Roy Morris, Jr. "Nugen, Crook and Sheridan at West Point," Sheridan, the life and wars of General Phil Sheridan.
New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1992. p.18-23.
Life at West Point settled into a drab, monotonous routine. Each cadet theoretically was allowed thirty dollars a month in pay, but the money could only be drawn upon at the commissary, and then only to purchase such dull essentials as soap and razors. Even so, most cadets soon found themselves hopelessly in debt.
Living quarters were purposely rough: cadets shared an eight-by-tenfoot room containing mattresses, blankets, a table, a straightbacked chair, a lamp, a washstand, and a mirror. Heat, such as there was, came from a small fireplace.
The corps dining room featured a barely digestible fare of boiled meat, boiled potatoes, boiled pudding, stale bread, and weak coffee. It was not uncommon for cadets to find mice, roaches, and combs in their food. Butter was often rancid, molasses sour. The overworked, underfed young men were driven to such expedients as stealing fruit from neighboring orchards or purchasing contraband supplies from civilian sutlers who loitered openly outside academy grounds.
In addition to drinking, smoking, gambling, and dueling, cadets were forbidden to cook in their rooms-so of course virtually every cadet drank, smoked, gambled, fought, and smuggled food into his room to cook during midnight "hashes" around the fireplace. (William Tecumseh Sherman, class of '42, was accounted the finest hash-maker ever to grace the academy.)
Three hundred four separate regulations governed cadet behavior, with each breach of discipline resulting in a varying number of demerits, or "criminalities," as they were known in cadet slang.
Demerits were assessed for everything from keeping an overdue library book to disobeying an order on the parade ground. Moreserious offenses, such as fighting, resulted in a correspondingly greater number of demerits. Two hundred demerits in a given year resulted in automatic dismissal from the academy, as did getting caught at Benny Havens's notorious off-limits tavern.
Even the use of outdoor latrines was proscribed by regulations. To circumvent this last stricture, cadets adopted the elemental expedient of relieving themselves from their barracks windows, much to the disgust of fellow cadets walking guard duty below.
Wearing the uniform, the famous "cadet gray," was itself a daily ordeal. Heavy ankle-high shoes cut into the leg, while the seven-inch-high black leather hat, with its additional eight-inch plume, weighed a full five pounds and gave many cadets a severe headache.
At least one, a slender, ringleted Virginian named George Pickett, flatly refused to keep his on his head, and came dangerously close to being dismissed for a resultant excess of demerits. For someone as oddly shaped as Sheridan, the stiff, bulky uniform was a sweaty discomfort.
Even such a congenital stoic as Ulysses S. Grant found voice to complain: "My pants sit as tight to my skin as the bark to a tree. ...if I bend over quickly or run, they are very apt to crack with a report as loud as a pistol..."
Then there were the classes. The West Point curriculum at mid-century included mathematics, physical sciences, civil and military engineering, English composition, French, Spanish, rhetoric and ethics, history, constitutional law, and-almost as an afterthought-military tactics. A typical mathematics course included algebra, geometry, trigonometry, applied algebra, and mensuration.
A 390-page mathematics textbook would routinely be covered in five weeks of study. By academy mandate, each student received a daily recitation grade in every subject. Sheridan, like most midwesterners and southerners, found himself at a distinct disadvantage to eastern cadets when it came to studies. Contrary to the popular image of a West Point dominated by aristocratic southerners, most of the faculty and highest-ranking cadets came from the East, where better schooling gave them a long head start in the academy's stifling classrooms.
Within each class there was a self-contained democracy of shared struggles and competition. Here again, the widely held notion of a domineering southern clique has been greatly exaggerated. Small-town midwesterners like Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan were far more typical of the West Point of their day than the patrician Virginian, Robert E. Lee.
Far from being an elite university of privileged scholars, the academy was a practical minded school for engineers, whose skills at road building, canal laying, railroad-grading, and bridge-throwing were in much greater demand than soldierly attributes and martial bearing.
