BY MORRIS SCHAFF
OUR FIRST ENCAMPMENT
WHEN the graduating exercises were over, the battalion formed in front of barracks, and, with the band at its head and its colors proudly borne, it marched across the plain to the camping-ground, alongside of old Fort Clinton. I remember very well the pleasing activity on all sides as soon as ranks were broken, and my surprise at seeing the tents go up so quickly, converting the site, like magic, into a little white city. Every cadet of that day will recall the streets of that little city, the commanding officers’ tents — McCook’s, Williams’s, Hartsuff’s and Saxton’s—behind their respective companies, and Colonel Hardee’s commodious, richly furnished marquee, which, situated at an impressive distance from his orderly’s tent, overlooked and lorded the whole scene, whole scene. Just before going into camp I was assigned to “B” Company. Up to that time I had barely spoken to any one or been addressed by any one in it. Surely, if ever there was a waif on entering camp, I was one on that June afternoon long ago. But in the company was “Nick” Bowen. He was a second-class man, to whom, as it happened, I had recited, for he had been detailed with others to prepare us by preliminary instruction for our examination. Catching sight of him now as, in company with Powell, a blueeyed Marylander, he was engaged in putting up his tent, I volunteered my help. I drove their tent pins, helped to tighten the tent cords, and finally, at a hint that some water would be desirable, set off with their waterpails and brought them back filled. After the tent was pitched, one or the other of them, seeing that I was homeless, brought the attention of the first sergeant to my case, and I was assigned to a tent on the left of the street, occupied by another plebe and a yearling, to whom reference has already been made.
Night finally came. I had lit a candle and, with my locker for a table, was writing a letter to my mother, — I daresay it was gloomy enough, — when some one struck the back of the tent with a broom, not only extinguishing the candle, but spilling the ink all over the letter and the tent floor as well. I had barely lit the candle again and taken account of the situation, when bang! went the broom, blowing it out again. Thereupon I sat down in the darkness and let the hours wear away. Later on in the night Farley and Noyes, “Gimlet” Lee and Watts and others yanked us out of bed several times. Our fastidious yearling tentmate was in the party, for all I know. Friendless, unknown, and with a natural reluctance to open my heart to any one, I don’t think I ever passed a more dismal night. The sweetest note that could have reached my ear would have been the bark, across the fields, of the old home dog that I had hunted and played with as a boy.
All through that camp I carried water for Bowen and Powell, and did most willingly everything and anything that they wanted me to do for them. The former’s personality interested me more than that of any one else I met in the corps, and, notwithstanding the lapse of time, it remains with the freshness of morning. The only way I can account, for it is that there was about him the mystical charm of unpremeditated kindness, and of the quiet ways which are associated with perennial content. They were augmented perhaps in his case by the reputation for abilities which would have put him, had he called on them, at the head of his class. He had a soft, pleasant voice, a keen sense of humor, and a smile that his laughing eyes always forecast before it set out on its rippling way. The last, time I saw him was at the White House, on the Pamunkey, June, 1864, just after the frightful day of Cold Harbor. He was then “Baldy” Smith’s adjutant-general, and I was depot ordnance officer of the Army of the Potomac, with my depot at that point. Long, long since he crossed the bar; and now, as I pen these lines, my heart beats with a muffled tenderness, for he was kind to me.
By the end of the first month hazing, with all its irritating and sometimes funny excesses, dies away, and the rigid discipline and cast-iron routine of everyday life, which at first seem so artificial and needlessly emphasized, become familiar and really easy of observance. Moreover, the plebe is no longer an animal, for he is clothed in the uniform of a cadet. To be sure, he cannot go to the hops, and is at the very foot of the battalion hierarchy; yet life offers its diversions.
And among these, in my case, was the dancing-master. As soon as admitted we were turned over to him for instruction in his art. His name was Ferraro, a selfconscious, proud Italian, who, in company with the sword-master and the leader of the band, always gave an impression of resenting the fact that their positions were not recognized as of equal importance with the heads of departments. The first time I ran across him after graduating was on the battlefield of Spottsylvania, where, as brigadier-gen eral, he commanded a division of colored troops in Burnside’s corps; and those of us who saw his division at Petersburg witnessed a display of unexcelled gallantry. What a dream it would have been to the aristocratic Delafield, if some night in 1858 a spectral figure had announced that his dancing-master, Ferraro, in less than four years would be a brigadier-general, commanding a division, and that the history of his division would be a beacon in that of the colored race! However this may be, Ferraro’s instructions in dancing were diversifying, and contributed to the refining influences of West Point life; and if, with the proverbial heedlessness of youth, we treated him at times, in and out of the dancing-hall, with obvious indifference, on account of his calling, we may hope that in his old age he could forget it all in the satisfaction he must have had in contemplating his phenomenal career and the services he rendered to his adopted country.
