Robert E. Lee

Joseph G. Totten

U.S. Mil. Acady. West Point

Feby. 3 1855


The obstruction to the mails by a heavy snow storm, has delayed my reception of your letter of the 6th Inst. enclosing communications from Mr. J. Sharp & Mr. A.S. McGrath to the Hon. Secy. of War: & calling for a report on the points raised by them, in favor of their restoration to the Acady., to introduce other cases of a similar nature, growing out of the recent semi-annual Exams. All these young gentlemen, whether recommended for discharge or not, were deemed by the Acad. Board clearly deficient in their respective courses at their examination in each distinct branch: & were separately so declared by
a unanimous vote. Their progress & proficiency exhibited by the record of their daily recitations
& the result of their examination, left no doubt in the minds of the Board on this point. After the
examination of all the classes was completed, came the question: must all be recommended for discharge, or can any be retained with a prospect of benefit to themselves & without injury to others? In making a determination, conduct, character, attention to duty &c., together with the necessary discharge of their course enable those to proceed with their class; has been always taken into consideration by the board; with a view of encouraging such as are oft times depressed at the difficulties in their progress, to persevere in their efforts & to continue the performance of their duties, and they believe the hope of the consideration their efforts & conduct will receive, has caused many at the foot of the class to succeed, who otherwise would have yielded under their discouragement & relaxed their exertion.

In accordance with this principle the facts developed at the Exam., without going into the histories of previous years, in which Mr. Sharp may be correct, though in the Register of last June, he stands lowest of those pronounced deficient in Jany.; it was determined unanimously after much discussion & deliberation that Cadets Hildt & Fort of the 2nd Class, might be able to continue their studies with a reasonable prospect of ultimate success. Mr. Hildt had always been attentive, correct in his deportment, was secure in Chemy. & Drawing, & thought not proficient in Phily., his examinations showed some knowledge of his course, & he was not quite 19 years of age. Mr. Fort was proficient in Phily., did well at the examn., stood fair in drawing, & though he failed in Chemy., it was the branch the readiest recovered, & his Prof. thought he could relieve himself by June. He is besides a good soldier, & though his demerit did exceed Mr. Hildt’s & Sharp’s, the excess was not large, & he had served through the encampment a period fruitful in delinquencies, while they were in furlough. His deficiency in French in Jany. 1854, referred to by Mr. Sharp was not overlooked, but it was argued that his mind was slow though progressive; & at the beginning of every subject he had met with difficulty, but had finally mastered it. It was hoped he would do the same in Chemy. He had not quite attained his 20th year. Mr. Sharp signally failed in his Exam. in Philosophy; was low in Chemy. & Drawg., & though of fair capacity had neglected both his studies & his duties. Had no claims to soldiership, was 20 years & 6 months old, & in the opinion of his Prof. gave no promise of future success. He was recommended for discharge by a vote of 8 to 1. Cadet Hawkins deficient in Phily. & Chemy.; in the opinion of his Profs. & from his examination in both subjects, gave no hope of eventually succeeding; & was recommended for discharge by a unanimous vote.

In the 3rd Class, each was similarly examined, & it was believed by the Board that there
was ground for hope, that Cadets Bell, Costin & Fulton, might recover their lost ground or at least by their conduct & attention would form no bar to the progress of others. Their amt. of demerit was not large, & had been incurred mostly during the encampment. Since the 1st Sept. it indicated attention to their duties; & their soldiership was good. The case of Cadet Burnet was particularly discussed. He was deficient in Math.—, 4th in French & 23rd in Drawg.—He has exhibited from the beginning of his course a peculiarity of mind; is believed to have sufficient capacity & a taste for literature.—His attention to regns as exhibited by his demerit (91) was not good; but upon examination it was found that this inattention was confined to the
period of the encampment; & that since the 1st of Sept. he had incurred but 10. This disposition to improve, the board thought indicated a prospect of ultimate success. The vote however for his discharge was 3 to 6. & decided in the negative.

To the other cases, including Mr. McGrath, the Board believed from the little aptitude possessed by each; their inattention to regns. & to their respective studies; their amount of demerit reaching nearly to the maximum limit (99); that if able to proceed with their class, there was scarcely a hope of their success.—

Cadets Crumpton & Lewis had entered with the preceding class & had thus been over a portion of the course of the preceding year, twice; & commenced the 3rd Class course with a standing higher
perhaps than they would otherwise have carried: & had rapidly fallen to the foot of the class.
The greater part of their demerit had been incurred in the latter part of the term. The vote for the
discharge of Cadet Lewis was unanimous, & for that of Cadet Crumpton there was one
dissenting voice.

It is true as stated by Mr. McGrath that his recitation marks were better than those named;
but I am sorry to say his examination was worse; & was considered a total failure, while all were bad. It is also true, that he was above Mr. Curtin W. Bell & Fulton in French—But all were low & none deficient.—Neither am I aware of any grave charges of misconduct having been presented against him; still he was not conspicuous for attention to regns. or the correct performance of his duties.

I reported in my letter of the 18th Jany, the diminution that had been made in some
instances, on the final making up of the demerit Roll & the causes. Mr. McGrath not having
exceeded the limit prescribed by the regns. was not called on for any explanations, but I am not
aware of any good reason for reducing his amount.

I have now reviewed the main points raised by these young gentlemen in their claim for restoration to the Acady; & have endeavoured to give the genl. considerations that influenced the Acad. Board in their efforts to retrieve a portion of their comrades from the penalty which all had incurred. It is difficult to give within the limits of a letter, the weight they possessed with each member, acquainted with all the circumstances & the character of the individuals.

I hope it has been sufficient to show, that while wishing to relieve some, no injustice has been done to others.

I have the honour to be Very respectfully &cSigned/ R. E. Lee Br. Col.
Supt. Mil. Acady.

Superintendent’s Daily Correspondence
United States Military Academy

Superintendent’s Letter Book No. 3, pp. 184–85. Addressed “Genl: Jos: G. Totten Chief Engineer Washington City D.C.”