The most accomplished cadets were reserved for the engineering corps, the lowest-ranking for the cavalry. Despite it’s remarkable showing in the just-concluded Mexican War, the army and its professional officer corps were held in low esteem by the American public. "Soldier, soldier, will you work?" was a common schoolboy taunt for men in uniform."
The academy curriculum reflected this imbalance. Only one course, in a cadet's senior year, dealt with the broader implications of military education: Dennis Hart Mahan's celebrated seminar on the science of war. Mahan, an eccentric, charismatic teacher who always sported a furled umbrella, had made West Point his entire life (he would die, perhaps a suicide, when forced into retirement in 1871).
A devotee of France in general and Napoleon in particular, he founded the academy's Napoleon Club and preached the little corporal's doctrine of toujours l'audace. "Successful warfare is almost always offensive warfare," Mahan wrote in his influential Elementary Treatise on Advanced-Guard, Out-Post, and Detachment Service of Troops, and the Manner of Posting and Handling Them in Presence of an Enemy. The slender booklet, shortened to Out-Post by generations of cadets, would find its way into many an officer's saddlebag during the Civil War.
Mahan's approach to war stressed the indirect offensive, the concentration of massed forces on an enemy's weakened flanks, the need to harry a foe without rest, and the then revolutionary idea that an enemy army, not a strategic point on a map, was the great object of any campaign. Mahan also taught that commanders should attempt, whenever possible, to carry the war into the heart of the enemy's homeland as a way of making him share the misery. In time, a few of his more pragmatic cadets Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan, in particular-would have cause to remember Mahan's teachings.
For now, Sheridan had all he could do to keep up his grades. Diligence aside, he was not much of a student. Unlike the surprisingly bookish Grant, who whiled away a large amount of his time at West Point lost in the imaginative novels of Bulwer Lytton, Frederick Marryat, and Washington Irving, Sheridan confined his reading to the required texts.
The only exceptions were for studies of Napoleon's campaigns, a couple of books of poetry, and a handful of biographies, including those of Samuel Johnson, Lord Byron, and Mohammed-three men who were, in their separate ways, about as far from Phil Sheridan as he was from the moon. Perhaps he should have read more; it might have taken his mind off the painfully obvious fact that he was something of an outcast among his more favored fellow cadets.
Not only was he short, unattractive, argumentative, and poor, he was also obviously Irish Catholic-at a time when the Irish potato famine had just sent hundreds of thousands of his parents' distressed countrymen pouring into the United States.
Sheridan was not long off the boat himself-literally or figuratively-and it may have been that his bristling Irishness acted as a goad to certain cadets. Whatever the case, on September 9, 1851, at the beginning of his first class year at West Point, "a quarrel of a belligerent nature" came within a whisker of ending his career before it started.
On that day, Cadet Private Sheridan (he was still a private after three years in the corps) was given a peremptory order by Cadet Sergeant William R. Terrill, of Bath County, Virginia, to "dress," or close, with the next man in line. Something about Terrill's tone offended Sheridan. Crying, "God damn you, sir, I'll run you through!" he lowered his rifle and lunged his bayonet toward the flabbergasted cadet.
At the last second he regained his self-control, lowered his weapon, and returned to line, where he continued to bombard Terrill with oaths and threats. A shocking breach of discipline had been committed before dozens of reluctant witnesses, and Terrill had no choice but to put Sheridan on report.
The next afternoon Terrill was sitting alone on the front steps of his barracks when Sheridan-accidentally or not happened by. Again something snapped. "God damn you!" Sheridan shouted, striking Terrill a wallop on the side of the head.
The two slugged it out, the much-larger Terrill quickly gaining the advantage, until they were separated by a passing officer. This time Sheridan was placed under house arrest. Both parties were required to submit written explanations of their conduct to academy superintendent Henry W. Brewerton. Terrill, for his part, maintained with some justification that he had acted "altogether in self defence."