In this connection another figure comes looming up, perhaps because of its very contrast in station with that of a dancing-master: it is that of Lieutenant-General Winfield Scott of Virginia, born in 1786, and then in command of the army, with his headquarters at West Point. The old general made himself heard, considered, and felt throughout the country. He was over six feet, six inches tall, and in frame was simply colossal. It so happened that only the rail separated his pew in the chapel from the one I occupied, — it was four or five pews back, on the right side from the chancel, — and I felt like a pigmy when I stood beside him. The old fellow was devout; but it was said that whatever church he attended, Episcopal, Baptist, Methodist, or Roman Catholic, he threw himself into the service with the same depth of reverence. Nevertheless he would sometimes swear like a pirate. Surely, I think, nature must have been in one of her royal moods at his birth, for there was magnificence in the dignity of his great, kingly, illuminated countenance. He filled my eyes, and I believe those of all the cadets, with a kind of reverential awe, for in his youth he had fought a duel, and he bore the scars of several deep wounds; moreover, as a background to his personality, lay Lundy’s Lane of the War of 1812, and the conquest of Mexico. He seemed an especially fitting figure at West Point, throwing, as he did, into its daily life some of the splendor that attaches to actual heroism. We were all proud of the old hero, and more than ever when, in the blaze of full uniform and uncovered head, he stood at the left of the present King of England at the review given him at West Point in 1860.
When my class graduated in 1862, I was one of a committee of two to ask the old general if he would give us his photograph for the class album; and I recall the gracious way in which he took my hand, holding it in both of his, and his kind, beneficent look as he asked me what state I was from. That was the last time I ever saw the man whose towering personality threw its influence across the very entrance of my cadet life. He was in a way the culmination of the old army; he stood for its ideals of soldier and gentleman, and in great measure held to social standards and traditions that had prevailed from the time of the Revolution. With his career ended dueling, gaming (as engaged in by officers and men of station in civil life), and that pride of connection with the best families which in the old days gave to the army undisputed leadership in social affairs. It marked too the close of the period of pomp. For the advance in science has converted the art of war, since his day, from displays of strategy and great courage on the open field into problems of finance, of commercial ascendancy, and of the adaptation of scientific discoveries to the practical conduct of a battle. The old army, like the old knighthood, has passed away.
Chief among the impersonal influences that brightened the outlook was the childlike gayety that pervaded the social life of West Point. No face wore the harassing cares of business, there were no unapproachable lords of wealth and birth, no flaunting vulgarity, no time-servers or self-seekers, but everywhere genial good manners, cordiality, and the grace that comes from assured position. In fact there was light-heartedness everywhere, and happiness fairly beamed in the faces of the sweethearts, the sisters and mothers of the cadets, who during the encampment flocked to West Point in great numbers. If these lines bring back to the mild eyes of any old lady some pleasant memories of those distant and happy days at West Point, I shall be glad.
Among the immediate personal influences which are, so to speak, the initial processes of the spirit of West Point for transforming raw cadets into officers, are the stimulating effects which come with wearing the uniform, with the mastery of one’s motions in walking, marching, or entering the presence of a superior, with the constant regard for neatness and the habit of scrupulous truth-telling. Moreover, there is something uplifting in finding one’s self among high-minded equals, and in the recognition of the fact that in your superiors is lodged one of the most important functions of government, — the right and power of command. Then too, the cadet begins to be conscious of the exclusive and national distinction of the Military Academy. Very soon, the monuments, the captured guns and dreaming colors — which at the outset are mere interesting, historic relics — beckon to him; he feels that they have something to say. Before he leaves West Point they have given him their message, revealing from time to time to his vision that field from which lifts the radiant mist called glory.
Another potent influence is the scenery round West Point, which, as the world knows, has a sweet if not unrivaled charm. I have sometimes thought it conspired to bring to the intellectual vision and feeling of the cadet the spiritual significance of great virtues and great deeds; as, for instance, the unselfish sacrifice, for a great principle, of all that life holds dear. I do not know how warmly, if at all, nature becomes interested in us poor mortals ; but I have a feeling that a noble thought never rises in the heart, that a heroic deed is never performed, but that the hills with their laurel, the ridges with their strong-limbed oaks, feel a responsive thrill, and convey to the winds and streams their secret joy.
It would be difficult to convey a sense of the glamour that invests the first class generally, and above all the first-class officers, in the eyes of the new cadet. It is a result of long tradition, leaving nothing at the Military Academy more real than their precedence. Thus, let the number of years be what it may, the old graduate sees again in his reveries the cadet officers of his first encampment, and with as much vividness as on the wall before him he sees the sword he wore in the field, — the sword that has so many things to talk to him of. He sees the adjutant, the sergeant-major, the captains and lieutenants arrayed for retreat, their erect and easy figures surmounted by broad and well-balanced shoulders, augmented in graceful effect by flowing silk sashes and hats proudly plumed. He sees them taking their places with the bearing of command, as the company falls in to the rapidly beaten call, expecting and alert to exact immediate promptness, and with courage to report the highest as well as the lowest for neglect or violation of duty.
In my own case (their heads are growing white and so is mine) I can see our first sergeant and hear his commands, — General James H. Wilson, known as Harry Wilson (and what a heart he carries!), now of Wilmington, Delaware, who led the great Selma campaign, captured Jefferson Davis, and whose whole career has been one of gallant and conspicuous service. And I can also see his classmate, Horace Porter, our sergeant-major, whose name need only be mentioned to bring into view his distinguished relations, historic and closely personal as well, with Grant. More than once I sat before the same camp fire with him and Babcock and others of Grant’s staff, at the general’s headquarters, while the general himself sat in the circle and smoked, and listened, and talked, and never showed himself greater than in the simplicity that was always his on such occasions. I can see Porter taking his place beside Collins, the adjutant, — tall, fair-haired, with rose-tinted cheek, pouting lips, and mild eyes, — Collins, whose life was so pathetically tragic that the bare mention of his name throws a shadow across this page like that of a summer cloud dragging silently across a field strewn with sheaves. I can see, too, the lieutenant of my company, the late General Joseph Wheeler, whose clay only a few months ago was borne in a spirit almost of triumph to its resting-place at Arlington,— he who led the Confederate cavalry so bravely, and who, when the Spanish War broke out, burst from the ashes of the Confederacy and once more took his place under the colors he set out with as a boy at West Point. I have often wondered whether there ever was deeper joy than that of Wheeler, Rosser, and Fitz Lee, when once more they put on the uniform and drew their swords for their united country.
