flat, seems where broken by the remarkable depression called "Execution Hollow." To the left, or west side, of the plain, concealed by the elms already spoken of, was the residence of Professor Ellicott, fronting on the avenue running north and south; then came Professor Mansfield's; then the Superintendent's — the only double house in the row — and then the Chaplain's, the last on this part of the avenue, which then turned to the left p7 and passed some stone houses, one of which was occupied by Mr. Berard, teacher of French, and the other by Mr. Gimbrede, teacher of drawing. Beyond these, the avenue terminated at the "North Gate;" although there was a road from thence, passing by the "German Flats" and leading over the mountain, to Cornwall.
From the bend in the avenue there was a road down the hill to public dock. Of the houses to which it afforded access, I have a less distinct recollection than of those on the plain. The best remembered is Mrs. Thompson's, where, after my first year at the Point, I had my meals, as one of twelve cadets whom, as the widow of a revolutionary officer, Mrs. Thompson was permitted to board. Here we enjoyed the comforts and observances of a private family, at a table at which Mrs. Thompson and one or more of her daughters were always present. Some of the daughters were still alive when I visited the Point in 1849; and the youngest, then an elderly lady, still retained the comely features that made her one of the beauties of my time. But the low-browed yellow cottage, with its paling fence, enclosing a nicely-kept flower-bed or two, had disappeared altogether, or been devoted to other uses. Another house, not far off, was Wilton's, the tailor. Wilton was a genius in his way, who took a pride in his art, and did his best to fashion all cadets on the same pattern; and, by judicious padding, to supply what was wanting, having regard to the build and soldierly appearance and carriage of the individual; he certainly accomplished, at times, wonders in this direction. It was to Wilton, I have always believed, that the cheveron was made to assume its present form of curved lines, instead of the straight ones on an heraldic shield.
The hospital, so‑called, was down the hill; a mean frame building, utterly unworthy of the name given to it. Here I once saw a cadet on his death-bed, whose body the corps followed, a few days later, to be buried at the "German Flats."
Below Mrs. Thompson's, on the left of the road to the dock, was the shoemaker's, known as "George's," where buckwheat cakes might be had by cadets whom the rules of the Academy required should be in quarters. Ah, we had simple tastes in those days, when buttered toast and buckwheat cakes after "taps" were luxuries, all the more enjoyable because forbidden.
p8 Returning now to the plain at the bend of the avenue, and following the outline eastwardly, we come to the flagstaff in its present position, with a battery close by, consisting of one twenty-four-pounder, one twelve-pounder, and four six-pounders; passing which, with "Execution Hollow" on the right, we come to the "Bombardier Barracks," so called, where the cadets were originally quartered, and now occupied by regular soldiers. This was a long, two-storied, yellow, wooden building, the upper story being reached by stairs on the outside, giving access to its several corridors. The present West Point Hotel occupies the site. Beyond this was the ruin of Fort Clinton, on the northeast corner of the plain, turning southerly from which we fall into the road from Gee's Point. The river and south fronts of the fort were still in shape, but the other fronts were in a ruinous condition; and in advance of the west curtain was a deep hollow, now filled up.
I have described the plain as seen from the "third stoop" of the South Barracks. But it was by no means as level as it appeared from that height. While the only positive depression were "Execution Hollow" and the sink on the west front of Fort Clinton, the ground in front of the South Barracks became a sheet of water after every heavy rain, and so continued until absorption took place. In winter this was, for a time, a skating pond. I well remember that on my way to my meals at Mrs. Thompson's my path skirted this low ground, while on my right was higher ground, that has since been removed to fill up the depression, and so afford the present artillery drill ground.
I need not say that Kosciuscko'sº garden was where it now is, and that there was shown to the credulous the indentation on the rock, said to have been his seat, produced by a cannon shot fired at him from the opposite side of the river. But the house once occupied by the celebrated bugler, Willis, is no longer there, to remind one of the rare master of his art, whose name, in those days, was inseparably connected with West Point whenever the latter was mentioned. So much for the theatre of these reminiscences.
I do not remember upon what principle our class of one hundred and seventeen members was divided into four sections. I recollect, p9 however, that I was put into the first section, of which General Trimble and myself are now the only survivors. Our recitation room was next the guard room, on the first floor of the North Barracks. Here, on a rostrum, between the two windows, sat Assistant Professor S. Stanhope Smith, and here, with the first volume of Hutton's Mathematics in hand, I began my West Point education. I may as well say that the first sifting, in June, 1819, of my one hundred and seventeen comrades of the year before, reduced the number to fifty-nine, the next sifting to forty-eight, and that the number that got through the meshes of the seiveº was but forty. Of the others, some resigned, some were "turned back" to go over the year's course a second time, and some were found to be deficient altogether. These last were called, in the parlance of the cadets, "Uncle Sam's bad bargains."1
But to return to the section room.
I am not sure that we had desks, but rather think that we were seated on benches against the wall, with a blackboard to supply the place of pen and ink and slates, although I am not certain about the slates. Generally we had the section room to ourselves. Sometimes, however, Mr. Ellicott would pay us a visit and ask a few questions, ending with giving us a sum in algebra, to explain what was meant by "an infinite series," which was the name he went by in the corps.
The first year's course was not an appalling one, and three of us: Edward C. Courtenay,º Jonathan Prescott and I, determined to include the second year's course in it, thus reducing our four years at West Point to three. We all began bravely, but at the end of the first week my courage gave out. Courtenay and Prescott persevered, succeeded, and the first graduated at the head of his class, and Prescott followed him, as one of "the five." As for myself, I got only as high as eighteenth in the fourth class; and when I complained to the Superintendent that my French was not credited to me, which would have made p10 me sixteenth, I was told, in the Superintendent's courteous way, that, after all, two did not make so great a difference in so large a class; that if I had been one of "the five," for example, it would have been another thing. The next year, when I was, in fact, one of the "five," I had the same cause of complaint, and I have sometimes thought that the Superintendent's remark may have had a good effect; for, certainly, in my third year I had no cause of complaint.
When I first mingled with the cadets, the names that I heard oftenest were Fairfax, Loring, Ragland, Holmes and Vinning, the committee that had been appointed by nearly two hundred members of the corps to represent to the proper authorities the harsh and tyrannical treatment they received at the hands of Captain John Bliss, the then Commandant. Indeed, I may almost say that these names still ring in my ears, so familiar did they then become. Of this treatment an old letter to my family, that has been preserved, speaks; and in a letter from my father, in my possession, he refers to the meeting of the cadets above mentioned in a way from which it would seem that I had spoken of proceedings against the Commandant himself as having been suggested; for he says that "whatever may be the decision, if it does not effect the removal of Bliss, it will leave you in as bad hands as ever, with the aggravation of his triumph or his disgrace, either of which will make him more unreasonable, angry and severe."
Instead of the Commandant being courtmartialed, however, it was a courtmartial on the committee that took place; and although the court held that it had no jurisdiction as against cadets, yet the decision was overruled by the President, on the advice of the Attorney-General; and it is now recognized law, that the corps of cadets is subject to "the rules and articles of war." In the end, the committee seem to have been dismissed from the Academy, for in the register of the corps of that year their names are marked as "not examined," and in Cullum'sº most valuable work, his biographical register, they do not appear.