Sheridan said only that he had been provoked by the Virginian's "improper tone" and his oppressive habit of speaking "improperly unnecessarily, and continually" to the cadets in line. Brewerton, a generally unpopular superintendent then in his last year at the academy, reviewed the incident and recommended, rather leniently, that Sheridan be suspended for a year. Secretary of War Charles M. Conrad went along with his recommendation. An unrepentant Sheridan, decrying the suspension as "a very unfair punishment," returned to Somerset and Finck & Dittoe's dry-goods store. "'
Nine months later he was back at West Point. In the interim his original class had graduated, taking with it his good friends John Nugen and George Crook. He made others, particularly a small-faced fellow Ohioan named Joshua Sill. By this time the academy had a new superintendent, the beau ideal of the army, Colonel Robert E. Lee.
Sheridan's months in exile had not noticeably improved his disposition; he received more demerits in his last year than he had totaled during the previous three. It was not a particularly well-behaved class; of the fifty-one graduates besides Sheridan, twenty had as many or more demerits. Sheridan had 189, eleven shy of automatic dismissal. (He did not, as legend has it, exceed the limit and graduate only by official sufferance.)
An Illinois cadet named John Schofield, who one day would succeed Sheridan as general of the army, had 196, as did a tall, muscular, blond-haired Kentuckian, John Bell Hood, whose destiny would take a different path.
In all five of his graded subjects, including infantry tactics and artillery, Sheridan ranked in the bottom half of his class. Still, he had managed to graduate, which was more, perhaps, than most people had expected, himself included. His name was thirty-fourth in the roll of graduates recited by Superintendent Lee, who charitably certified the fractious new brevet second lieutenant as "well qualified for all corps" of the army.
Sheridan's low class ranking disqualified him for duty in the more prestigious branches of the service. Instead he was assigned to Company D, First Infantry Regiment, then garrisoned at Fort Duncan, Texas. After the decidedly mixed hospitality of West Point, even Fort Duncan, the most out-of-the-way posting on the entire frontier, must have seemed welcome. He had now entered the ranks of the regular army, from whose comradely embrace he would never stray.
Roy Morris, Jr." Nugen, Sheridan and Crook at West Point, " Sheridan, the life and wars of General Phil Sheridan. New York: Crown Publishers, inc. 1992. p.18-23.
John Nugen, born in Ohio and appointed to the United States Military Academy from Ohio. Brevet Second Lieutenant in the Second Infantry on July 1, 1852. Second Lieutenant in the Fourth Infantry on September 29, 1853. Died at Fort Steilacoom on October 22, 1857. (Powell, p. 509.).
FORT STEILACOOM, W. T.
23 October 1855
My dear Mason:
I am happy to inform you that Fort Steilacoom is once more a quiet place - as for the past seven days it was much like a combination of Military and horse market, etc.
The Volunteer Company got off in fine order 2 P.M. yesterday -the men in fine spirits and apparently with a determination of taking the Scalp of every Redskin who may be so unfortunate as to fall in their way.
Lieut. Harrison of the Revenue Service went out as a Volunteer officer to Captain Maloney's command. Colonel A. B. Moses the same. Captain Maloney will have, when he joins Slaughter's command - 115 regulars. These with the 87 Volunteers, 31 packers and the 5 officers (with the regulars) make the Command 238 strong - Captain Maloney took one howitzer with the necessary ammunition.
I have left at this post one howitzer with plenty of ammunition and about 400 rounds of musket cartridges. However, we are looking for 10,000 rounds from Benicia daily.
Mason if you go away send Mrs. Stevens down with her family. My quarters are at her service, and I would be glad to have her come. Mrs. Slaughter tells me to say that her quarters are also ready and she would be very glad to have Mrs. S. come. The other ladies would also like to have her come. If she comes, I think I can make her very comfortable. As you are going to Vancouver, I send you a communication for Lieut. Withers, Commanding at that post to let him know when the troops left the post and other matters.