I can see also the dark-eyed, stern, dignified Ramseur of North Carolina, who lost his life at Cedar Creek commanding a division in Early’s corps. It was his fate to fall in the Confederate service, but he fell a Christian and a gentleman. There was an incident connected with his last hours that had a close relation with West Point, for when in the darkness our cavalry charged the broken and fleeing remnants of his division, Custer, who was in the midst, heard one of his troopers who had seized the horses ask the driver whom he had in his ambulance.
In a weak, husky voice he heard Ramseur say, “Do not tell him.”
Whereupon Custer, who recognized the voice he had so often heard at West Point, exclaimed, “Is that you, Ramseur ? ” and had him taken to Sheridan’s headquarters, where his old friends, Merritt and Custer and the gallant Pennington, gathered around him and showed him every tenderness to the last. He died about ten o’clock the following day.
The Merritt I have just mentioned is Major-General Merritt, who was one of Sheridan’s great cavalry leaders, and who, with Griffin of the West Point battery, was selected to parole Lee’s army at Appomattox. A class-mate of Porter, Wilson, and Bowen, he was a sergeant, in my first camp, and had, I think, more of the sunshine of youth in his fair, open face and clear blue eyes than any other cadet in the corps could claim. I can hear his fine tenor voice now, rising high and sweet over the group that used to meet at the head of the company street and sing, in the evening. While I was carrying a dispatch to him at Todd’s Tavern during the Wilderness campaign, an incident occurred that made a deep impression. Just before I reached Merritt, who was on the line, a riderless horse dashed back through the woods, coming almost squarely into collision with mine, — as it was, the saddle struck my left knee a severe blow. Soon there followed three or four men carrying an officer with the cape of his blue overcoat thrown over his face. I asked who it was; they told me it was Ash, of the cavalry, who had just been killed. He was about my own age, a very brave officer, and I knew him right well.
There is one other officer of the battalion whose resolute face, voice, and manner come into view along with Wilson’s and Porter’s and Ramseur’s; and some of the old awe with which I viewed him in 1858 invests his image again as it emerges from the thicket of memory. It is Ben Hardin from Illinois, a son of the Colonel Hardin who fell at Buena Vista; and as Hardin was appointed while Jefferson Davis was Secretary of War, I have no doubt his name recalled his honored father to the distinguished secretary; for on that field the President of the Confederacy, leading the First Mississippi with great bravery, was severely wounded. Had I been called on to select from all his class the man likely to reach the highest honors as a soldier, I should certainly have chosen Hardin. Brevetted four or five times, he was mustered out a majorgeneral at the close of the war. I remember the day when the news came to Meade’s headquarters that he had been severely wounded in an encounter with guerillas. At close range they shot him, causing the loss of his left arm near the shoulder. When I was on the Board of Visitors in 1882, he came to West Point, and together we walked to Fort Putnam, and to that beautiful spot where so many of the friends of our youth were lying, the West Point cemetery. I discovered then, what I had not realized as a cadet, the simplicity, the modesty, and the natural sweetness of his nature.
There were in the battalion many other upper-class men to whom I might refer, who, as officers or privates, made fine records; but whatever station they reached, it is doubtful if they were ever dignified by a consideration so respectful as that from the new cadet in his first camp. I have called it glamour; but in a sense it was a fact, and a potent one, toward accomplishing the aims of West Point. It is true also that the commandant and superintendent were much greater relatively in the eyes of the cadets than were the professors. Grant says in this connection, referring to the visit of Martin Van Buren, then President, to West Point, “He did not impress me with the awe which Scott had inspired. In fact, I regarded General Scott and Captain C. F. Smith, the commandant of the cadets, as the two men most to be envied in the nation.”
And in my eyes Hardee, our commandant, was a greater man than any one of the professors, greater even than Jefferson Davis, — then in the Senate, — as I saw them walking side by side under the elms mottling green and gold in the autumn of 1860. I was mortally afraid of Hardee. The first time he entered my room, accompanied by the late Majorgeneral A. McD. McCook, at Sunday morning inspection a few days after I reported, he came close up, his sword under his left arm, and bored his big gray eyes into me and asked my name.
“Schaff,” I answered mildly.
“No, t’aint!” exclaimed McCook. “ His name’s Schoaff. I know the Schoaffs of Virginia well.”
And from that time on I was called “Old Schoaff” by about half my class.
Grant in his memoirs, alluding to his first encampment, says, “The encampment which preceded the commencement of academic studies was very wearisome and uninteresting. When the 28th of August came — the date for breaking up camp and going into barracks — I felt as though I had been at West Point always.”
I think that in the main General Grant’s experience in his first camp is that of almost every cadet. There is no doubt of its wearisomeness, or that it seems without end; but there are incidents connected with it, and some of them common to all the experiences that come after it, which leave lasting impressions. They vary in character; some are trivial, some have relation to the buildings and batteries, others to the subtlest of the parts which nature plays in the cadet’s education. Though the most memorable, I think, are associated with sentry duty, in my own case, I am sure, one of the most vivid was made by the library. I had never seen a public library, much less entered one and felt its presence; so that there comes back to me now that mystical address of books in their lofty silence as I wandered in for the first time one quiet, languid midsummer afternoon. It is not in reality a very large library,—at that time it had only about twenty thousand volumes, — and all the books were on shelves against the wall, some thirty odd feet high. But it looked vast to me as I entered it.
