- Parentage and early life -- appointment to West Point -- Virginian room -- Mates -- acquaintance with General Winfield Scott -- character of the West Point training -- importance of learning how to obey -- a trip to New York on a wager -- the West Point Bible -- class -- dismissed from the Academy without trial -- intercession of Stephen A. Douglas -- restoration to Cadet duty -- James B. McPherson -- John B. Hood -- Robert E. Lee.
I was born in the town of Gerry, Chautauqua County, New York, September 29, 1831. My father was the Rev. James Schofield, who was then pastor of the Baptist Church in Sinclairville, and who was from 1843 to 1881 a ‘home missionary’ engaged in organizing new churches, and building ‘meeting-houses,’ in Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri. My mother was Caroline McAllister, daughter of John McAllister of Gerry. We removed to Illinois in June, 1843, and, after a short stay in Bristol, my father made a new home for his family in Freeport, where he began his missionary work by founding the First Baptist Church of that place. In all my childhood and youth I had what I regard as the best possible opportunities for education, in excellent public schools where the rudiments of English were  taught with great thoroughness, in a fair amount of all kinds of manly sports, and in hard work, mainly on the farm and in building a new home, which left no time and little inclination for any kind of mischief. At sixteen years of age I spent three months in surveying public lands in the wilds of northern Wisconsin, and at seventeen taught district school in the little town of Oneco. By that time I had chosen the law as my profession, and was working hard to complete the preparatory studies at my own expense. The winter school term in Oneco having closed early in the spring of 1849, I returned to Freeport and resumed my struggle with Latin. Then an unforeseen event turned the course of my life. The young man who had been appointed to West Point from our district only a year or two before had failed to continue his course in the Military Academy. Thus a vacancy occurred just at the close of Mr. Thomas J. Turner's term in Congress. There was no time for applications or for consultation. He must select another candidate to enter the following June, or leave the place to be filled by his successor. Fortunately for me, Mr. Turner, as one of the public-school directors, had been present at an examination where the subject with which I had to deal was mathematical; if he had caught me at Latin, the result must have been fatal to all my prospects. Besides, Mr. Turner had heard from his brother James of the stamina I had shown in the public land-surveying expedition; and also from my father of my determination to get a good education before beginning the study of law. So he brought me a cadet appointment when he came home, and said he believed a boy with that record could get through West Point, the training there being, in his opinion, a good preparation for the study of law. The little savings from all my past work had been invested in a piece of land which was sold to fit me out  for my journey to West Point, including some inexpensive visits en route. I reported at the Academy on June 1, 1849, with less than two dollars in my pocket, which I conscientiously deposited with the treasurer, as required by the regulations. My reception was of the most satisfactory character. William P. Carlin of the second class, and Hezekiah H. Garber of the third, both from Illinois, found me out very soon after I reported, took me under their protection in a brotherly way, and gave me some timely advice—not to take too seriously any little fun the ‘men’ might make of my blue dress-coat and fancy gilt buttons, or anything like that; but I never experienced anything even approaching to hazing. My rather mature appearance may have had something to do with the respect generally paid me. It was true I was only seventeen years and nine months old, as recorded in the register, but my experience may have had some visible effect. I was assigned to a room in the old South Barracks, which were demolished the next year. My room-mates were Henry H. Walker and John R. Chambiiss, two charming fellows from Virginia. We had hardly learned each other's names when one of them said something about the ‘blank Yankees’; but instantly, seeing something that might perhaps have appeared like Southern blood in my face, added, ‘You are not a Yankee!’ I replied, ‘Yes; I am from Illinois.’ ‘Oh,’ said he, ‘we don't call Western men Yankees.’ In that remark I found my mission at West Point, as in after life, to be, as far as possible, a peacemaker between the hostile sections. If the great West could have been heard, and its more dispassionate voice heeded, possibly peace might have been preserved. My experience at West Point did not differ in many particulars from the general average of cadet life, but a few incidents may be worthy of special mention. My  experience in camp was comparatively limited. The first summer I was on guard only once. Then the corporal of the grand rounds tried to charge over my post without giving the countersign, because I had not challenged promptly. We crossed bayonets, but I proved too strong for him, and he gave it up, to the great indignation of the officer of the day, who had ordered him to charge, and who threatened to report me, but did not. That night I slept on the ground outside the guard