If you don't go to the Columbia River, you can forward the communication by the earliest opportunity.
2nd Lieut., Comdg.
August V. Kautz, Journals of August V. Kautz. 1857.
"October 22, 1857.
The day was spent about the garrison. I took a nap in the afternoon and was awakened up by the intelligence that Nugen was dead. He has been insensible for three days and sinking very rapidly. He died about half past four o'clock. He has sank so gradually that his death though it falls heavily upon us, it does not shock us. We are all saddened by his death and this is a great gloom upon us."
"October 23, 1857.
"The funeral passed off well. Many people attended, and some came down from Olympia. I had to hurry all day as I had much to do, having arranged to go down the Sound to attend to some quartermaster's duty, purchases in lumber at Port Gamble.
"I was busy all day making an inventory of Nugen's effects. Most of his things will go off at private sale."
"November 17, 1857.
"I was busy all day with the lumber and in preparing Mr. Nugen's affairs and in fixing up his accounts. He will have several hundred dollars above his debts besides his pay for three or four months."
"January 4, 1858.
I arranged Nugen's papers. I found unexpectedly a letter to Mrs. Slaughter dated July 30th which he probably intended to send but did not, perhaps on account of his expected leave of absence and subsequently on account of his sickness. I shall send it to her as it may be valuable to her. He proposes matrimony to her as far as I read the letter."
NUGEN WRITES MASON AND TILTON
As soon as Lieutenant Nugen received word of the outbreak he dispatched a letter from Fort Steilacoom, dated at 8 o'clock on the morning of October 30th, to Mason, as follows:
Fort Steilacoom, W. T.
October 30th, 8 o'clock a. m., 1855.
Hon. C. H. Mason,
Acting Governor, W. T.
Sir: I have just received an express from Capt. Sterrett, commanding the Decatur, informing me that the Indians on White river have broken out, and that seven whites and two Indians have been murdered. Amongst the whites were one or two women.
On Sunday, the 28th, fifty-five men under the command of Captain C. C. Hewitt, went up the Dewamish en route for the White river country.
A rumor came in here last evening (brought by one of the rangers and friendly Indians) to the effect that McAllister and nine others of the rangers were killed last night on the Puyallup, and that the Indians are advancing towards this post 250 strong. I am unable to say how true this is, but fear that it is too true.
Your obedient servant,
(Signed) John Nugen,
2d Lieut., 4th Inf.
On the next morning he sent the following letter to Adjt. Gen. James Tilton:
Fort Steilacoom, W. T.
October 31, 1855.
Adj't. General, W. T. Volunteers.
Sir: I have the honor to state that I have called upon the citizens of Pierce county for one company of volunteers to act against the Indians on White river and vicinity, who have been murdering our citizens and attacking the company of rangers under Captain Eaton, mustered into the service of the United States.
This call has been promptly responded to, and a company of forty men are now ready to take the field under the command of Captain Wallace, who will report to you for orders.
I wish you would come down to our post, as I think your presence would expedite matters. I trust you will succeed in getting another company in your place, as I am of the opinion that no less than 100 men should think of taking the field, they to act together, and the work will speedily be finished. I trust the acting governor will approve of my action, as I could see no other way to maintain the peace of our country.
I am, sir, very respectfully,
Your most obedient servant,
(Signed) John Nugen,
2d Lieut., 4th Inf., Com. Post.
Head Quarters, Fort Steilacoom, November 1, 1855.
James Tilton, Adj't. General, W. T. Volunteers, Olympia.
Sir: I have detained Captain Wallace's company of volunteers to assist in protecting this post in case an attack should be made. Dr. Tolmie, just in from Nisqually, informs me that one of his shepherds saw a band of some 20 Klickatats just in rear of Nisqually last night.