The rather tall librarian was an old soldier, a German by the name of Fries, with flaming red cheeks, a little brown silky hair trained from his temples up over his well-crowned head, and a voice and a manner that was sweetness and modesty itself. Over his desk was a fulllength portrait of President James Monroe in Continental uniform, his white trousers lighting up the field of the painting. The old librarian came to me as I stood looking around, and asked what book I would like to see. I felt that I ought to ask for something, and having heard from some source (perhaps from a notice in the Religious Telescope, our family paper) of Lynch’s Expedition to the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan, I asked for that. I wonder if its pages have been opened from that day to this.
Later, I browsed around. I used to take my seat in one of the windows, and I know of no place where a book can be read under more favorable conditions for author or reader. The light steals in so softly, the quiet is so deep, broken only by the notes of a bugle now and then, or at intervals by a vireo’s limpid, short warble up in the trees outside. To be sure, if the eye lifts from the page it falls on a wooing landscape; but the effect is to elevate and dignify the book in one’s hand when the eye comes back to it. There is no question in my mind that the library in my day had too little weight; its inspiration never was appealed to, in official or in private social life, and thus the graduates were deprived of that final satisfaction which comes and comes alone from the field of literature. I have reason to believe that under the present librarian, Doctor Holden, the well-known scientist and scholar, a change is being wrought.
There are some very amusing and some very beautifully impressive circumstances about sentinel’s duty at West Point. The amusing things come from the mighty seriousness and awe that later seem so funny, — the low tones in which the orders are communicated to the new cadet, the whispered countersign, what he must do if an enemy should approach, and finally the penalty of death if caught asleep.
The first tour I made was on a very murky black night, and when the corporal gave me the countersign, “Quatre Bras,” which he whispered, I was in difficulty. Not knowing any French and never having heard of the celebrated battle, I asked him to spell it. He rattled it off and marched away. In my ear it did n’t spell the words he had pronounced at all. I walked faithfully back and forth over my post, wondering what the word was.
After a while along came the sergeant of the guard, General John M. Wilson, lately a glowing satellite in the planetary system of Washington life, who, on or off duty, had an air that was fiercely military. Upon my demanding the countersign, he answered it in approved French.
Said I, “Spell it;” and, recruit-like, came to charge bayonets.
He took that as almost an affront, and I am surprised that it did not bring on a fatal attack of military vertigo; but he complied with the sentinel’s request. Then, approaching, he asked me my orders, with overpowering importance, as if it depended on him and me whether the earth was to keep on in its orbit that night.
That summer Donati’s comet appeared, and night after night streamed broadly in the northern heavens. Every cadet will remember the night boat from New York; it passed about half past nine, and with its numerous lights gleaming far down below was a gay and very pretty sight. He will remember also the large tows, with little, feeble, twinkling lights on the low canal boats; the dull splash of leaping sturgeon when all was still in the dead of night; the propellers chugging on their way to New York, carrying livestock, from which from time to time would come a long, deep low, or a calf’s bleating anguish.
Every feature in the solemn progress of the night and the brightness of the coming day, the sentinel walking his post is a witness to: the moonlight laying wan on the steps of the chapel; the clock in the tower striking the deep hours; the flushing of the dawn; the fog that has lain on the river lifting and moving off; and finally the note of the reveille at the soldiers’ barracks, and the appearance of the soldiers at the morning gun, the corporal standing with the colors in his hand till the sun clears the east, when the gun fires, and the colors ascend lovingly to the head of the mast.
IN THE CLASSROOM
Upon going into barracks after breaking camp on the 28th of August, I was assigned to a room in the cock-loft of the Fourth Division, overlooking the area. I do not recall having spoken to my roommate during the camp. He was from Gloucester, Massachusetts, and pored lovingly over the Cape Ann Breeze, which was sprinkled with little woodcuts of ships, reported the going and coming of the fishing fleet, and all the home news of the old, redolent, seafaring port. He was a small fellow, but he was broad-shouldered and sturdy, with rather pensive blue eyes and raven black hair. He was scrupulously neat and took naturally to what is comprehended in the term “military.” At Gettysburg it was his fortune to command the sections of artillery which opened that great, battle; and visitors to the field have the posit ions of his guns pointed out as one of the historic spots. John H. Calef was his name, and our friendship is still green.
Across the hall lived Jasper Meyers of Indiana, one of the mildest, most naturally refined, and gentlest of men. He wore a great beard on his arrival at West Point, and Custer in his first interview maintained that he ought to go right back home and send his son, — he evidently had made a mistake, he said; it was his boy that the government meant should have the appointment and not the old man. Meyers appreciated the fun, and met the joke with a spontaneous laugh and unconscious, happy eyes. He was a very genuine, true man, who brought little that added to the superficial West Point, but much to the ideal West Point; for surely it counts for something when a cadet joins her ranks bringing with him an honor as unclouded and a vision as clear as her own of what is high and modest and manly. That is what Meyers brought; the graft had the same sap and blossom as the tree itself. His roommate was a little imp from Louisiana, with skye-terrier yellow hair; he bore a fine name, and could speak French fluently. He spent about every waking hour in studying how he could make a nuisance of himself generally. To the comfort of everybody on our floor he was found deficient at the January examinations and thrown overboard.
