How West Point Survived Mutiny. (Part 2)

How West Point Survived Mutiny. (Part 2) - When Mutiny Flared at West Point (Continued...
When Mutiny Flared at West Point (Continued from Page 1) missiles thrown from windows. It was these charges and complaints that had brought President Monroe to West Point. Now he had seen and heard enough. During his short tour as secretary of war he had sent a brilliant young graduate, Brevet Major Sylvanus Thayer abroad to study European military pedagogy. Thayer, now just returned, would be just the man to rectify matters. Turning to General Joseph O. Swift, chief of engineers, v/ho after all was responsible for the Military Academy, and who had accompanied him on this hurried tour of inspection, the President ordered a new deal. Partridge must go; later he should be court-martialed. Thayer should Immediately be appointed to the superintend ency to bring order out of chaos. Austere Introvert An austere introt/ert from Vermont and a mathematician of parts, Partridge appears to after writing a jetter to the secretary of war: "I have the honor to inform you that Captain A. Partridge of the Corps of Engineers has returned to this post and has, this day, forcibly assumed the command and the superintend- ency of the Academy. I shall therefore proceed to New York and wait your orders." Knowledge Lacking Why did Thayer so meekly acquiecse? We lack certain knowledge, for Thayer never discussed the matter directly, and his evidence in the later trial of Partridge gives no inkling of his motives. One can easily speculate, dismissing immediately any thought of vacillation or weakness on Thayer's part; his record both before and after belies that. In New York Thayer reported to Swift. Forty-eight hours later came the aide-de-camp of the chief of engineers, saber clanking, to place Partridge in arrest and reinstate Thayer. "Old Pewt" was to be court- martialed, charged with mutiny. He was permitted to go to New York to prepare his defense, and the corps of cadets made plain their opinion' ed themselves before Thayer's quarters. The quintet announced themselves to be a committee representing the entire cadet corps and presented a round robin signed by more than 150 men, demanding the removal of Captain Bliss. Superintendent Acts The superintendent sent them back to their quarters, after informing them that, although any cadet feeling him- .self aggrieved would have a hearing, such collective action was unmilitary. But they returned shortly, this time bearing a set of charges of "unof- ficerlike conduct" against Bliss. Presenting this paper, the truculent five now announced that noncompliance with their demand would mean the rebellion of' the entire corps. Thayer's reaction was prompt. The five committeemen were ordered off the post. An inspector came and supported the superintendent's action. President Monroe upheld Thayer. Captain Bliss, however, was relieved as commandant, since "he does not appear to have sufficient command of his temper." The rumpus went on for more than a year. A courtmar- tial declared itself to be without jurisdiction, on the ground that the cadets were not under military law, Here, of course, lay the crux of the whole situation. Thayer had pointed this out President James Monroe In his original report of the Incident, noting that ". . . the radical cause of the disturbance to which the Military Academy is liable is the erroneou.*; and unmilitary impressions of the Cadets imbibed at an inauspicious period of the institutio/i when they were allowed to . . intrude their views and opinions with respect to the conduct of the Academy. So long as these impressions shall remain the Academy will be liable to combinations and convulsions and the reputation of the institution and of the officers connected with it will be put in jeopardy." The issue was settled on Aug. 21, 1819, when the attorney general of the United States, William Wirt, ruled that the "corps at West Point form a part of the land forces of the United States, and have been constitutionally subjected by Congress to the rules and articles of war, and to trial by courtmartial." Sylvania Thayer had met the second threat to his reorganization of West Point, and had won again. The Long Gray Line was on its cadenced way. (Copyright 1958, American Rerltag* Publishing Co.. Inc.) I when he departed. They accompanied him to the| steamboat dock in riotous ova-j tion, while the band played! him off "with honors of musick." i Mutiny Charge Cleared Up to West Point came an. imposing array of rank for Part-j ridge's trial, with General Win-; field Scott, "Old Fuss and' Feathers," presiding. "Old; Pewt" was found guilty of dis-; obedience of orders and of assuming command without authority. He was, however, cleared of J the specific charge of mutiny, and the court, while sentencing him to be cashiered, accom'-| ... ... tpanied it with a plea for clem-^ have lacked any administr^atiyejency on the grounds of previ- Col. Sylvanus Thayer or command ability. Filledjoys ..j,^^! perseverence.' with good intentions, he setipresident Monroe permitted I again and again plansipg^tridge to resign. forth again and again for revision of rules and for regularity in instruction and Thayer now went seriously labout the business of building I promotion yet he personally institution based upon char- violated