In Boynton's History of West Point the matter is referred to "as a series of events that resulted in the trial of cadets F., H., L., R. and V., as the representatives of one hundred and eighty-nine others, who p11 had formed a combination, under the impression that, as a corps of the army, they had certain rights to defend." Nothing is said, however, of the grievances which, in my day, were held by the cadets to have become insupportable, and which the corps had hoped to have redressed. Practically, they no longer existed when, in January, 1819, Captain Bliss ceased to be Commandant.
I think now that if Captain Bliss had possessed more of the suaviter in modo than was perhaps in his nature, the difficulty referred to might have, possibly, been avoided. His mistake was in applying to the cadets, while instructing them in the duties of a soldier, the methods that he had seen effectual with the rank and file of the line, overlooking the fact that they were, one day, to become officers, and were generally of a material different from that which he had been accustomed to command.
The cadets were divided, when in winter quarters, into first and second companies, according to height. My height placed me in the first company, where I was twelfth from the right. This company, as already said, occupied, after my first year, the North Barracks, and carried a fourteen-pound musket, and the second company a light affair, like the muskets now carried by the entire corps.
Usually, the companies "fell in" in front of their respective barracks; but on going to, or coming from, the Mess Hall the battalion "fell in" or were "dismissed" on the north side of the South Barracks.
It was quite a manoeuvre to get the company formed for drill in those days. After calling "one, two," and dividing the company into two platoons, the second platoon took one pace forward — number two having stepped behind number one, when, the rear rank of each platoon countermarching, and the second keeping on to the head of the company, and both facing to the front, it was found that the tallest were on the right and left respectively. I have tried in vain to find a copy of Scott's infantry tactics, to make sure that I was right in this sample of the way in which things were done in 1818. I once made a compend of the book for volunteer use, which was portable and became popular, but that, too, has disappeared.
p12 The uniform has not been changed materially. The coat, as perfected by Wilton, padding and all, is identically the same; so are the trousers, with the exception of the black stripe on the outer seam. But we wore leather stocks, the shirt collar showing above them, instead of being turned over the collar of the coat. The cap, however, was a stiff leather cylindrical pot — for it deserved no better name — with a very narrow visor, the seam of the cylinder in front being concealed by a lozenge-shaped brass plate with the arms of the Corps of Engineers. Behind the plate was a socket for the whalebone on which were wound the feathers of the long black plume, which was held to be the crowning glory of a cadet's head-gear, especially when, in "loading by the twelve words of command," the word "prime" caused the plumes of the battalion to nod gracefully together. Each plume had a tulip-shaped holder; and, as if this was not weight enough to carry on one's head, there was a brass curb chain from the top of the cap on each side, and attached to the bottom of the lozenge. Such a cap was simply an abomination, and, rain or shine, we had nothing else to wear. The plume, however, might be removed when we were not on parade or guard. Cross-belts for cartridge-box and bayonet, and waist-belt completed the dress of a cadet in 1818. As to gloves, my memory serves me not, though my impression is that we used to wear mittens on guard in very cold weather.
Some time elapsed before the arrivals in September were supplied with uniforms. But this did not delay the drilling, which was begun at once, and was continued without intermission when the weather permitted. How well do I remember the parallel lines of shallow trenches, •twenty-eight inches apart, on the east side of North Barracks, over which the squads were marched back and forth, again and again, until they were supposed to be able to step that distance uniformly in the daily drill. Nor have I forgotten my having to stand on one foot with a step half completed until the drill master, by saying "two," permitted me to complete the step. As for the "lock step," that was a trouble for a season that is still remembered. It took a good deal, I have no doubt, to bring me up to the cadet pattern, and the work was done by those who, having gone through the mill themselves, p13 seemed to take a malicious pleasure in grinding me between the same stones. I took to the process kindly, however, from the beginning.
The cadet model originated, I have always thought, with Captain Alden Partridge, one of Colonel Thayer's predecessors as Superintendent of the Military Academy. He made soldiers of the cadets, at any rate; and to have been one of "old Pewt's" men, in cadet's parlance, was a common boast of "old cadets." In the nine months of Captain Bliss' time there was no relaxation in the rigid discipline of the corps. On the contrary, we were treated too much like common soldiers, in regard to the carriage of the individual, his soldierly bearing, the way he cleaned his arms, and his manner of handling them. In all these respects Captain Bliss kept pace with Captain Partridge, if he did not go beyond him. Now, the class to which I belonged associated with the last class that had been with "old Pewt," and was supposed to have gained by the contact something of the spirit of his time, and was disposed to imitate its practices. For example: in the manual of arms then in use the butt of the musket was pressed against the left hip, and it was "good form," to use a late phrase, in coming from "support" or "present" to strike the butt audibly with a rapid flourish of the left hand. It took an "old cadet" to do this in the right way; and a refinement was to cut away the wood from under the first and second bands, to make them rattle as the butt was struck. It is difficult to believe that anything like "style" could be given to the manual of arms with an old fourteen-pound Springfield musket, but in my time it was done, after a while, by nearly all of us. Now-a‑days the musket is browned; but it was not so formerly; and many an hour was passed in making the barrel shine like silver. And as to the breast-plate, it was a labor of love to make it reflect like a mirror.
Following Captain Bliss as Commandant of Cadets was Captain John R. Bell, of the Light Artillery, a tall, handsome and soldierly-looking man, who was with us for little more than a year, and who, without abating the rigor of the discipline, showed how it could be maintained consistently with a proper regard for the feelings of those p14 under him. After Captain Bell came Major William J. Worth, in March, 1820, as Commandant of Cadets, and with the materials that Partridge and Bliss and Bell, respectively, had furnished, he made the corps what it was on the march to Boston, and perfected the carriage and bearing which have since marked those who have been educated at West Point, up to the present day.
The erection of the Wood monument in front of the Academy made it necessary to change the parade ground to a site to the north of North Barracks, and about on a line with their west front. I never think of this parade ground without its being associated with the idea of Major Worth, whom I can, even now, after the lapse of so many years, fancy I hear command, "Attention, battalion," in a way the thrills through and stiffens up every one in the ranks. There was something magnetic in his voice and manner that seemed to establish intimate relations between the cadets and their commandant, when on drill. They obeyed Bliss and Bell because they were their officers; they obeyed Worth because he made them a part, as it were, of himself. It is to Worth, in great measure, that the cadets, even of to‑day, are indebted, in my judgment, for their soldierly characteristics. And yet Worth was not a West Point man; but he was instinctively a soldier. He was above, rather than under, the middle height, an erect, well-built man, with dark hair and very dark eyes, which might almost be said to be black; these and his compressed lips gave to his face the expression of determination that was peculiarly remarkable. I have said thus much of "Haughty Bill," as we used to call him, because I have never been able to dissociate West Point and my old commander in my memories of either.