An eager soberness settled in the faces of all our class as we set off on the academic course; for the very air was pervaded with the inexorableness of the standards in all the departments, especially in that of mathematics, it was in this department that the ground was strewn, so to speak, with the bones of victims. At its head was Professor Albert E. Church, a short, stocky, brown-eyed, broad-faced man, with a squeaky voice. He was almost bald and had the habit of carrying his head bowed, eyes on the ground, and hands clasped behind him under the tails of his deep blue dresscoat, which was ornamented with brass buttons. He had graduated at the head of his class, and was the author of the leading works studied in his department. Jefferson Davis was a classmate of his, and Robert E. Lee was in the next class below them, that of 1829. Except Mahan’s, there never was a colder eye or manner than Professor Church’s. Like Mahan, professor of engineering, civil and military, he always impressed me as an old mathematical cinder, bereft of all natural feeling. But on the terrible day the news of the defeat at Bull Run reached the Point, I saw that there was another side; the poor old fellow’s face was draped with the sincerest distress.
We began our recitations with Lieutenant Adam Slemmer, one of Church’s assistants. He was a solemn, holloweyed, spare man, wore glasses, and looked at us, standing there before him in the middle of the floor reciting, as if he were studying and trying to interpret an omen. No one ever credited him with being a hero, so mild and meditative was his manner; but at the breaking out of the war a few years afterward, he held Fort Pickens with the greatest bravery, receiving the highest praise, and was made a brigadier-general of volunteers.
In a few weeks, under the operation of a sifting process, we rapidly changed places in class standing, some going up and some down in our sections, according to Professor Church’s judgment — which was rarely in error — as to ability. This threw me under the instruction of Major-General Alexander S. Webb, who is now living in New York after a most brilliant career, covering not only that of a soldier, but also that of a scholar at the head of Columbia College. He was nearly six feet tall, of soldierly bearing, spare and rather sallow, with deep gray, open fearless eyes, and straight, very black hair. His voice was rich, strong, and cultivated, and he had a natural and warm smile. Day after day I sat on the bench in his presence, and I recall his voice and manner with the greatest distinctness; they marked him for a gentleman through and through.
It was his division that Pickett struck at Gettysburg, and it was to him that Cushing made his last remark. It was he who at that very critical moment swung Norman H. Hall’s brigade into the storm, striking the wavering Confederate column in flank at close range. Hall was a first-class man my first year, a mature, scholarly-looking man, with a large, broad, clear forehead, chestnut hair, and quiet, unassertive manner. General Webb was Meade’s chief of staff at the close of the war, with the rank of major-general. He represented the best blood of the country, and he represented it well, and I have always had a feeling of satisfaction and pride in the fact that for nearly two years he was my instructor.
My other instructor in pure mathematics was Major-General O. O. Howard, probably known more widely among the church-going people of our country than any officer of his time. His head is now almost snowy white, and his armless sleeve tells its story; yet when I saw him last there was the same mild, deeply sincere, country-bred simplicity in his face that it wore when, so many years ago, he was my instructor. His voice too had barely changed at all; it was still pitched in the same mellow, clerical key, and accompanied, when humorous in its vein, with the same boyish smile in his earnest blue eyes, — eyes always filled with that light of another and a holier land which the Christian’s gaze already rests upon. He organized among the cadets what was known as “Howard’s little prayer-meeting,” which met weekly, between supper and call to quarters, during the winter months, in a vacant room on the third floor of the “Angle.”
I heard of this prayer-meeting through Elijah Henry Holton of Kentucky, of the class above me, and at his invitation attended its meetings. There never were more than ten or fifteen present, as I remember. General Howard conducted the services, which consisted of a hymn, a selection from the Bible, and a prayer, led by the general himself and at times by cadets, all kneeling. Among the latter were Ramseur of North Carolina, whom I have already mentioned; Benjamin of New York, who later was the commander of Benjamin’s battery of heroic record, and son-in-law of Hamilton Fish; Moses White of Mississippi, a black-eyed, finespirited man, who graduated in 1859, and rendered great service to the Confederacy; and little Edmund Kirby, of Kirby’s battery, who was mortally wounded at Chancellorsville. I heard each of them lead in prayer with their hands palm to palm in deep reverence; and I am sure that when death came to Ramseur and Kirby it found their hearts pillowed on the Bible. Religion has worn many beautiful garbs, yet those few young men in cadet gray, who had the courage to kneel and humbly make their prayer right out of the heart, for help to meet the duties of life, are encompassed with a heavenly light.
Kirby was a little fellow, two classes ahead of me, who was appointed at large by President Pierce. On reporting to General Hooker a few days before the battle of Chancellorsville, I visited from camp to camp and battery to battery my West Point friends, and among others Dimmock and Kirby. The former was a joyous-hearted man. He was mortally wounded, and died, I believe, on the field. Kirby was wounded during the frightful attack on the day following the mortal wounding of Stonewall Jackson. As soon as our defeated army recrossed the Rappahannock, I went back, accompanying my immediate commanding officer, Lieutenant John R. Edie of the class ahead of mine, to the ordnance depot at Aquia Creek, and during the afternoon a dispatch was received saying that Kirby was on the train, and that we must look out for him. It was after dark when the train, made up wholly of freight cars and filled with wounded, pulled in.
Edie and myself with a lantern went from car to car — there were no lights in them — calling, “ Kirby! ”
At last, “Here I am, John,” he answered cheerily.