all of them. igcter, its foundation the prem- A martinet whose excessive ^^at "a cadet docs not lie. •everity at times made hfe,cheat or steal" - the substance: miserable for some of the ca-^f y^g^^ Point's well-known dets, he was also weak. Cer- ^onor code. ^ tain strong-willed youths who ^-^6 Academy was to become had solved his character cur- ^ ^ind of secular novitiate un- ried his favor, and as a rcsultj^gr Spartan discipline, in which this clique could do no v^wngJ cadet suffered equally and! Two Nicknames 'Old Pewt" was Partridge's nickname. Stiff and ungainly,;tial command. was rewarded equally, striving | to a common goal under impar- he strutted about clad in an ancient blue uniform coat over­ laden with buttons and lace, and with such unusually widespread tails that it became known as the "Peacock." He could delegate no authority, tried to do everything himself, and was a continual loggerheads with the faculty. A far different man from Partridge was Sylvanus Thayer. A graduate of Dartmouth College previous to his short career at West Point—he was graduated in 1808, a year after his admission—he was an ardent admirer of Napoleon's military virtues, and a close student of the Little Corporal's campaigns. During the War of 1812 he had distinguished himself and had become personally known to James Monroe. Slim, erect, a soldier every Inch of his five- foot -10 frame, Thayer arrived at West Point on July 28, 1817, bearing orders for the relief of Partridge. Th§ New Academy Nobody rMllzed it at the moment, but when Sylvanus Thayer stepped across the pa rade ground and walked to the •uperlnttndent's house, the modem We«t Point had arrived. The old happy-go-lucky dayi wera ovar, now tha "young gantlaman" who rejoiced in the title of cadets were going to ba loldlers, and it would be ilka that forever after. Thayer began by handing the dltraissal orders to Partridge. Accepting the orders in grim •Hence, Partridge slipped away from the post next day and Thayer set about cleaning house. For Instance, on the departure of President Monroe, Partridge had put the entire faculty in arrest as revenge for their complaints, and that legal tangle had to be snipped. Then the corps had to be called to return, for more than half of the 213 on the rolls were on "vacation." Old Pewt Returns On August 29, Thayer was Interrupted by a long roll of drums, followed by tumultous cheers. Outside his office the corps of cadets was being pa raded, under arms. By whose order? By none other than Alden Partridge! "Old Pewt" had returned. Clad in the "Pea cock," he was reading out an order he himself had written, reassuming command of West Point. Thayer quietly left Uie post, Favoritism Abolished The housecleaning was a thorough one. A careful screen-i ing of the corps disposed of; some hardy perennials who.! through favoritism, had been! permitted to stay at the place j for years. Tradition has it that i one forty-year-old cadet was! unearthed, with a wife and; family living in Orange County.! Another cadet, so the story | goes, had but one arm. But the majority of the misfits, in Thay-| er's own language, were just;| "nuisances and should be re -i moved." They were. j Vacations were abolished.; The Academy was placed on a twelve-month cycle. Incomers were screened by a thorough examination before acceptance. Pedagogical methods adapted from Ecole Polytechinique in France were instituted. To ensure democracy, individual cadets were prohibited any out- 1 side financial assistance; each had to depend upon his government pay. Actually, no cadet now touched money: all his financial transactions were upon a checking system. Were a cadet in debt, ha got along as best ha could with what ha had, until luch time as his pay ra-aa- Ubllshed his credit Old Guard RabaU Tha Partridge clique amongst tha cadets took these changes hard, as might ba expected from unruly youngsters accustomed to selling their pay vouchers for ready cash at tremendous discount. But worst of all, from their viewpoint, was the new disciplinary setup. Captain John Bliss, 6th Infantry, had been appointed by Thayer as commandant of the cadets, to his Spartan rule. Bliss, Thayer felt, was "particularly well qualified." Actually, as It turned out, the choice was not a good one; the new commandant had a most violent temper. The storm clouds rose; and finally they burst on Sunday afternoon, Nov. 22, 1818, with reverberations which would not cease until they had reached the halls of Congress, and which would settle once and for all the heretofore moot status of the Corps of Cadets in the military hierarchy. That afternoon, Captain Bliss's temper cracked. Laying hands on a cadet misbehaving on parade. Bliss threw him bodily out of the ranks. Two days later, five cadets present- Shop Monday 9:30 A.M. to 9:00 P.M. RACINE 437 MAIN Pastel Colored BEDSHEETS Reg. 2.19 value. To fit full size beds. Comei in soft ^ $^ postel colon it for O Matching Coiei for 75e „ BASEMENT WHITE DOMESTICS! BEDSPREADS | DRAPERIES | TERRIFIC ASSORTMENT CANNON JUMBO BATH TOWELS 24" Wide 46" Long fxfro Thick/ Extra Thirsty! Stripes, Solids, Solids with Lurex, On/y C ea. 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Clipped from
  1. The Racine Journal-Times Sunday Bulletin,
  2. 04 Jan 1959, Sun,
  3. Page 3

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