The camp is now where it used to be in 1818; but it was then octagonal in plan, as appears from an accurate drawing made by me at the time and sent home. The post at the guard tent and the corresponding post in the rear, overlooking the river, were very short, connecting, obliquely, with three posts of equal length on each side of the camp, making eight in all. The post at the guard tent was number eight, the post next to the north was number one, and so on. We p15 had no sentry boxes then. Rain or shine, it made no difference when the "relief" was called. The guard tents were two wall tents with an A tent between them. The arrangement of the tents generally, was the same as at present, the officers only having wall tents; all the others were A tents, with three occupants, as a general rule, in each. Just outside of post number three were A tents for the barber and shoeblack, and opposite, just outside of post number five, my drawing shows five A tents marked "musicians," by which I understand "the band."
In front of the guard tents was the cannon used for firing the morning and evening gun, into which were put the remains of the tallow candles used the night before in the guard tent, to increase the ring of the discharge.
It was a tradition of the camp, of my day, that a cadet named Ming Valleau,d when on guard, used to roll himself in his blanket and sleep under the cannon, without being awoke by the firing of the morning gun.
In a letter from camp, in 1819, I describe a storm that I have always regarded as one of the severest which, in a long life, I have ever experienced or witnessed. I was on guard, that night, on the third relief, between midnight and two o'clock in the morning; and the roar of the rain as it came over the Cro' Nest and across the German Flats, to reach and inundate the plain and camp, was like the noise that might be produced by the rush of a thousand carriages. The lightning was one continuous blinding glare, varied only by forked flashes, which during the height of the storm intensified it in all directions. The old locust, the one tree deserving the name on the plain, except those in front of the mess-hall, was struck and shivered, not much more than fifty yards from the guard tent. It was under this tree that soldiers were "picketed" when that most cruel punishment was permitted in the regular army. The thunder echoed among the mountains like the continuous discharge of the heaviest artillery; and so dense was the rain that the Bombardier Barracks were, for a time invisible from the guard tent. Perhaps my memory of this particular storm is quickened by the well-remembered fact that I thought it no impeachment p16 of my valor to reverse my musket, and, sticking the bayonet in the ground, keep at a respectful distance. This was but for a moment, however; for, looking toward the guard tent, I saw my classmate, Silas B. Fillebrown,º two inches taller than myself, walking there with his musket at a "support;" when, for very shame, I resumed my own. When the storm was over, and the stars came out, they were reflected from the lake formed by the rain in front of the South Barracks. It may be readily believed that a well-saturated cadet had to sleep himself dry when number seven was relieved that night.
Bad as all this was, it was nothing when compared to standing guard from midnight until two o'clock in front of the south door of the North Barracks, and to keep awake, with nothing to amuse one save the ticking of the guard-room clock and listening for the tread of first relief as it came over from the camp. Another hated post was the south gate, which had to be kept shut as against "Gridley's cows," although here there was occupation in watching the great Albany sloops, then the sole carriers on the river, as they swept by, to and from New York. Still, on guard or off guard, the camp was pleasanter than the barracks, rain or shine.
I am not sure, but think that we recited "Scott's Infantry Tactics" when in camp, in one of the section rooms of the North Barracks.
I have mentioned the four six-pound guns made a part of the battery near the flagstaff. With these the second and third classes were drilled at artillery, when the weather permitted, every morning before breakfast, doing everything with bricoles over our shoulders that is done with horses. Whenever a salute was to be fired the most expert at the drill were detailed for the purpose. I have sometimes thought that on one of these occasions I may have had a narrow escape from death. A salute was to be given to General Jacob Brown, then Commander-in‑Chief, and I was number one at gun number one in the battery; John C. Holland, of South Carolina, was number two, and Andrew J. Donelson,º afterward a candidate for the office of Vice-President of the United States, was Captain of the gun. One round had been fired, and I took my place to sponge the piece, when Holland, instead of waiting until I had done so, put the cartridge into the p17 gun. I might have jerked it out myself, sponged, and when Holland had picked it up and inserted it properly, have rammed it home, and still have been in season for our turn. But, instead of this, I shouted "Take out the cartridge till I sponge." Holland seemed dazed for a moment, and did nothing. Number two of the battery fired, number three fired, then would come number four's turn, and then it would be ours, with the cartridge still in the unsponged gun. "Tending vent," as we then called it, was a tall Kentuckian, of the class above me, John S. Craig,º who, with his thumb on the vent, took in the situation, and cried out, "Go it, Lat; I'm here," when, wetting the sponge in the little water bucket, I rammed the cartridge home. All went right, and General Brown got his seventeen guns in good style.
Sixty odd years ago, number three, in artillery drill, stood, facing to the rear, his right arm across his body, holding the portfire pointed to the ground, which, at the word "fire," he swung round in a vertical circle to ignite the tube, already in the vent. Now, while I recollect seeing the tall and striking figure of Donelson, standing with his arms folded, in his proper place, Craig with his thumb on the vent, and Holland opposite to me, I have in vain attempted to recall number three, who should have been in a line between Donelson and myself, ready to fire the gun; so that I have never been absolutely sure that the discharge was not due to a spark from the preceding cartridge, as had been the case the year but one previous, when Vincent M. Lowe had been killed, when in my position, at a larger gun in the battery.e
However narrow my escape may have been on the above occasion, number one had a still narrower, when a detail from the corps drilled at artillery on Boston common with four brass cannon belonging to the city, during our stay there. On that occasion my friend, George W. Folger, was pricker and primer, and, with his finger in the ring of the pricker, was in the act of piercing the cartridge with the wire, and number one had just withdrawn the rammer and stepped behind the wheel, when the gun went off, being fired by a spark from the last cartridge that the rammer had failed to extinguish, and Folger's hand was thrown violently upward, much burned. The gun was a very old one, and the vent greatly worn. We hardly knew which to p18 talk about most, number one's escape, or Folger's coolness under his suffering from a most severe burn.
In my day there were no demerit marks. If, for our sins of omission or commission, we allowed the authorities to run up an account against us, we cleared off the score with extra tours of guard duty or the curtailment of our Saturday afternoon privileges; or, in graver cases, with confinement in the light, or dark, prisons in the North Barracks. On Saturday afternoons it was no unusual thing to see squads of misdoers with wheelbarrows, shovels and brooms policing the barrack yards. No one's standing, when graduating, was affected by the demerit marks that had for four years been accumulating against him. I am not expressing any opinion in regard to either the old or the new system; I am only stating the fact as a reminiscence of the past.
I have already said that resignations were one of the ways by which our class of one hundred and seventeen was reduced to forty, on graduation. I may add, that there were times when the first thing that a cadet knew of his having resigned was hearing the Adjutant read, as part of the orders at evening parade, that "The resignation of Cadet ––––– was accepted and would take effect on the –––––."