We helped him out and carried him to our quarters and laid him on Edie’s bed. He was wounded just above the knee, and apparently the ball had gone in and out through his leg, but had not broken a bone. We sat beside him and talked and laughed over his prospective furlough, and all of us were happy.
The next morning we put him aboard the boat and bade him good-by, thinking we soon should meet again. But in a few days we heard that he was not doing well; and shortly after, he died. It was found on amputating his leg that he had been hit simultaneously (his battery was under fire from several directions) by two bullets, one in front and the other almost directly in the back of his leg, both lodging in the bone.
When the surgeon told him that life was about over, his disappointment was so great that tears broke from his open, bold eyes; for he felt that he was so young, and that he was to leave his widowed mother and family without much means. Some one carried the news to Mr. Lincoln, who, having learned that he had sustained himself gallantly and conspicuously in all the battles of the Army of the Potomac, visited him in the hospital and soothed the boy’s last hours by making him a brigadier-general. And now, as I see him across the years on his bended knees, with hands clasped before him and leading in prayer, I am led to say that, wherever the throne of God may be, I cannot but believe that little Kirby is not far away from it.
He was only twenty-three, — and that was Dimmock’s age. Oh, Chancellorsville! while the star of Stonewall Jackson burns, the world will know of you; but I never see your name without seeing once more the faces of boys of twenty-three, and my affection runs to meet them.
One night, the venerable Bishop McIivaine of Ohio was present at the prayermeeting, and after leading in prayer, he told us of the days of 1825, when he was the chaplain and professor of ethics at West Point; of how he interested Bishop Polk, then a cadet, in religion, — the bishop who later was to lay aside his robes and put on the gray uniform of the Confederacy, and in its service to fall a lieutenant-general at Pine Mountain, Georgia, He spoke to us warmly also of how naturally and how rationally the life of a soldier and that of a Christian harmonized. It was a fine talk from a majestic old man.
Of that little group that used to gather at the prayer-meeting, but few are alive now. What it accomplished in the lives of living or dead may never be known; but surely it played a part, and, as I think, a divine part, in the midst of West Point life. Whether or not religion, as an instinct, be a lower or a higher thing than absolute knowledge based on determined properties of matter, I cannot conceive a greater splendor for mortals than a union of the transparency of the gentleman with the humility and trust of the Christian. And, moreover, I cannot conceive a national institution of learning whose ideals are truth and honor and courage, moving on to its aims without rising into those higher levels where imagination and sentiment have their eternal empire.
Our instructors in English studies under Professor French for the first two years were Lieutenant Symonds and Lieutenant John Greble. The former was a small, plump man, with sparkling blue eyes, short and snappy in speech, who, when I was on the Board of Visitors, handed me back with a very friendly smile the compositions I had written. I am free to say that, as I glanced them over, I heartily wished that he had burned every one of them.
Lieutenant John Greble, who was the professor’s son-in-law, and for whom Fort Greble is named, was a very gentle and refined man of medium height. His forehead, defined by dark, silky hair, was the conspicuous feature of his face, in which nature had written plainly her autograph of gentleman. He was killed at Big Bethel, the first of the officers whom we knew, to lose his life; and he was mourned by us all. For although there were but few of the corps who had any acquaintance with the professors’ families, yet there were ties binding us to them all.
The course in English at West Point at that time (and I think it is so now) was notoriously held of minor importance by the Academic Board. While pure mathematics and engineering were rated as 3, English was rated as 1. In fact it was down on the level of tactics, which are mere memorizing exercises for the mind.
It is easy for every graduate to see the grounds for Jefferson Davis’s recommendation of a five years’ course; he felt, and every graduate feels, the inadequacy of the course in literature at that period, and he thought he could remedy it by adding the fifth year. But so entrenched was the theory that those powers of mind which are called into play in carrying on war can be trained to the highest efficiency by mathematics, and mathematics alone (and possibly this is so), that the experiment to introduce literature met with no encouragement, and after languishing a few years was dropped.
The course grew out of the fact that at the time of the founding of West Point a knowledge of military engineering was rare, if not wholly wanting, in our army; and for that reason, foreign officers, French, German, and Poles, had to be employed. But it only needs a comparison of the working drawings of Vauban’s Front, the standard of the old-time fortress, with those of the modern works, to realize the decline in the importance of military engineering. It is true, the great advance in gun construction, and in applied science for their effective use, marks a much greater demand for scientific knowledge than formerly. But to supply this knowledge is the basis and aim of all technical schools; and, besides, it has become a necessary and well established feature of all large steel and ship-building works. So that whatever may have been the dependence of the government hitherto on its graduates at West Point for the proper adaptation of scientific knowledge to its defense, under present conditions that dependence must be much less. Therefore a change might well be considered, giving the graduate wider knowledge in the suggestive fields of history and literature.
But weigh the course as you may,— and certainly her graduates have worthily met the mighty problems of war,— this must be said: West Point is a great character-builder, perhaps the greatest among our institutions of learning. The habit of truth-telling, the virtue of absolute honesty, the ready and loyal obedience to authority, the display of courage, that virtue called regal, — to establish these elements of character, she labors without ceasing. The primary agency in accomplishing her ends is, and has been, the tone of the corps of cadets.