I have nearly all the women and children in the county at the post, and will of course protect them.
I would respectfully request that all the men in this section of the country be called out, as I am firmly of the belief that we are to have a general Indian war in this vicinity.
Send me down cartridges at the earliest moment, as it is reported the Indians are to make an attempt at taking our fort tonight. This is only a report, but I wish to have plenty of ammunition, and I am rather short just at the present time. With great respect I have the honor to be Your most obedient servant,
(Signed) John Nugen,
2nd Lieut., 4th Inf., Com. Post.
On the 2nd, Lieutenant Nugen received the express from Captain Maloney, the survivors having reached Fort Steilacoom, and he immediately dispatched a letter to the adjutant general, in the following words:
Fort Steilacoom, Wash. Ter.
November 2, 1855.
Adj't. General, Territory of Washington.
Sir: I have just received an express from Capt. Maloney. I send you a copy of his letter to Major Raines.
The following men composed the express: George R. Bright, Jos. Miles, A. B. Moses, Wm. Tidd, Bradley, Dr. Burns, and Rabbeson, your sheriff. The express was ambuscaded near White River, and Miles killed and Moses mortally wounded and left in the woods.
I send Captain Wallace with his company to open communications with Capt. Maloney, who will reach White River tonight, and I fear small parties will be coming in from his camp tomorrow. Captain Wallace will make a forced march, and reach Capt. Maloney before daylight, if he has good luck.
Hurry up the rangers, so that there may be short work of this matter. You had better let Mrs. Moses know this sad news yourself. If he is still alive Capt. Wallace will rescue him.
Very respectfully yours,
(Signed) John Nugen,
Lt. 4th Inf., Com. Post.
Fort Steilacoom, Washington Territory,
November 4, 6 p. m., 1855.
Adjt. General, Washington Territory.
Sir: I have just received an express from Capt. Maloney, informing me that Lieutenant Slaughter with fifty regulars, and Captain Hays, with fifty volunteers, had met the Indians yesterday about 8 A. M. They had taken a position on the right bank of the river, and opposite the troops crossing. The river was too high to ford, and the Indians hid behind logs firing, so the fight became general, and lasted until about 4 P. M.
Thirty Indians were killed, and no telling how many were wounded, as they were carried to the rear. Slaughter had some men posted on a hill in the rear of his position, where they could see and count every Indian who fell. Slaughter killed one, and Lieutenant Harrison killed two.
Our loss, one soldier killed, who was felling a tree in order to cross the stream; one soldier wounded severely, and one volunteer wounded.
Today they had 150 men to hunt them up. They will have hard work to keep out of the way of the troops.
Col. Moses' body was found, and Captain Maloney says that he will bring it in when he returns. Miles' body was found today.
Mr. Tidd carries an express to the Columbia river. If you can expedite his movements, please do so. Captain Wallace joined Captain Maloney yesterday, and the rangers left here today, and will join him probably tomorrow.
(Signed) John Nugen,
2d Lieut., 4th Inf., Com. Post.
Adj't. General, W. T.
Sir: I send you a letter received from Captain Maloney's camp last evening. The troops had another running fight with the Indians on the 4th inst. This brush took place on the Green river. The Indians took advantage of the thick brush to fire on the advance guard, after which they would run.
In the affair Edgar was mortally wounded, also a soldier named Kellet, and a packer named Parsons. Andrew Birge and two soldiers were severely wounded.
The Indians in the lower Puyallup have broken out, so there is more work.
Captain Maloney's pack train is coming in, and will reach this post today. The train brings the remains of Moses, Miles and McAllister. I wish to know whether the bodies are to be interred here or sent to Olympia. Let me know by return express.
Captain Wallace's company comes in with the pack train. A company of seventeen men, under Captain Carson, raised here, started yesterday for the lower Puyallup.
Very truly yours,
(Signed) John Nugen,
2d Lieut., 4th Inf., Com. Post.