I have mentioned that the first book put into my hands, when I began my West Point career, was Hutton's Mathematics, and the first volume is still in my library, in memoriam. I have often heard those who have been more recently educated at West Point speak disparagingly of the Huttonian day, as though anyone could have graduated then. The fifty-eight who were "found" — I think that is the term now — at the end of the first year, in my class of one hundred and seventeen, certainly did not think so, nor did the experience of Webster, Ross, Courtenay, and others of my contemporaries, who became the heads of colleges of high repute, justify the sneer. The fact is, that the tendency of the last century has been, not so much to add to the knowledge that Euclid and Newton possessed, as to facilitate the means of acquiring it. In this respect great improvements have been p19 made at the Military Academy. But I doubt whether we had not to "bone" to acquire distinction in 1818‑19‑20‑21 and 22 as hard as in 1880.
Examinations, in my day, were used to test the proficiency of the cadet in his several studies, and December and June, when these took place, were always looked forward to with anxiety. Colonel Thayer, himself competent in all branches of knowledge taught at the Academy, permitted no carelessness. It was his mission to bring order out of the chaos that prevailed when he took charge at West Point, and he began at the beginning, and both professors and cadets soon understood that the grave, courteous and dignified man who, in his full Colonel's uniform, sat at the head of the table, with the academic staff on either side, and listened to every word, was weighing the merit of each one of the gray-coated lads as they stood at the blackboard.
For more than two years after I became a cadet, while the Commandant of Cadets had general charge of the discipline, both in out of barracks, the details were confided to the cadet officers; nor can I recall any interference with them by either Bliss, Bell or Worth. It seemed to be a matter of pride as well as a point of honor to show that they needed no supervision. There was a change, however, in this respect when, in December, 1820, Lieutenant Zebina J. D. Kinsley was appointed Assistant Instructor of Tactics, and, in March following, Lieutenant Griswold was appointed an additional Instructor. Griswold was quartered in the North and Kinsley in the South Barracks respectively, and took immediate charge of them. Griswold was a well-built, square-shouldered man, of soldierly carriage; Kinsley was spare and slender, with nothing remarkable in his appearance, quite unlike his brother officer. Griswold was popular, Kinsley the reverse. The difference was, perhaps, owing to the fact that while both did their duty, Kinsley did it too zealously, and, whether reasonably or unreasonably, was thoroughly disliked. This feeling, after a while, wore off, but it still prevailed when I left the Academy. With me Kinsley was still "old Zeb" many a long year afterward, as the following will show, although not exactly a West Point reminiscence:
p20 One Saturday afternoon in the summer of 1819, before we went into camp, the cry of "turn out the guard," from the North Barracks, brought Tom McArthur and I,º "two of the guard," from "baseball,"f near Easton's rock (still standing), to the guardroom, where we found Hepburne,º the officer of the day, who, merely saying, "Take your muskets, trail arms, follow," led the way to the fourth "stoop," and throwing open a door on the long corridor, pointed to Cadet Constantine M. Smithº in the corner next the gunrack, red as a turkeycock, with a second company musket at a charge, vociferating, with much swearing, that he would not be put into prison. McArthur and I went to the diagonal corner, next the woodbox, when Hepburne said, without hesitation, "Charge, bayonets; forward — march." There was a momentary harmless clashing of steel, and, closing upon the pugnacious little Irish man, we soon made him a prisoner. By this time Captain Bell reached the scene, along with another person whom I did not recognize at the moment, nor recall afterward, and among us we literally carried Smith to the prison and pitched him in.
Some years, at least thirty, after leaving West Point,g when travelling between Philadelphia and New York, I told this story to a friend alongside of me, as an incident of my West Point life, without noticing the close attention paid by a stranger on the seat behind us, who, when my companion laughingly doubted whether such a warlike exhibition could have taken place, exclaimed, "No, sir; every word of Mr. Latrobe's story is true, for I was present." Turning round, I failed to recognize the stranger; but, thinking that he must be a West Point man, I soon fell into talking about old cadets, and asked after "our old detestation," Zebina J. D. Kinsley; when, before I had completed the name, I saw that I was talking to the man himself. I had been a lawyer, by this time, long enough to be able to preserve an unaltered countenance when testimony was going against me; so, without changing my tone, though I must have colored to the roots of my hair, I completed my sentence, saying, "though I have been told that after I left he became very popular as the Instructor of Artillery." Whether Mr. Kinsley, for he was no longer in the army, was deceived I could not say; but we had a pleasant talk over old times, until we reached New York. We never met again. When I first knew Mr. Kinsley he was very thin-visaged; he was now p21 a full-cheeked, ruddy-faced man. He was the person who joined us in Smith's room, whose name I had not remembered.
One of the stories told of John S. Craig, already named in connection with the salute to General Brown, was, that when surprised by Kinsley at cards, with three others, with eggnog at a table alongside, he, with a readiness and effrontery of which Craig alone was capable, rose from his seat and offered Kinsley his hand, saying it was a capital one, and that the Lieutenant was so astonished at the ineffable assurance that he actually failed to report Craig and his companions.
I have no doubt that both Kinsley and Griswold drilled the battalion, but I cannot recollect their doing so; while I have Worth in my eye as I write, in this connection. I fancy I can hear him, even now, rolling out, in clear, sonorous tones, the long cautionary directions for a complicated manoeuvre from Scott's Infantry Tactics. It seems as if it were yesterday only that I saw him stepping backward, facing the battalion, as he marched it in line, to and fro, before the Superintendent's quarters, until there was no unevenness in the alignment. He certainly took more pleasure in its being correct than did a cadet from Maryland, who contributed to the result that was at last obtained. Of Captain Bell as a drill officer I have no recollection. It was Worth alone who left a mark upon the corps that has never been effaced.
In enumerating the furniture in my quarters, whether in the North or South Barracks, I have omitted what was at times, practically, the most important part of it; and this was neither more nor less than the tinderbox. It is worth describing, too, for there are few now in existence, anywhere. It was a tin contrivance, some •four inches in diameter, with a close-fitting cover, containing rags burned to tinder, a flint and steel. On the top of the box was, sometimes, a socket for a candle. This box, with its accompaniment, a bundle of sulphur matches, were the only means that we had for obtaining fire, before the day of lucifer matches, and it was often out of the way when most wanted. Perhaps these reminiscences would have omitted all reference to so trifling a thing, apparently, as a tinderbox had there not appeared, in p22 anticipation of lucifer, a semi-cylindrical box, •an inch in diameter and some four inches long, with a sliding top, at one end of which was a partition, containing some tinder, a flint and a piece of string, the rest being filled with common matches. Projecting from the tinder end of the box was a small steel wheel, supported like the wheel of a common wheelbarrow. The manner of use was use: Sliding back the top so as to uncover the tinder, the string and flint were taken out and the string was drawn rapidly around the axle of the wheel, causing it to strike against the flint, that was held against it by the left thumb. Sparks would then be thrown upon the tinder, to which the match would be applied and lighted, when, replacing the flint and the string, the sparks in the tinder would be extinguished by closing the sliding top. How long the popularity of the new contrivance survived its introduction into the even current of West Point life I am not able to say; but the probabilities are that it was not very long before the old-fashioned tinderbox, with all its inconveniences, was again our only resource until the lucifer took its place.