This tone, which is the very life and breath of the Military Academy, traces back to a fine source, to the character of Washington and the best society at the time of the Revolution. For, since the day when he had his headquarters at West Point, it has been exclusively a military post, completely isolated from the social ferment and adventitious standards of commercial life. His standards of private and official life, and those of the officers and the gentlemen of his day, were the standards of his immediate successors, who, in turn, transmitted them unimpaired to those who came after. Moreover, at his suggestion, West Point as an institution of learning came into being; and its foundations were laid on the solid virtues of his example. And thus to him and the high-minded men of his day, the tone of the corps of cadets for truth-telling, honesty, obedience to authority, and the considerate bearing of the gentleman, may fairly well be traced.
A significant fact in regard to this spirit is that it exists entirely disconnected from the official and social life of the officers and instructors. There is no hierarchy within or without the battalion charged with the maintenance of its standards, or with their inculcation; there are no ceremonies or stage effects ; it is not even discussed or referred to between cadets, but is as much an unconscious part of life as the air that is breathed. Approached from any direction, it has presented the same uplifting aspect; or tested at any period, let the parties to the test be powerful or weak, it has presented the same constant and admirable elements, coming very near being the realization of an ideal. It offers to the æsthetic sense, over-shadowed as the latter is by the gallant death of so many of the graduates in the very spring of life, that symbolism of youth and health and unconscious mission, that revealing of honor and truth and personal courage, which has spread the wings of the imagination in all ages.
It was not. until the time of the war between the states that the present system of appointment by competitive examination came into vogue, — the result of the dodging of responsibility by the members of Congress, whose right it is to nominate for their districts cadets at West Point and Annapolis. Before this change of system the corps of cadets came nearer to being an aristocracy than any rank in government or society. Its classes had been chosen from the best families, — families which had made their mark in public service, in education, in the church, or in business. Moreover, like flowers under an oak, its members were a fostered part of the government itself, enjoying a life tenure of their position, and above all, in the sentiment of the people, consecrated to the defense of the rights and the honor of the country. Thus, without the prescriptive authority of aristocracy, it stood on one of its enviable and conceded eminences.
Besides, it had the glamour of youth, youth that between duty, life, and death would not deign to falsify or to hesitate. It is easy, therefore, to see how, like all things that satisfy the ideal, it lay in the hearts of the people; and also how its traditions ran from one year into another, making their appeal to its members for what was pure and manly and true. I do not wish to convey the impression that the corps of cadets was a body of young saints. Its language at times was not at all saintly; but there was no pretense of holiness, and man for man, they were no better and no worse than the young men of like age at any college.
In my day (and I have no doubt it is so now) the truth had to be told, let the consequences be what they might to one’s self or to one’s best friend. But it went farther than this. Let a man even shade the truth at a recitation or in reference to any transaction that would favorably affect his class standing, and he soon felt the condemnation of his fellows, — not in a chill that was temporary in his personal relations with them, but one that lasted while he was in the corps. For what is known there as “ boot-licking” of older classmen or instructors there was no mercy.
We had a Washington directly from the great Washington family of Virginia; a Buchanan, the nephew of the President; an Anderson and a Jones, W. G., representing the Longworth and Anderson families of Ohio and Kentucky; a Breckinridge, son of the patriot, Robert J., and a cousin of John C., vice-president and major-general in the Confederacy; representatives of the Huger and Mordecai families of South Carolina; a Du Pont from Delaware, and a Hasbrouck from New York, and a Vanderbilt, son of the founder of the family, — a mighty good athlete and a mighty dull scholar. But they stood on exactly the same level as the humblest born; and, had any cadet shown the least acknowledgment of their social superiority, he would have met the scorn of the entire battalion. It was a pure, self-respecting democracy.
But, like all youth, the corps, in clinging to its standards, sometimes made grievous mistakes. A touching instance was that of a Massachusetts man of my class, who by mistake took a Southerner’s shoes instead of his own from the bootblack’s, where our extra pairs were left to be blacked. Unfortunately he did not discover the mistake himself, and was charged openly by the Southerner with intending to steal the pair of shoes. Because he did not resent the charge, although he pledged his honor that it was a mistake, he was branded with cowardice, and about everybody “cut” him. But I felt that he was innocent and wronged. I visited him in his exile and walked with him in release from quarters; he told me of his family, and I knew how his heart beat. Well, in the Shenandoah Valley he was most seriously wounded, charging at the very head of his squadron ; was brevetted for gallant and meritorious conduct, and died within a few years. I blame not my impulsive friends, — we are all human; but I trust that henceforth no cadet will ever have to bear so unjust a burden. His life discloses the undercurrents of fate and has its misting shadow of pathos; but, like the heaven-trusting spire of a country church among pastured fields, his record pierces the sullen sky of his cadet life.
The first gentleman, the Saviour of the World, said, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” But sometimes I wonder if it would not have been better for this Northern man to have met the Southerner on the spot, with his chair or anything else he could lay his hand on. For he, like too many of our Congressmen and Northern men who stood insults, led the South to believe that the entire North was lacking in courage, and it took Gettysburg and the Wilderness and Chickamauga to prove to them their fatal error.
While it was assumed that no one would submit to humiliation or unjust discrimination in being reported, yet that was a purely personal matter, and, if not resented, passed without comment. But let there be a manifestation of the “cock of the walk” spirit by any one, and he would soon find some one ready to cut his comb for him; and let there be any disparity in size, indignation was aroused at once, and volunteers of equal size with the offender were ready to take the place of the smaller or the weaker.