tents, and caught cold, from which my eyes became badly inflamed, and I was laid up in the hospital during the remainder of the encampment. On that account I had a hard struggle with my studies the next year. While sitting on the east porch of the hospital in the afternoon, I attracted the kind attention of General Winfield Scott, who became from that time a real friend, and did me a great service some years later. In our third-class encampment, when corporal of the guard, I had a little misunderstanding one night with the sentinel on post along Fort Clinton ditch, which was then nearly filled by a growth of bushes. The sentinel tore the breast of my shell-jacket with the point of his bayonet, and I tumbled him over backward into the ditch and ruined his musket. But I quickly helped him out, and gave him my musket in place of his, with ample apologies for my thoughtless act. We parted, as I thought, in the best of feeling; but many years later, a colonel in the army told me that story, as an illustration of the erroneous treatment sometimes accorded to sentinels in his time, and I was thus compelled to tell him I was that same corporal, to convince him that he had been mistaken as to the real character of the treatment he had received. That third-class year I lived in the old North Barracks, four of us in one room. There, under the malign influence of two men who were afterward found deficient, I contracted the bad habit of fastening a blanket against  the window after ‘taps,’ so that no one outside could see us ‘burning the midnight oil’ over pipes and cards. The corps of cadets was not as much disciplined in our day as it is now. If it had been, I doubt if I should have graduated. As it was, I got 196 demerits out of a possible 200 one year. One more ‘smoking in quarters’ would have been too much for me. I protest now, after this long experience, that nothing else at West Point was either so enjoyable or so beneficial to me as smoking. I knew little and cared less about the different corps of the army, or about the value of class standing. I became quite indignant when a distinguished friend rather reproved me for not trying to graduate higher—perhaps in part from a guilty conscience, for it occurred just after we had graduated. I devoted only a fraction of the study hours to the academic course—generally an hour, or one and a half, to each lesson. But I never intentionally neglected any of my studies. It simply seemed to me that a great part of my time could be better employed in getting the education I desired by the study of law, history, rhetoric, and general literature. Even now I think these latter studies have proved about as useful to me as what I learned of the art and science of war; and they are essential to a good general education, no less in the army than in civil life. I have long thought it would be a great improvement in the Military Academy if a much broader course could be given to those young men who come there with the necessary preparation, while not excluding those comparatively young boys who have only elementary education. There is too much of the ‘cast-iron’ in this government of law under which we live, but ‘mild steel’ will take its place in time, no doubt. The conditions and interests of so vast a country and people are too varied to be wisely subjected to rigid rules. But I must not be misunderstood as disparaging the West Point education. As it was, and is now, there is,  I believe, nothing equal to it anywhere in this country. Its methods of developing the reasoning faculties and habits of independent thought are the best ever devised. West Point training of the mind is practically perfect. Its general discipline is excellent and indispensable in the military service. Even in civil life something like it would be highly beneficial. In my case that discipline was even more needed than anything else. The hardest lesson I had to learn was to submit my will and opinions to those of an accidental superior in rank who, I imagined, was my inferior in other things, and it took me many years to learn it. Nothing is more absolutely indispensable to a good soldier than perfect subordination and zealous service to him whom the national will may have made the official superior for the time being. I now think it one of the most important lessons of my own experience that, while I had no difficulty whatever in securing perfect subordination and obedience in a large public school when I was only seventeen years old, or ever afterward in any body of troops, from a squad of cadets up to an army of men, others did not find it by any means so easy to discipline me. What I needed to learn was not so much how to command as how to obey. My observation of others has also taught much the same lesson. Too early independence and exercise of authority seem to beget some degree of disrespect for the authority of others. I once knew a young majorgen-eral who, in his zeal to prevent what he believed to be the improper application of some public funds, assumed to himself the action which lawfully belonged to the Secretary of War. The question thus raised was considered paramount to that of the proper use of the funds. The young officer lost his point, and got a well-merited rebuke. But it is not to be expected that complete military education can be obtained without complete military experience. The rules of subordination and obedience  in an army are so simple that everybody learns them with the