[Autograph letter on cadet life at West Point.]. George B. Reab.
[Autograph letter on cadet life at West Point.]

[Autograph letter on cadet life at West Point.]

U. S. Military Academy, West Point, New York, 26 October 1836. 8vo (10” x 8”). 2 1/2 integral pp., integral address-page postmarked West Point, October 26.

A revealing 1830s letter from a cadet at the U.S. Military Academy to his uncle, William H. Reab of Salem, Washington County, New York, with an account of the violent tendencies of his fellow cadets as well as those of at least one officer.

Reab notes that his uncle “may think it somewhat strange” to see a letter from him “postmarked West Point.” He continues: “I made application to the Sec. War last Winter but did not receive my appointment until September last, in which time I had given up all hope of ever obtaining my object. I had made up my mind to go South this Fall and would have done it had not I got the appointment of Cadet.” Reporting that he likes West Point very well, “with the exception of Academical duty, which is very hard,” Reab offers an account of his daily activities, and touches on the tensions arising at times between his fellow cadets: “We study from 6 in the morning until 10 at evening. The military part is very pleasant. I would like to do nothing but attend to Tactics. There is about 250 Cadets on the Point, and all fine fellows. They are composed of Southern & northerners and think considerable of honour. If the least difficulty arises between them, it generally ends by shooting or dirking.”

He describes an incident involving his roommate, one Nathaniel Greene Jr. of Boston, who was “stabbed by a Southerner and came very near losing his life sometime since. And last Saturday he had some difficulty with one of the Cadet Officers in which the Officer struck at him with a large dirk, but fortunately did not take effect.” Reab addresses these fights and segues to a description of West Point’s rules:

You cannot imagine what a place it is for such game. They think nothing of fighting duels. The rules of the institution are so very strict that it is next to an impossibility to live up to them. If we break one, then we are sure to be seen by some Officer who reports us (some reports count 13 and others less) and if we have 300 recorded against us, we are dismissed from the institution. I sometimes get completely disgusted at the rules, and so I do not care whether I am dismissed or not. I begin to repent. I wish I had never thought of West Point.

In spite of his enjoyment of certain aspects of West Point life, he ruminates on a plan to quit the institution: “If I leave this fall, I shall go to Georgia and try my luck. There is more advantages for a young man in the Southern States than in the Northern. It is very hard for a young man to get in business without capital in the Northern citys while at the South the men are not so well versed in business and will give a young man a chance if he is anything and understands himself.” In closing, he asks a favor of his uncle: “There is one thing I would ask of you, that is to let me take your pocket Pistols. It is difficult to obtain them here, and if you would be so good as to let me…then I will return them in the course of 3 or 4 weeks. If you send them please put them in a box wrapped up in an old comforter or something which would make it appear like clothing. You could send it by the stage to Troy and deliver it to the care of White Baker & Morrell and I will send to them for it… You may think I am in some kind of a scrape and want your pistols to carry me through but that is not the case…”

West Point records show that Reab deserted on 24 Nov. 1836, just a month after writing this letter. As planned, he headed south, marrying Anna E. E. Walker of Hamburg, Georgia in 1839. Reab apparently remarried after Anna died in 1845, and died himself in Jacksonville, Florida in 1850, at the age of 33.

Located on the west bank of the Hudson River, West Point is the oldest occupied military post in the U.S. During the Revolutionary War, Gen. George Washington regarded West Point as the most important strategic position in America, and transferred his headquarters there in 1779. Following the war, many soldiers and legislators—including Washington, Hamilton and John Adams—pushed to create an institution devoted to the science of warfare in order to eliminate America's dependence on foreign engineers and artillerists during times of war. The United States Military Academy was established in 1802 under President Thomas Jefferson. Col. Sylvanus Thayer, who served as West Point’s Superintendent from 1817 to 1833, made civil engineering central to its curriculum. For its first fifty years, graduates of U.S.M.A. helped construct many of America’s earliest railway lines, bridges, harbors and roads. After receiving recognition during the Mexican and Indian wars, West Point graduates occupied many high-ranking military positions in the North and South during the Civil War. After the Civil War, West Point began to widen its curriculum beyond civil engineering to become “the first step in a continuing Army education” (westpoint.edu).

REFERENCES: A Brief History of West Point at westpoint.edu; Augusta Chronicle (Sept. 19, 1850).

CONDITION: Old folds and minor separations; no losses to the text.

Item #6345

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