I had a personal experience that illustrated it well. Just before the inauguration of Lincoln, the war spirit was flaming, and the whole corps was in a feverish, bristling state. Four or five of us gathered in a room in the 8th Division where some one had the New York Herald and was reading aloud what took place in Congress. The reader began to read what Ben Wade, Senator from my State of Ohio, had said, when a Southerner — several classes above me — over six feet tall, very powerful, and notorious both for his battles and, rightfully or wrongfully, for a very aggressive manner, remarked sneeringly, “Oh!—Ben Wade! — don’t read what he says.”
Whereupon some pretty violent language was interchanged between him and me, although my people were all Democrats and our sympathies or views were not at all in agreement with Mr. Wade’s. My size alone saved me from a beating at the instant, and fortunately Bentz’s bugle calling for recitation broke up the ill-natured party. On my return from recitation, Custer and “Deacon” Elbert of Iowa, who had both heard about the row, — and about the size of the Southerner, — met me in the area and said, “If he lays a hand on you, Morris, we’ll maul the earth with him.”
It may be asked what a man who from his size belonged in “B” Company, was doing in the 8th Division among the tall men of “D” Company. It came about in this way: In my second year, owing to an increase in the size of the battalion, the overflow of my company, “B,” and the various other companies, had to room in what was called the “Angle,” which threw me with John Asbury West, of Georgia, of “ D ” company. West and myself became very close friends, and that we might continue to room together, just before the battalion was formed, in 1860, at the close of the encampment for division into companies, he suggested that I stuff some paper in my shoes to lift me up into the flank companies. Thereupon we inlaid a good share of a New York Herald in each shoe, lowered my trousers to the extreme limit to hide my heels, and, to my heart’s delight, the result was, that in counting off the battalion, I fell just inside of “D” company. And on that bit of paper in my shoes all my life has hinged; for, had I stayed with the studious “B” company, I should in all probability have graduated in the engineers, and the stream of my life would have run through different, fields. I was not smart enough to keep up in my studies and at the same time to visit to my heart’s content with Custer, “Jim” Parker, and the crowd generally in “ D ” company, most of whom were from the South and West, and who cared mighty little as to where they stood in the class. The number of my demerit marks shows also that in my new surroundings I was foolishly heedless, to say the least.
I think I should fail utterly of lifting these articles to their proper level if I did not at least try to penetrate that enticing veil which God has hung over the spiritual significance of everything in this life.
I have intimated more than once that there are two West Points: the real West Point, and that overarching spiritual West Point, in whose sky float all of her ideals. On several occasions I have referred also to the tone of the corps of cadets and to the mystical influences of scenery, monuments, colors, batteries, and guns, in a cadet’s education. In addition to these influences, and coöperating with them, I have often wondered what effect the splendid records of some of the officers over us had upon our young minds.
For instance, there was Hartsuff. He was our instructor in light artillery, and in command of Company “A” of the battalion, and later a major-general of volunteers. He was large, and sullen in appearance, but, as I discovered after the war, a most genial, sunny-hearted man. I think his record is worth telling. Just a short while before reporting for duty at the Academy, he had been wounded in an Indian ambush in Florida, and here is the account of it in Cullum’s Biographical Register of West Point.
“Under such cover as his wagon afforded,” so says the Register, “the brave lieutenant fought until so badly crippled himself by two wounds that he was unable to use a weapon, when, after having shot two Indians with his own pistol, he effected his escape almost miraculously by dragging himself through the high grass into a pond and sinking his body out of sight in the water. The Indians, perhaps awed by his gallantry and the mystery of his disappearance, quickly left the field with the plunder they had acquired. Refreshed by his immersion in the pond, but driven from it in about three hours by the alligators attracted by his blood, he began what turned out to be one of the most wonderful feats on record. It was Thursday morning. The nearest white man was at the fort, fifty-five miles distant. Lieutenant Hartsuff, binding and from time to time rebinding his own wounds as best he could, compelled to lie most of the time on his back, blistered by the hot sun and lacerated by thorns and briers, concealing himself during the day, and dragging his suffering body inch by inch during the night, remained until Saturday night continuously without food and without water, from the time he left the pond where he first took refuge. He was then found by the troops sent out in search of him, fifteen miles from the place of attack, exhausted, with his name and a brief account of the disaster written on a small piece of paper with his own blood, pinned on his wounded breast.”
Just after he was relieved from duty at the Point in 1859, we heard of his heroic conduct in the celebrated wreck of the Lady Elgin, that went down one stormy night on Lake Michigan. Hartsuff, so it was reported, provided the women with life-preservers and was among the last to leave the wreck. He swam until he found a bale of hay, and hearing the cry of a woman, brought her to the bale, and after spending eleven hours in the water was rescued. Only a fifth of all on board were saved.
With men about us with courage and manliness like this, and not one of them over twenty-six years old, is it not easy to imagine their influence on our growing ideals ? Is it any wonder that the boys who day after day saw them through the glamour of their devotion to duty, met it when the time came with like heroism ? that Cushing and Kirby and O’Rorke, and the sweet, lovable Sanderson of my class, who, after falling mortally wounded between his pieces at the battle of Pleasant Hill, lay on the ground still giving his commands, while his blood was pouring out, carrying voice and life with it, — is it any wonder that he and they met death with the bird singing in their breasts ? Is it any wonder that Parsons of Parsons’s Battery, who was brevetted over and over again for gallantry, and who after the war became an Episcopal clergyman, and was at Memphis when the yellow fever broke out, stayed with his little flock day and night, till he fell a victim ?
(To be continued.)