utmost ease. But the relations between the army and its administrative head, and with the civil power, are by no means so simple. When a too confident soldier rubs up against them, he learns what ‘military’ discipline really means. It sometimes takes a civilian to ‘teach a soldier his place’ in the government of a republic. If a soldier desires that his own better judgment shall control military policy, he must take care not to let it become known that the judgment is his. If he can contrive to let that wise policy be invented by the more responsible head, it will surely be adopted. It should never be suspected by anybody that there is any difference of opinion between the soldier and his civil chief; and nobody, not even the chief, will ever find it out if the soldier does not tell it. The highest quality attributed to Von Moltke was his ability to make it clearly understood by the Emperor and by all the world that the Emperor himself commanded the German army. My constitutional habit once led me into a very foolish exploit at West Point. A discussion arose as to the possibility of going to New York and back without danger of being caught, and I explained the plan I had worked out by which it could be done. (I will not explain what the plan was, lest some other foolish boy should try it.) I was promptly challenged to undertake it for a high wager, and that challenge overcame any scruple I may have had. I cared nothing for a brief visit to New York, and had only five dollars in money which Jerome N. Bonaparte loaned me to pay my way. But I went to the city and back, in perfect safety, between the two roll-calls I had to attend that day. Old Benny Havens of blessed memory rowed me across the river to Garrison's, and the Cold Spring ferryman back to the Point a few minutes before evening parade. I walked across the plain in full view of the crowd of officers and ladies, and appeared in  ranks at roll-call, as innocent as anybody. It is true my up-train did not stop at Garrison's or Cold Spring, but the conductor, upon a hint as to the necessity of the case, kindly slacked the speed of the express so that I could jump off from the rear platform. In due time I repaid Bonaparte the borrowed five dollars, but the wager was never paid. The only other bet I made at West Point was on Buchanan's election; but that was in the interest of a Yankee who was not on speaking terms with the Southerner who offered the wager. I have never had any disposition to wager anything on chance, but have always had an irresistible inclination to back my own skill whenever it has been challenged. The one thing most to be condemned in war is the leaving to chance anything which by due diligence might be foreseen. In the preparations for defense, especially, there is no longer any need that anything be left to chance or uncertainty. I attended the Bible-class regularly every Sunday after I went to West Point, and rejoiced greatly in that opportunity to hear the Scriptures expounded by the learned doctor of divinity of the Military Academy. I had never doubted for a moment that every word of the Bible was divinely inspired, for my father himself had told me it was. But I always had a curious desire to know the reason of things; and, more than that, some of my fellows were inclined to be a little skeptical, and I wanted the reasons with which I could overwhelm their unworthy doubts. So I ventured to ask the professor one Sunday what was the evidence of divine inspiration. He answered only what my father had before told me, that it was ‘internal evidence’; but my youthful mind had not yet perceived that very clearly. Hence I ventured very modestly and timidly to indicate my need of some light that would enable me to see. The learned doctor did not vouchsafe a word in reply, but the look of amazement and scorn he gave me for my display of ignorance  sealed my lips on that subject forever. I have never since ventured to ask anybody any questions on that subject, but have studied it out for myself as well as I could. Soon after that the doctor preached a sermon in which he denounced skepticism in his own vigorous terms, and consigned to perdition all the great teachers of heresy, of whom he mentioned the names—before unheard, I am sure, by the great majority of cadets, though their works were to be found in the West Point and all other public libraries. I never looked into any of those books, though other cadets told me that they, at his suggestion, had sought there for the information the good doctor had refused to give us. I have never, even to this day, been willing to read or listen to what seemed to me irreverent words, even though they might be intended to convey ideas not very different from my own. It has seemed to me that a man ought to speak with reverence of the religion taught him in his childhood and believed by his fellow-men, or else keep his philosophical thoughts, however profound, to himself. Another sermon of the good doctor of divinity, which I did not happen to hear, on the Mosaic history of creation, contained, as stated to me, a denunciation of the ‘God-hating geologists.’ That offended me, for I had, in common with all other cadets, learned greatly to admire and respect our professor of geology. So I did not go to the Bible-class any more. But the professor of ethics continued to drive his fine fast horse, much the best one on the Point, and I believe the best I had ever seen. Hence he continued to enjoy my esteem, though perhaps he did not know it. Near the beginning of the last year of my cadet life an event occurred which very nearly proved fatal to my prospects, and I have often wondered that it did not have some effect on my hopes. But, singularly enough, I never had a moment's doubt or anxiety as to the final  result. It was then the custom for candidates to report on June 1, or within the next few days. They were organized into sections, and placed under the instruction of cadets selected from the second class to prepare them, as far as possible, for examination about the middle of the month. I was given charge of a section in arithmetic, and have never in all my life discharged my duty with more conscientious fidelity than I drilled those boys in the subject with which I was familiar, and in teaching which I had had some experience. We had gone over the entire course upon which they were to be examined, and all were well prepared except two who seemed hopelessly deficient upon a few subjects which they had been unable to comprehend. Not willing to omit the last possible effort in behalf of those two boys, I took them to the blackboard and devoted the last fifteen or twenty minutes before the bugle-call to a final effort to prepare them for the ordeal they must face the next morning. While I was thus employed several of my classmates came into the room, and began talking to the other candidates. Though their presence annoyed me, it did not interfere with my work; so I kept on intently with the two young boys until the bugle sounded. I then went to my quarters without paying any attention to the interruption, or knowing anything of the character of what had occurred. But one of the candidates, perhaps by way of excuse for his failure, wrote to his parents some account of the ‘deviltry’ in which my classmates had indulged that day. That report found its way to the War Department, and was soon followed by an order to the commandant of cadets to investigate. The facts were found fully to exonerate me from any participation in or countenance of the deviltry, except that I did not stop it; and showed that I had faithfully done my duty in teaching the candidates. After this investigation was over, I was called upon to answer for  my own conduct; and, the names of my guilty classmates being unknown to the candidates, I was also held responsible for their conduct. I answered by averring and showing, as I believed, my own innocence of all that had been done, except my neglect of duty in tolerating such a proceeding. My conscience was so clear of any intentional wrong that I had no anxiety about the result. But in due time came an order from the Secretary of War dismissing me from the academy without trial. That, I believe, shocked me a little; but the sense of injustice was too strong in my mind to permit of a doubt that it would be righted when the truth was known. I proposed to go straight to Washington and lay the facts before the government. Then I realized for the first time what it meant to have friends. All my classmates and many other cadets came forward with letters to their congressmen, and many of them to senators whom they happened to know, and other influential men in Washington. So I carried with me a great bundle of letters setting forth my virtues in terms which might have filled the breast of George Washington with pride. There was no public man in Washington whom I had ever seen, and probably no one who had ever heard of me, except the few in the War Department who knew of my alleged bad conduct. The Secretary of War would not even see me until I was at last presented to him by an officer of the army. Then he offered me his forefinger to shake, but he could give me no encouragement whatever. This was after I had been in Washington several weeks. My congressman, Mr. Campbell, who had succeeded Mr. Turner, and several others received me kindly, read my letters, and promised to see the Secretary of War, which no doubt they did, though without any apparent effect. The only result was the impossible suggestion that if I would give the names of my guilty classmates I might be let off. I had made an early call upon  the ‘Little Giant,’ Senator Douglas, to whom I had no letter, and whom I had never met; had introduced myself as a ‘citizen of Illinois’ in trouble; and had told my story. He said he was not on good terms with that administration, and preferred not to go near the War Department if it could be avoided, but if it proved necessary to let him know. Hence, after all else failed, including my personal appeal, which I had waited so long to make, I told Mr. Douglas all that had occurred, and suggested that there was nothing left but to ‘put in the reserve,’ as the tacticians call it. He replied: ‘Come up in the morning, and we will go to see about it.’ On our way to the War Department the next morning, the senator said, ‘I don't know that I can do anything with this—Whig administration’; but he assured me all should be made right in the next. That seemed to me the kind of man I had looked for in vain up to that time. I waited in the anteroom only a few minutes, when the great senator came out with a genial smile on his face, shook me warmly by the hand, and bade me good-by, saying: ‘It is all right. You can go back to West Point. The Secretary has given me his promise.’ I need not go into the details of the long and tedious formalities through which the Secretary's promise was finally fulfilled. It was enough for me that my powerful friend had secured the promise that, upon proof of the facts as I had stated them, I should be fully exonerated and restored to the academy. I returned to West Point, and went through the long forms of a court of inquiry, a court martial, and the waiting for the final action of the War Department, all occupying some five or six months, diligently attending to my military and academic duties, and trying hard to obey all the regulations (except as to smoking), never for a moment doubting the final result. That lesson taught me that innocence and justice sometimes need powerful backing. Implicit trust in Providence does not  seem to justify any neglect to employ also the biggest battalions and the heaviest guns. During all that time I continued to live with my old room-mate, James B. McPherson, in a tower room and an adjoining bedroom, which La Rhett L. Livingston also shared. I had been corporal, sergeant, and lieutenant up to the time of my dismissal; hence the duties of private were a little difficult, and I found it hard to avoid demerits; but with some help from our kind-hearted inspecting officer, Milton Cogswell,—bless his memory!— I contrived to get off with 196 demerits in a possible 200 that last year. In a mild way, McPherson was also a little under a cloud at that time. He had been first captain of the battalion and squad marcher of the class at engineering drill. In this latter capacity he also had committed the offense of not reporting some of the class for indulging in unauthorized sport. The offense was not so grave as mine, and, besides, his military record was very much better. So he was let off with a large demerit mark and a sort of honorable retirement to the office of quartermaster of the battalion. I still think, as I did then, that McPherson's punishment was the more appropriate. Livingston was one of those charming, amiable fellows with whom nobody could well find any fault, though I believe he did get a good many demerits. He also seemed to need the aid of tobacco in his studies. William P. Craighill, who succeeded McPherson as first captain, had no fault whatever, that I ever heard of, except one—that was, standing too high for his age. He was a beardless youth, only five feet high and sixteen years old when he entered the academy; yet he was so inconsiderate as to keep ahead of me all the time in everything but tactics, and that was of no consequence to him, for he was not destined to command troops in the field, while, as it turned out, I was. It has always seemed to me a little strange that the one branch which  I never expected to use afterward was the only study in which I graduated at the head. Perhaps McPherson and Craighill thought, as I did, that it made no difference where I stood in tactics. Among all the tactical officers of our time, Lieutenant John M. Jones was esteemed the most accomplished soldier and tactician, and the most rigid but just and impartial disciplinarian. It had been my good fortune to enjoy his instruction while I was private, corporal, sergeant, and lieutenant, and I fully shared with others in the above high estimate of his character. I even flattered myself that my soldierly conduct in all that time had not escaped his favorable notice. When my case was before the court of inquiry in the summer of 1852, the professors who had been called to testify gave me a high character as a faithful, diligent student. When Lieutenant Jones was called to testify as to my character as a soldier, he replied that, in his opinion, it was very bad! While I was not a little surprised and disappointed at that revelation of the truth from the lips of the superior whom I so highly respected, and did not doubt for a moment his better judgment, I could not be unmindful of the fact that the other tactical officers did not know me so well, and had not so high a reputation as Lieutenant Jones in respect to discipline; and I felt at liberty to avail myself, in my own interest, of the opportunity suggested by this reflection. Hence, when, after my complete restoration to the academy in January, I found my demerits accumulating with alarming rapidity, I applied for and obtained a transfer to Company C, where I would be under Lieutenant Cogswell and Cadet Captain Vincent, my beloved classmate, who had cordially invited me to share his room in barracks. John B. Hood was a jolly good fellow, a little discouraged at first by unexpected hard work; but he fought his way manfully to the end. He was not quite  so talented as some of his great associates in the Confederate army, but he was a tremendous fighter when occasion offered. During that last period of our cadet life, Colonel Robert E. Lee was superintendent of the academy; he was the personification of dignity, justice, and kindness, and was respected and admired as the ideal of a commanding officer. Colonel Robert S. Garnett was commandant of cadets; he was a thorough soldier who meted out impartial justice with both hands. At our last parade I received ‘honorable mention’ twice, both the personal judgment of the commandant himself. The one was for standing at the head of the class in tactics; the other, for ‘not carrying musket properly in ranks.’ Who can ever forget that last parade, when the entire class, officers and privates together, marched up in line and made their salute to the gallant commandant! To a West-Pointer no other emotion equals it, except that of victory in battle.