"Class distinctions," by which I understand, confining the intimacies of cadets to those of their own class, were not, by any means, the rule in my day. The "new cadets," or, the fourth class, looked up for a season with a sort of reverence to those already in harness, so to speak and who, as drillmasters, practiced, no doubt, the peremptoriness of command upon the last-comers. This, however, soon wore off, and the personal affinities of individuals, or accident, regulated the intimacies of the corps without reference to the respective classes. I know that this was my own experience.
Then, again, the social class which furnished cadets for the Military Academy in the earlier days of the institution was different, in some respects, from what it is now, so far as I have been able to judge from frequent visits, of late years, to West Point. There were more "gentlemen's sons" in the corps then, to use a term that is well understood, without intending any invidious application of it. Young men who had been accustomed to the amenities and observances of refined social life at home, when they met at West Point, were naturally drawn together, without regard to the first, second, third or fourth p23 classes of the Academy. Brains and breeding, however, do not seem to have always gone together. There was W–––––, for example, who when he came from –––––, promised, apparently, nothing remarkable of the latter, was always one of the "five;"h while X–––––, who had enjoyed all its advantages, was one of the last of his class to graduate. West Point, however, rarely failed to make its mark upon the roughest of the "new cadets," even though baths bigger than washbasins were unknown, and we strode over benches to take our seats at tables, innocent of tablecloths, ate with our knives and two-pronged forks, and only asked for "big bits" of whatever was set before us at our meals.
I find that soon after I became a cadet I joined "The Amosophic Society," a literary and debating association, composed of members, without regard to their respective classes. How the society got its name I never found out, but suppose that the founders, knowing, like Shakespeare, "little Latin and less Greek," but believing there might be something good in both, divided the name between the two languages by taking a part from each.
The Amosophic Society aimed at accumulating a library, and appropriated the monthly dues of its members to that object. I remember that among its books were "Gibbon's Decline and Fall to Roman Empire" and "Hume'sº Essays." There was a library belonging to the Academy, in the room over the chapel, but it was rarely resorted to by the cadets. A part of the exercises of the association consisted in reading original compositions. We were not without elocutionary aspirations, either, in the Amosophic, and recitations were not unfrequent, and "Hohenlinden," "A Chieftain to the Highlands Bound," and "The Burial of Sir John Moore" were repeated until we, the silent members, devoutly wished that neither Campbell nor Wolf had ever written a line. To hear John F. H–––––, a man upward of six feet high, and large in proportion, with the voice of Boanerges, recite "Hohenlinden" in a section room was enough to warrant the sentinel in the corridor calling for "the corporal of the guard" had he not known the cause of the uproar. Nor were the exercises of a debating society neglected.
The only members of the Amosophic that I can now remember besides H––––– were Maitland, better known among us as "Pop," and p24 David Wallace. Maitland was one of the most popular cadets in the corps, and was the author of a parody on "Hohenlinden," only a few verses of which can I recall to memory, familiar as they once were. They ran somewhat thus, and were better appreciated than the original of Campbell:
On Mess Hall, when the sun was low,
All trackless lay the untrodden snow,
And dark as midnight was the flow
Of Hudson rolling rapidly.
But Mess Hall saw another sight,
When the drum beat at five at night,
Commanding tallow-wicks to light
The darkness of its drapery.
Then follow some forgotten verses:
The combat thickens! on, ye brave!
Who rush to eat, and not to save.
Wave! Divings; thy red banner wave,
And fil thy tables plenteously.
Few, few shall fat, where many eat,
For pickled pork's their only treat.
And e'en brown bread to them is sweet
Who live remote from luxury.
Divings was the name of the caterer, who always hung out a red flag as a sign for the drum to beat at meal times.
The other member of our society that I recall was David Wallace, who was regarded as our cleverest writer. He was of the middle height, with black hair and remarkably bright eyes. He was older than I was, but we were very much together; and neither was above boyish propensities; for I find myself saying, in a letter home, that he and William Florenceº and I went "cherrying together, and, being caught by a shower, took refuge at 'Parson Picton's'. "
I refer thus particularly to Wallace because he left the army soon after graduating, was admitted to the bar, went into political life, became distinguished and Governor of Indiana. General Lew. Wallace, who was prominent in the war of the rebellion, and the author of Ben Hur, one of the very best novels of the day, besides having been Minister of the United States at Constantinople, is his son. I have sometimes fancied that the literary tendency that was illustrated in the essays which, when we were boys, the father used to read to me was p25 perpetuated in the son, while the military education of the former might be traced in the career of the latter.
To say that there was no distinction between cadets from the slaveholding and non-slaveholding States respectively would not be true; but I can safely say that it did not affect personal intimacies. In my own case,i the dearest friend I ever had was Mansfield, who fell at Antietam and was from Connecticut; another friend, Horace Bliss, was from New Hampshire; Wheelock was from Massachusetts; McCall, distinguished in the late war, was from Pennsylvania, and I might give any number of illustrations to the same effect. Sectional differences were unknown at West Point in 1818.
Of "hazing," of which so much has been said, of late years, very little was known in my day. Tricks were upon "new cadets," but they were boyish ones, such as tying a hard knot in the leg of a pair of trousers, which caused much swearing by the owner, who had waited for the last roll of the drum at reveilleeº before he jumped out of bed, to hurry down three flights of stairs, perhaps, to roll-call; or, taking out the iron pin from the head of a cot and replacing it with a weak wooden one; or, sprinkling snow between the sheets, or substituting bristles for snow. But then in my class there were eighteen "new cadets," only fourteen years old, and I have yet to make up my mind that the change in the standard of age which has since been made is an improvement.
Now-a‑days baths are provided for the use of the cadets, and the use of them is enforced. In the old time, our only bathtub was the Hudson river, and opportunity and inclination alone suggested the use of it. Those who could swim ventured into the river itself; those who could not swim resorted, when the tide served, that is to say when it made the water deep enough to keep one's feet from the grass and ooze, to a little bay between two rocky points to the west of the public dock. I remember it well, for there was a beach there, on which Sam. Ellisº and I hauled, turned over and caulked a leaky boat p26 that we had bought from French John, whose sloop, with contraband matter on board for cadets who could pay for it, was almost always at anchor off the "flats." When not undergoing repairs, we kept the boat at Haven'sº dock, at Gee's Point. Well, this bay was our bathtub in 1818.
But it would be ungrateful not to mention a contrivance that some of us got up, not far from the north gate, where a little stream crosses, as it still crosses, the road to the cemetery. On the right of the road, where the bank descends precipitously, we set up a trestle, some six or eight feet high, on which rested one end of a trough, the other end resting on the bank, which in this way was made to receive the water of the stream to supply a sort of showerbath to one standing under the outer end of the trough. The contrivance was as simple as that which helped Phoebe Mayflower to fill her pitcher at the spring, in "Woodstock," and at certain times the supply of water was not much greater. Still, the spot was shady, and there is more than one pleasant memory connected with it. Without the means of ablution here described, our only resources were a washbasin and a toothbrush.
