Lot 239 of 395:
ALs 1878 “Living Death” of a West Point Cadet  

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Lot closed - unsold
Estimate:
$100 - $150

Title:
Autograph Letter Signed - 1878 “Living Death” of a West Point Cadet

Author:
Looker, Henry B.

Place:
[West Point, NY] “B” Co. Street, Camp

Publisher:

Date:
June 28, [1878]

Description:

Autograph Letter Signed “Harry”. 6 pp. With original envelope.

To his father, US Navy Pay Director T.H. Looker, Navy Dept., Washington, D.C. Just arrived at the Military Academy, Looker was already on the point of resigning. He begged his father to forgive him for an earlier letter “ written hastily, when I felt half crazy with the wretchedness of my situation…”, full of “wild, rebellious and wicked” words which he knew had “deeply pained” his parents. Though life at the Academy was “a living death”, he knew that “I cannot now leave, it would be ruin, and that I will try by God’s help to go on with it, if I die in the attempt, for the sake of those who love me so dearly…”  As he was  “physically very weak from want of exercise”, squad drill left him “almost dead…my muscles no longer obey my will and I have been reported three times today for slowness when I could not have done better for $ 20,000.” Drill promised to become so “excruciating” over the next two months that he feared “it would almost literally kill me.” Added to this was the “petty tyranny and bulldozing of some of the officers placed over me”, which was “very hard to bear” - “we are reported for everything, whether it’s our fault or not”.  A few older Cadets from good families had been kind to him – like the sons of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the US Postmaster General – and he had found “greatest comfort” in attending prayer meetings and living by his religious principles - for which he had already “suffered sneers”. Added to the “hard work of the drill” were the “petty little meannesses of the hazing men…” who had made him “chew an old dirty tent cord” and had knocked him down three times.  Daily life was full of “troubles without number.” He was crowded into a 10 by 10 foot tent with 3 other “ill-natured” Plebes, sleeping on the floor on a blanket which, in the morning, was “damp with dew”.  During the day, his uniform was very hot, he had not been allowed to take a bath for a week, and the shoes he had been issued were “murdering my feet”.   He felt like he was headed for a physical breakdown, though that might be a more “honorable surrender” than quitting the Academy, which would be “a terrible blow to my self-respect.” Looker did endure the Academy for another three years, finally resigning in 1881; he later became a successful civil engineer in Washington. It’s interesting to compare his gruesome account of life at West Point with that of Henry Flipper, the first Black Cadet to graduate from the Academy, a year before Looker arrived - after surviving the same hardships and indignities greatly magnified by overt racism. Partial transcript available on request.


Lot Amendments

Condition:
Yellowing and wear to envelope; letter near fine.


 
Item number:
238370
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