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

Click image to enlarge
Lot closed - unsold
$100 - $150

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

Looker, Henry B.

[West Point, NY] “B” Co. Street, Camp


June 28, [1878]


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

Yellowing and wear to envelope; letter near fine.

Item number:
Shipping info:
We have a full service shipping department to ensure proper packing and safe delivery of purchases at reasonable cost. We are specialists at packing and shipping books and works on paper.   All lots purchased by the same client are combined for shipping in order to keep the cost as economical as possible.  Our preferred method for domestic shipments is UPS Ground but we can also ship via FedEx or USPS.  For international orders we select the most appropriate carrier depending on the value and weight of the items purchased.  We are happy to accommodate special arrangements by request.

Invoices are sent out the day following the auction and include a $10 handling fee plus actual shipping and insurance charges.

Shipping estimates can be obtained directly from the lot details page for each item or by contacting Megan Hipsley prior to the auction.



Terms and conditions


All accepted bids are contracts and are considered final and non withdrawable.


A buyer's premium of 20% will be applied to all purchases.


The person posting the bids online has to be the person who has registered for the auction.