Nor did the nearness of the road interfere, practically, with the use of our showerbath without offense to public modesty. Few persons, in those days, passed that way. The cemetery was a savage spot, compared with what it has since been made. My last visit to it as a cadet was when I was on the escort that fired the vollies over the grave of Andrew Ellicott, the Professor of Mathematics, who lies buried there. I remember at that time the rubbish had not been cleared away from around the Cadet's monument that had been erected several years before.
There was an occasion, however, when I might say that I "took the flats flying," that I have often spoken of. One Saturday afternoon Sam. Hobert and I had got to the summit of Cro' Nest almost, when I saw on a broad, flat rock on which I was about to step a handsome brown stick, which I at once determined to substitute for the rough affair that had helped me up the mountains; when, horror of horrors, the stick moved, and the nicely-tapered end that I had intended for a ferrule began to rattle in a way that I can still fancy that I hear. It p27 was a rattlesnake, lying lazily at full length in the October sun, that I was about to take hold of. Of course, we should have quickly walked out of the snake's way, or have taken stones and killed it; but boys of fifteen do not think of everything, and on this occasion Hobert and I only thought of getting back as fast as we could to where we came from; and, in a panic that almost passes belief, made a "bee line," apparently, for the flagstaff on the plain. I still remember our frantic race, especially my sliding upright on my heels down the steep surface of a sloping rock; and I remember dashing past the ruins of the huts of the German soldiers of the revolution, flying over the "flints," and not stopping until we reached the public road. Remembering this, I could perfectly understand the flight, in a panic, from Bull's Runº in 1861.
There was, I think, in my day, no such place as "Benny's," in the sense to be inferred from the well-known cadet song. Buttermilk Falls was the limit of many a Saturday's walk from West Point; and "Benny Havens" may have moved there from Haven's dock at Gee's Point, after I left the Academy, ignorant of the fame that was in store for him. On this point, however, my memory is a blank. The road to Buttermilk Falls was a rough one, turning aside somewhat in one place, to avoid what had been a small battery intended to command an approach to the main fortifications at the Point. Beyond the battery the road descended, and there was level ground on the left, in which stood, in a cornfield at that time, the Kinsley house, to which the cadets gave the name of "Stony Lonesome." Continuing down the road, which was, in fact, the prolongation of that by which I had come from Gee's Point on the evening of my arrival, we reached the few houses that then formed the village of "Buttermilk Falls." The only house that I can now recall was a low, one-storied frame building, painted red, with white door and window tirmmings, that overhung the river on the east, and, on the south, the ravine of the mountain stream, which, when there was water enough, fell in foam down the white-faced, sloping rock into the Hudson, producing the appearance that gave to the spot its name. That this red house was "Benny's" I have little doubt; although I have no recollection of any such "goings on" there as could have justified the reputation that it afterwards acquired.
p28 I have already mentioned the boat owned by Ellis and I, and in which, until it was at last confiscated by the Superintendent, we were in the habit, whenever opportunity served, of making trips with such of our friends as were willing to aid in rowing, to various points along the river. I have no recollection of "Buttermilk Falls" as one of our places of resort, but I do remember "Cold Spring," for just such objects as, at a later day, took members of the corps to "Benny's."
I have often wondered why we did things whose penalty, we knew well enough, was expulsion. It was not the wretched wine that we bought; it was not the momentary excitement that it produced; it was certainly not the headache that was sure to follow; but we were boys then, and it was the pleasure that the very daring of the act produced.
It was at one of these symposia that, having just heard of the death of Napoleon, we drank to his memory. Long years afterward I remembered the occasion, as I looked down upon the tomb of the Emperor, under the dome of the Invalides.
I have no recollection of anything that could be called dissipation when I was a cadet. The worst that I can recall is the bowl of eggnog that, somehow or other, made its appearance about Christmas. That swearing was as common "as it was in the army in Flanders;" that we smoked cigars — and very miserable ones they were — without restraint, there can be no doubt; but that we drank whisky and got drunk, we did not; and I say it, at this late day, to the credit of my old comrades of the class of 1822. I do not pretend that we were saints; on the contrary; but the understanding was general, that we were gentlemen; and it was this feeling that it was pre-eminently the wish of Colonel Thayer, himself the noblest gentleman, to instill into those under his charge.
I have already referred to the Assistant Professors of Mathematics, Smith and Webster, by one of whom I was introduced to Hutton, in my first year's course. My next Professor of Mathematics, in my second year's course, was one that I have no difficulty in describing, and whom I can never forget, Charles Davies. Personally and mentally p29 he was a remarkable man. Of the middle size, with a bright, intelligent face, characterized by projecting upper teeth, which procured for him the name of "Tush" among the cadets, his whole figure was the embodiment of nervous energy and unyielding will. His fearless activity at a fire which happened in a room in the South Barracks, in 1819, added the name of "Rush on" to the other. He was a kindly natured man, too; and the patient perseverance that he devoted to the instruction of his class was not the least remarkable feature of his character. It was with Professor Davies that I began the study of descriptive geometry, for which no books in English had then been published. He had no assistance beyond the blackboard and his own intimate knowledge of the subject and faculty of oral explanation. Fortunately, this was exceptionally great; and even then there was no little amount of actual labor requisite to enable the pupil to understand the difference between the horizontal and vertical planes, and the uses to be made of them. It is to Professor Davies that I have always attributed in a great measure my subsequent successes at West Point; and hence this especial notice of him as a tribute to his memory. A much more enduring tribute is that awarded by the countless beneficiaries, the colleges, schools and individuals who have profited by his numerous publications in connection with mathematical science.j
I have already spoken of the occasional visits of Professor Ellicott to the section room, and have no other recollection of him as an instructor, except once when, while learning surveying, we were chaining a line from a point in front of his house to an angle of Fort Clinton, and back again, our accuracy quite astonished the good old Professor, to whom we did not admit that it was owing to our having used the same holes that the pins had made, in going and returning. Of Colonel D. B. Douglas, his successor, my only recollection is that he was a tall, grave, dark-complexioned man, whom I ought to remember better, for his house was one of the few that I visited at.
My recollection of Colonel Mansfield, the Professor of Natural and Experimental Philosophy, is most distinct. I was a frequent visitor p30 at his house, where I had the honor to be kindly noticed by his wife, one of the most intelligent and best-informed women that I ever knew. Colonel Mansfield, although a most competent instructor, was very near-sighted, and I am not prepared to say that this defect was not sometimes taken advantage of. I find, however, from a letter home, that it was this third year's course that gave me the most trouble, and required the hardest work to attain the head of the class for the year 1822, the graduating year of the class with which I entered the Academy.
There are persons whose appearance is never effaced from the memory. Of this class was the Professor of the Art of Engineering, Colonel Claude Crozet, tall, somewhat heavily-built man, not as straight, perhaps, as a cadet drillmaster would have made him, of dark complexion, black hair and eyebrows, deep-set eyes, remarkable for their keen and bright expression, a firm mouth and square chin, a rapid speech and strong French accent. I can, even after the lapse of between sixty and seventy years, fancy that I see the man before me. He had been an engineer officer under Napoleon at the battle of Wagram and elsewhere, and the anecdotes with which he illustrated his teaching were far more interesting than the "Science of War and Fortification," which was the name of our text book at the time. When he left the Academy he became Chief Engineer of the State of Virginia, which is indebted to him for the system that made her mountain roads the best, then, in America. Perhaps my recollection of Colonel Crozet is strengthened by my having seen him long after I ceased to be his pupil.
