Studies, Etc. – Henry Flipper

The academic year begins July 1st, and continues till about June 20th the following year. As soon after this as practicable depending upon what time the examination is finished the corps moves into camp, with the exception of the second class, who go on furlough instead.

Between the 20th of August and the 1st of September, the “Seps,” or those candidates who were unable to do so in the spring previous, report. Before the 1st they have been examined and the deficient ones dismissed. On the 1st, unless that be Sunday, academic duties begin. The classes are arranged into a number of sections, according to their class rank, as determined at the previous annual examination, or according to rank in some particular study for instance, for instruction in engineering the first class is arranged according to merit in philosophy, and not according to general merit or class rank. The fourth, or “plebe” class, however, is arranged alphabetically since they as yet have no class rank.

The first class study, during the first term, engineering law, and ordnance and gunnery. They recite on civil engineering from 8 to 11 A.M. daily, on ordnance and gunnery from 2 to 4 P.M., alternating with law.

The second class have natural and experimental philosophy from 8 to 11 A.M. daily, and chemistry, alternating with riding, from 11 A.M. to 1 P.M.; also drawing in pencil from 2 to 4 P.M. For instruction in this department the class is divided into two as nearly equal parts as practicable, which alternate in attendance at the Drawing Academy.

The third class have pure mathematics, analytical Geometry, descriptive geometry, and the principles of shades, shadows, and perspective, from 8 to 11 A.M. daily. They also have French from 11 A.M., till 1 P.M., alternating with Spanish.

The entire class attend drawing daily till November 1st, when it is divided into two equal parts or platoons, which attend drawing and riding on alternate clays. Riding! “Yearling riding!” I must advert to that before I go further. First let me describe it. A platoon of yearlings, twenty, thirty, forty perhaps; as many horses; a spacious riding hall, with galleries that seat but too many mischievous young ladies, and whose interior is well supplied with tan bark, make up the principal objects in the play. Nay, I omit the most important characters, the Instructor and the necessary number of enlisted, men.

Act I.
Scene I.

Area of barracks. At guard house door stands an orderly, with drum in hands. In the area a number of cadets, some in every day attire, others dressed à la cavalier. These à la cavalier fellows are going to take their first lesson in riding. About four fifths of them were never on a horse in their lives, and hence what dire expectations hover over their ordinarily placid heads! They have heard from the upper classmen what trials the novice experiences in his first efforts, and they do not go to the riding hall without some dread. Four o clock and ten minutes. The drum is beaten.

Officer of the Day. Form your platoon! Right, face! Call your roll!

Section Marcher. Bejay! Barnes! Du Furing! Swikeheimer! Du Flicket, etc.

Platoon (answering to their names). Here! Here re-re! ho-o-o! hi-i-i! har-ar-ar! Heer-r!

Section Marcher (facing about salutes). All are present, sir!

Officer of the Day (returning salute). March off your platoon, sir!

Section Marcher (facing about). Left face! forward. March! (Curtain falls.)

Act II.
Scene I.

The riding hall, a large, spacious, rectangular structure, door on each side and at each end, floor well covered with tan bark, spacious gallery over each side door, staircases outside leading to them. Galleries are occupied, one by ladies, and, perhaps a number of gentlemen, and the other by enlisted men usually. In the centre of the hall are a number of horses, each equipped with a surcingle, blanket, and watering bridle. A soldier stands at the head of each one of them. As curtain rises enter platoon by side door, and marches around the left flank of the line of horses and as far forward as necessary.

Section Marcher. Platoon, halt! left, face! (Saluting Instructor) All are present, sir!

Instructor (saluting). The Section Marcher will take his place on the left.

He then gives all necessary instruction.

“To mount the trooper the Instructor first causes him to stand to horse by the command Stand to horse! At this command ” Well, see “Cavalry Tactics.”

We’ve got the trooper mounted now. After some further explanation the Instructor forms them into a column of files by the commands:

“By file, by the right (or left) flank. March!”

They are now going around the hall at a walk, a slow, snail like pace, but what figures some of them present! Still all goes on quite well. The Instructor is speaking:

“To trot,” says he, “raise the hands” (“yearlings” use both hands) “slightly. This is to apprise the horse that you want his attention. Then lower the hands slightly, and at the same time gently press the horse with the legs until he takes the gait desired. As soon as he does, relax the pressure.” A long pause. The occupants of the galleries are looking anxiously on. They know what is coming next. They have seen these drills over and over again. And so each trooper awaits anxiously the next command. Alas! It comes! “Trot!”