Although I have a distinct recollection of each member of the Academic staff, so distinct indeed, as they pass in spectral array before me, that were they to come into my presence at this moment, I could recognize each one as though we had separated only yesterday; butº among them all, Worth, Davies and Crozet would be most conspicuous.
p31 I ought not, however, to pass, without especial notice, Mr. Thomas Gimbrede, Teacher of Drawing,k to whom I was, as already mentioned, an assistant; not that he was a great artist, or personally remarkable. He was an engraver by profession, and his portraits of Perry and McDonough, which I saw again and again while in progress, are still of deserved repute. Imbued, as he was, with a love of art, and familiar with all its processes, he was a most competent instructor, and took great interest in the progress of his pupils. One thing I recollect he told me, which has been my guide in many a gallery of art, both in Europe and America. A tree on canvas, he used to say, should always produce the impression that birds could fly through it, and flesh that it would rebound from the pressure of the finger. Mr. Gimbrede and I divided the class equally between us, and I soon discovered that it was not those who excelled in mathematics that maintained the same positions in the drawing academy. But here, as elsewhere, I found that patience and a determined will enables art to keep close on the heels of science, even though they did not equal it in the race.
I think it was on my return from furlough, in September, 1820, or after the December examination, that I was appointed Assistant Teacher of Drawing, under Mr. Gimbrede, and became entitled to ten dollars per month extra pay and to wear twice as many buttons on my coat as before, and was relieved from military duty, except, I think, but am not sure, attending roll-call at reveillee.º When the corps went into camp I was permitted to select my own room in the South Barracks, and remain there without going again under canvas. When the march to Boston was planned in August, 1821, Major Worth offered me a place on his staff as Second Topographical Engineer — Prescott, of the class above me, being the first — if I would forego my privileges as an assistant teacher. This I was only too happy to do; indeed, I would have marched in the ranks rather than remain behind. In this way I became the historian of the march to Boston as it is reprinted in the proceedings of the Alumni of 1884. In the proceedings of the Alumni of 1885 will be found a letter to my family, giving an account of the march to corps to Hudson in 1819.
In 1820 the corps marched to Philadelphia. I was on furlough p32 at the time; but I crossed over the Delaware from New Jersey, where I was staying with some friends, to see the corps in camp at Bristol; and they were in such high spirits, so full of anticipations of pleasure when they reached the city, that I was almost sorry that I was not again under canvas in the midst of them.
A short time before I reached West Point in 1818 the corps had marched across Cro' Nest to bury with military honors a revolutionary officer, I think, at Goschen;º after which there was a collation at Newburg, followed by a ball at night, the corps returning to the Point the next day by steamboat. There is no history of this expedition or of that to Philadelphia extant.
The Professor of Chemistry in my time was Dr. James Cutbush, not at all of the military type in appearance, but an excellent physician, and well qualified, no doubt, to teach us the science as it was then taught; but his laboratory was very indifferent, and although he did the best he could with the means at his command, the knowledge he imparted was, I am afraid, not very profound. He was a most estimable gentleman, and his very charming family was one in which it was my privilege to become intimate while I remained at West Point.
Colonel Thayer, the Superintendent, I have already mentioned — a grave, dignified and accomplished man, of soldierly carriage and refined and courteous manner, perhaps verging on preciseness — the firmness of whose rule in a position of great responsibility was tempered by its kindness, and commended to all, however affected, by the conviction of its absolute justice.
Familiar with the learning of his profession, and with what had been accomplished in Europe in its military schools from personal observation, Colonel Thayer was pre-eminently qualified, when he became Superintendent of the Military Academy, to produce order out of the confusion; and the proof that he succeeded in the task is to be found in the reputation that the Academy has ever since maintained.
p33 I have already mentioned my appointment as Assistant Teacher of Drawing; but, during the last year of my stay at West Point, I occasionally had charge of the section of Professor Davies in descriptive geometry, when he would be absent for a few days; and, in the same manner, I supplied the places of Messrs. Berard and DuCommun, respectively, the teachers of French. Of Professor Davies I have spoken already. Mr. Berard I remember well; a courteous and refined gentleman, of retiring manners, of the middle size, and a most accomplished teacher. Mr. DuCommun was assistant teacher, and in personal appearance no two men could be more different, the latter being a square-built, full-faced person, with much more of his nation and manner than the other. My recollection of both is most distinct; and to Mr. Berard I owe the proficiency that at that time enabled me occasionally to represent him.
It only remains for me to describe the Chaplain and Professor of Ethics, Mr. Picton, a tall, spare man, whose kind, benevolent face was an index of his character, and whose clerical duties were confined to conducting a morning service in the chapel according to the forms of the Presbyterian church and preaching a sermon, the adaptation of which to the spiritual wants of the cadets was not always equal to its excellence otherwise.
This list of our "teachers and masters" at West Point would not be complete were I to omit the bright little man, active as a cat, who, with a padded shield on his right breast, with a scarlet star thereof, and a wire mask on his face, was our teacher of the art of fencing — Mr. Pierre Thomas, eke, the dancing master of the children in the families on the Point. I fancy that I see him now going through the formal salute in fencing, or sending the foil flying out of my hand, by way of teaching me to hold it firmly.
As to "society," we had little of its humanizing influences beyond what we found among ourselves; for the occasional visits of a few cadets to the houses to Professors did not afford them; and such polish as we had was generally due to what we may have brought from p34 home. The closest view of "society" we had in those days was an occasional group of ladies that a fine summer's afternoon would tempt to witness an evening parade, or attend at the chapel on Sunday mornings, in the seats reserved for them. Of these, I am surprised, at the end of more than half a century, to find how distinctly I can recall even the features and the bearing of two lovely little girls, Mary Ann Mansfield, who afterwards married Professor Charles Davies, already spoken of, and Mary Picton, afterward the wife of Mr. Edwin Stevens, of the Hoboken Stevenses. Then there were the beautiful Miss Kinsley, sister of the Assistant Instructor of Tactics, who became the wife of my classmate, Henry H. Gird, who, at a later date, was himself Assistant Instructor of Tactics; with Caroline Zantzinger, a member of Mr. Picton's family, tall and strikingly handsome, who became the wife of Henry S. Gilbert, Orderly Sergeant of my company when I joined the corps. And we had Mrs. Cutbush, the wife of the Professor of Chemistry, and her sisters, the two Misses Fowler, who became the wives, in succession, of my classmate, Jonathan Prescott — adding three handsome women for the admiration of the corps. Nor must Miss Kate Thompson, the youngest of the sisters already mentioned, be forgotten in this account of the objects of the admiration of the cadets on successive Sundays in fair weather. Of them all, Mrs. Davies only remains to judge of the accuracy of these descriptions of some of her contemporaries of so many long years ago "a most delightful lady in her eighty-first year," as I hear from Miss Berard, the estimable daughter of my old Professor. And yet, in the end, somehow or other, scant as were our opportunities, "society," in the best sense of the term, had no reason to be ashamed of its contributions from West Point.
In 1849 I was President of the Board of Visitors; and in the twenty-seven years that had elapsed since I left the institution there must have been many improvements in the various scientific departments, all of which were doubtless stated in the report that it became my duty to make to the Government; but it was, in the main, the same old story over again — drill, drill, drill, morning and evening parade and guardmounting, the bugle calls for recitations, the drum for p35 meals, the same interminable reveilleº and tattoo and the same "taps;"l nothing here was changed. There was the same gray uniform, padded as of old. But, no; there was a black stripe on the outer seam of the trousers, and the leather pot and long black plume were changed to the present cap and pompon. The North and South Barracks and the Mess Hall were still standing and were occupied as of old. I am not sure about the Academy. It had been destroyed by fire in 1838, and I cannot recollect whether it had been rebuilt. I have also forgotten whether there had been any improvement in the appurtenances of the Mess Hall, and whether the cadets still ate their meals at tables innocent of tablecloths, although I am inclined to think that such was still the case, from the fact that in a conversation with General Grant not long after the late war, when West Point was referred to, he remarked, when recalling his own experience there, "but, you know, they have since got tablecloths." Now, as the General left the Academy in 1843, I infer that the Mess Hall may possibly have been without such luxuries in 1849.
For many years I have been an annual visitor to the West Point Hotel, and have, during the several weeks of my stay there, attended morning and evening parade and guardmounting as regularly as when discipline compelled me; and now, in the ebbing tide of a life more than ordinarily prolonged, look forward to the time of my annual pilgrimage with a feeling that has not yet weakened with the lapse of years.
"My heart is in the hills; the shades
Of night are on my brow;
Ye pleasant haunts, ye quiet glades,
My heart is with you now."2
And were I to compare what now is with what was in 1818 these reminiscences would be interminable.
Now, at last, West Point is all that it should be. Not only does a cadet, when he graduates, enter the army with all that science, military instruction and discipline have imparted, but accustomed to the habits and observances of refined society — a credit to West Point and to his country, to which he owes it all.
p36 I cannot close these reminiscences without expressing my appreciation of, and acknowledgements to, the most admirable work of General Cullum, which, for patient and most laborious investigation and sound judgment, is not to be surpassed. I refer, of course, to the "Biographical Register of the Officers and Graduates of the United States Military Academy."
John H. B. Latrobe.
May 4th, 1887.
1 Note — To prevent its being inferred that I was one of these "bad bargains," from the fact that I did not graduate with my class of 1822, I venture, as a piece of egotism, to insert the following extract from a letter from Colonel Thayer, dated January 23d, 1864:
"Forty-two years have not effaced from my memory the regret and disappointment I felt, when, near the close of 1821, your resignation was handed to me; for I had always counted upon you as a future officer of engineers. You were then at the head of your class, and without a rival."
To insert the whole letter would only make my egotism the more apparent, without rebutting more effectually the inference referred to.
My resignation was due to the death of my father, and family considerations only.
Thayer's Note: Latrobe's continued involvement in the activities of the Corps is further testimony to his quasi-graduate status, for which he was issued a certificate of attendance signed by the Academic Staff of the Academy (John E. Semmes, John H. B. Latrobe and His Times, Baltimore, 1917: pp84, 92). At any rate, in the late 1820's he was selected to design the Kosciuszko Monument that still stands today; he was, as he mentions further on, President of the Board of Visitors in 1849; and he contributed in these last years of his life to the official historical papers of the Association of Graduates.
2 From the West Point Scrap Book, by Lieut. O. E. Wood.
a Published in East Saginaw, MI, by the Evening News, Printers and Binders, 1887. The text and photograph (but not my own notes, such as they are) are in the public domain.
For Latrobe's cadet career, see p9 and his note 1.
b This instantly brings back memories of my own brief cadet days at the Air Force Academy: despite a hundred and fifty years of progress in engineering and the design of buildings, a similar wind tunnel effect obtained, and for all I know still does, with similar consequences, on the bridge connecting the cadet area with the academic buildings.
c Only the Superintendent's house still stands; it still serves its original use.
d Ming Valleau and 21 other cadets were the subject of a memo from the Academic Staff to the War Department, dated Sept. 28, 1817, recommending their dismissal in these terms: "the cadets whose names are annexed, we consider as wholly incompetent to finish their education at this Academy, in the time, and to the extent prescribed by our regulations. In fact no rational hope or expectation can be entertained, that they would ever be able to complete the entire course of our Academic studies, or that we could afford them diplomas consistently with our duty to the public, or with reputation to ourselves."
e Lowe is the first cadet to have died at the Academy; his death prompted the erection of a memorial, now dedicated to all those who have died as cadets and thus called the Cadets' Monument (on p26 of these reminiscences, the Cadet's monument). Around it grew the West Point Cemetery.
f Though baseball is commonly said to have been invented at West Point by Abner Doubleday, Class of 1842, this is a simplification. Like most games, it evolved rather gradually, and just when the first game was played that we would recognize today as baseball is unknown, or rather, depends on our criteria. The word appears in Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, written in 1803; and as early as 1744, titling the following rhyme from A Pretty Little Pocketbook, which certainly seems to capture the essence of the game, although without mentioning the bat:
The Ball once struck off,
Away flies the Boy
To the next destin'd Post,
And then Home with Joy.
g Latrobe's memory is a bit off; Kinsley died in 1849 (see Cullum), 28 years at most after Latrobe left the Academy.
h If "W" is meant as an initial, the only cadet to fit the passage is William W. Wells, Class of 1821, who graduated 4th in his class. The identity of Cadet "X", as is proper, is better concealed.
i Latrobe was from Maryland, a slaveholding state. He lists friends from free states.
j For another cadet reminiscence of Professor Davies, and further biographical information, including a short list of his mathematical works, see Francis H. Smith, "West Point Fifty Years Ago", pp7‑9.
k For another cadet reminiscence of Professor Gimbrede, and further biographical information, including a self-portrait, see Francis H. Smith, "West Point Fifty Years Ago", p12.
l This reference to "taps" as the same in the 1880's as it had been when Latrobe was a cadet is a puzzling one. The actual bugle call is almost universally said to date back only to the War between the States (see for example Jari Villanueva, The History of Taps). Our choice here is (a) that that's not true; or (b) that Latrobe's main point is that the cadet routine remained the same, and he doesn't mean to be making a statement about the music — although of all the bugle calls in the Army, surely this one is the most striking and memorable, and if the call had changed, we would expect him to mention it.
Images with borders lead to more information.
The thicker the border, the more information. (Details here.)
History of West Point
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY if its URL has a total of one *asterisk. If the URL has two **asterisks, the item is copyright someone else, and used by permission or fair use. If the URL has none the item is © Bill Thayer.
See my copyright page for details and contact information.
Page updated: 15 Jun 16