What peals of laughter from that cruel gallery! But why? Ah! See there that trooper struggling in the tan bark while a soldier pursues his steed. He is not hurt. He gets up, brushes away the tan bark, remounts and starts off again. But there, he s off again! He s continually falling off or jumping off purposely (?). What confusion! There comes one at a full gallop, sticking on as best he can; but there, the poor fellow is off. The horses are running away. The troopers are dropping off everywhere in the hall. No one is hurt. Alas! they pressed too hard to keep on, and instead of relaxing the pressure at the desired gait, the trot, they kept on pressing, the horse taking the trot, the gallop, the run, and the trooper, alas! the dust. Again they had the reins too long, and instead of holding on by the flat of the thighs with their feet parallel to the horse, we see them making all sorts of angles. But that gallery! that gallery! how I used to wish it wasn’t there! The very sight of a lady under such circumstances is most embarrassing.

Fair ones, why will you thus torture the “yearlings” by your at other times so desirable presence?

The fourth class have pure mathematics, and algebra, daily from 8 to 11 A.M., and French also, daily, from 2 to 4 P.M. Beginning on October 15th, or as near that time as practicable, they have fencing, and the use of the bayonet and small sword.

During the month of September cadets of all classes, or the battalion, are instructed in the infantry tactics in the “School of the Battalion.” Near the end of the month it is customary to excuse the officers of the first class from these drills, and to detail privates to perform their duties for one drill only at a time. The other classes are in ranks, or the line of file closers, according as they are sergeants, guides, or privates.

During October the several classes receive practical instruction as follows: The first class in military engineering, the manner of making and recording the details of a military reconnaissance, and field sketching; the second class in siege and sea coast artillery, and military signaling and telegraphy. The class is divided into two parts, composed of the odd and even numbers, which attend drills on alternate days that is, artillery one day and signaling the next; the third class in light or field artillery, and the theory and principles of “target practice.” Sometimes this latter is given during camp, as is most convenient. Sometimes, also, they receive instruction in ordnance. This, however, is generally deferred till they become first classmen.

For further instruction of the first class the following part of the personnel of a light battery is detailed from that class, viz.: three chiefs of platoon, one chief of caissons, one guidon, and six chiefs of section. Each member of the class is detailed for each of these offices in his proper order.

The fourth class receives instruction in field artillery at the “foot batteries.” This instruction is limited to the nomenclature and manual of the piece. Here, also, to assist the instructor, a chief of piece for each piece is detailed. They are required to correct all errors made by the plebes, and sometimes even to drill them. Hence a knowledge of tactics is indispensable, and the means of fixing such knowledge in the mind is afforded.

Sometimes also two first classmen are required to assist at the siege or sea coast batteries.

Every day throughout the year a guard is mounted. It consists of two officers of the guard sometimes only one one sergeant, three corporals or more and twenty four privates sometimes, also, eighteen or twenty-one in camp, and twenty-seven in barracks. Every day, also, there is one officer of the day detailed from the first class.

The weather permitting, we have “dress parade” daily. When unfavorable, on account of snow, rain, or severe cold, we have “undress parade” that is, parade without arms and in undress or fatigue uniform, the object being to get us all together to publish the orders, etc., for the morrow. After November 1st we usually have “undress parade,” and then “supper mess parade.” Between these two ceremonies the cadets amuse themselves at the gymnasium, dancing or skating, or “spooneying,” or at the library; generally, I think the upper classmen at any rate at the library. After supper we have recreation and then study. And thus we “live and do” till January.

The semi-annual examination begins January 1st, or as soon thereafter as practicable. The plebes are examined first, and started in their new studies as soon as possible. After the plebes the other classes are examined in the order of their rank that is, first class, second class, and third class and of the importance of their studies, engineering being first, then philosophy, and mathematics, etc.

The examination being over, the deficient ones, after receiving orders from the Secretary of War, are dismissed. Studies are then resumed as follows:

For the first class military engineering, ordnance, and gunnery, constitutional law, military law, rules of evidence, practice of courts martial, mineralogy, and geology, strategy, and grand tactics, and the throwing and dismantling of pontoon bridges. For the second class, acoustics and optics, astronomy, analytical mechanics in review; infantry, artillery, and cavalry tactics; drawing, riding, and signalling. For the third class, calculus, surveying, geometry, and riding. Immediately after the examination the entire third class receive instruction in mechanical drawing before they begin their other mathematical studies. For the fourth class the studies are plane geometry, trigonometry, descriptive geometry, and fencing, including the use of the small sword, broad sword, and bayonet.

Parades, guard duty, etc., remain as previously described until about the middle of March usually. At that time the ordinary routine of drills, dress parades, etc., is resumed; but drills in this order, viz., from March 15th to April 1st instruction in the school of the company; in artillery tactics, as before described during April; and in infantry tactics, in the “School of the Battalion,” during May. The annual examination takes place in June. The following diary, made for the purpose of insertion here, will best explain what generally occurs during the month:


Thursday, June 1, 1876. Resumed white pants at 5.10 P.M. Received Board of Visitors by a review at 5.10 P.M. Examination begun at 9 A.M. First class, engineering. Salute of fifteen guns at meridian to Board of Visitors.
Friday, June 2. First class, engineering finished. Second class, philosophy commenced. Siege battery drill at 5.10 P.M.
Saturday, June 3. Second class, philosophy continued.
Monday, June 5. Light battery at 5.10 P.M. A yearling lost his “white continuations.” Plebes went to parade.
Tuesday, June 6. Fourth class, entire in French. Examination written. Second class, philosophy finished. First class, mineralogy and geology begun. Third class, mathematics begun. Battalion drill at 5.10 P.M.
Wednesday, June 7. Second class turned out, marched to sea coast battery at 11 A.M. Three detachments selected. Rest marched back and dismissed. Cavalry drill at 5.10 P.M. Six second classmen turned out. Plebes put in battalion.
Thursday, June 8. Plebes put on guard. Pontoon bridging, 5.10 P. M.
Friday, June 9. Battalion skirmish drill 5.10 P.M. Deployed to front at double time. Second, fourth, and seventh companies reserve. Almost all maneuvers at double time. Deployed by numbers and charged. Marched in in line, band on right. Broke into column of companies to the left, changed direction to the right, obliqued to the left, moved forward and formed “front into line, faced to the rear.” Arms inspected, ammunition returned. Dismissed.
Saturday, June 10. Third class, mathematics finished. Miss Philips sang to cadets in mess hall after supper. First class, ordnance begun.
Sunday, June 11. Graduating sermon by Hon. , of Princeton, N. J., closing “hime,” “When shall we meet again?” Graduating dinner at 2 P.M.
Monday, June 12. Detail from first class to ride in hall. Use of sabre and pistol on horseback. First class, ordnance finished. Law begun.
Tuesday, June 13. First class finished. Board divided into committees. Second class, chemistry begun. Graduating parade. Corps cheered by graduates after parade. Hop in evening; also German; whole continuing till 3 A.M. Rumor has it two first classmen, Slocum and Guilfoyle, are “found” in ordnance and engineering.
Wednesday, June 14. Fourth class, mathematics begun. Salute seventeen guns at 10 A.M. in honor of arrival at post of General Sherman and Colonel Poe of his staff. Graduating exercises from 11 A.M. till near 1 P.M. Addresses to graduates. Mortar practice and fireworks at night.

This ended the “gala” days at West Point in 76.

Thursday, June 15. Usual routine of duties resumed. Company drills in the afternoon from 5.10 to 6.10 P.M. Rather unusual, but we re going to the Centennial. Rumor has it we encamp Saturday the 17th for ten days.
Friday, June 16. Dom Pedro, emperador de la Brasil estaba recibiado para un “review” a las cuatro horas y quarenta y cinco minutos. El embarcó por la ciudad de Nueva York inmediatemente Second class, chemistry finished. Third class, French begun.
Saturday, June 17. Third class, French finished. Third class, Spanish begun. “Camp rumor” not true.
Monday, June 19. Moved into camp, aligned tent floors at 5 A. M. in the rain. Required by order to move in effects at 9 A. M., and to march in and pitch tents at 12 M. Rained in torrents. Marched in, etc., at 9 A.M. Effects moved in afterwards. Rain ceased by 12 M. Marched in. Second class, tactics finished. Third class, Spanish finished.

Ordinarily as soon as the examination is over the third class take advantage of the two months furlough allowed them, while other classes go into camp. This encampment begins June 17th, or a day or two earlier or later, according to circumstances. This brings me to the end of the first year. I have described camp life, and also, I observe, each of the remaining years of cadet life. On July 1st the plebes become the fourth class; the original fourth the third; the third, now on furlough, the second; and the second the first. I have given in an earlier part of my narrative the studies, etc., of these several classes.

The plebe, or fourth class of the previous year, are now become yearlings, and are therefore in their “yearling camp.” At the end of every month an extract from the class and conduct report of each cadet is sent to his parents or guardian for their information. I insert a copy of one of these monthly reports.

United States Military Academy,
West Point, N. Y., March 26, 1875.

Extract from the Class and Conduct Reports of the Military Academy for the month of February, 1875, furnished for the information of Parents and Guardians,

Third Class Composed of 83 Members.

Cadet Henry O. Flipper

Was, in Mathematics, No. 48
French, No. 48
Spanish, No. 37
Drawing, No. 40

His demerit for the month is 2, and since the commencement of the academic half year, 23.

Robt. H. Hall,
Captain 10th Infantry,
Adjutant Military Academy.

Regulations For The Military Academy.

Par. 71. When any Cadet shall have a total of numbers [of demerit] thus recorded, exceeding one hundred in six months, he shall be declared deficient in discipline.

Par. 153. No Cadet shall apply for, or receive money, or any other supplies from his parents, or from any person whomsoever, without permission of the Superintendent.

Note. The attention of Parents and Guardians is invited to the foregoing Regulations. The permission referred to in paragraph 153 must be obtained before the shipment to the cadet of the supplies desired.



Flipper, Henry Ossian. The Colored Cadet at West Point: Autobiography of Lieut. Henry Ossian Flipper, first graduate of color from the U. S. Military Academy.

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