15
Jun
09

On This Day, June 15: Henry Ossian Flipper

June 15, 1877

First African American graduate of West Point

Henry Ossian Flipper, born a slave in Thomasville, Georgia, in 1856, is the first African American cadet to graduate from the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. Flipper, who was never spoken to by a white cadet during his four years at West Point, was appointed a second lieutenant in the all-African American 10th Cavalry, stationed at Fort Sill in Indian Territory.

The United States Military Academy–the first military school in America–was founded by Congress in 1802 for the purpose of educating and training young men in the theory and practice of military science. Established at West Point, New York, the U.S. Military Academy is often simply known as West Point.

Located on the high west bank of New York’s Hudson River, West Point was the site of a Revolutionary-era fort built to protect the Hudson River Valley from British attack. In 1780, Patriot General Benedict Arnold, the commander of the fort, agreed to surrender West Point to the British in exchange for 6,000 pounds. However, the plot was uncovered before it fell into British hands, and Arnold fled to the British for protection.

Ten years after the establishment of the U.S. Military Academy in 1802, the growing threat of another war with Great Britain resulted in congressional action to expand the academy’s facilities and increase the West Point corps. Beginning in 1817, the U.S. Military Academy was reorganized by superintendent Sylvanus Thayer–later known as the “father of West Point”–and the school became one of the nation’s finest sources of civil engineers. During the Mexican-American War, West Point graduates filled the leading ranks of the victorious U.S. forces, and with the outbreak of the Civil War former West Point classmates regretfully lined up against one another in the defense of their native states.

In 1870, the first African American cadet, James Webster Smith, was admitted into the academy but never reached the graduation ceremonies. It was not until 1877 that Henry Ossian Flipper became the first to graduate, after enduring four years of prejudice and silence. In 1976, the first female cadets were admitted into West Point. The academy is now under the general direction and supervision of the department of the U.S. Army and has an enrollment of more than 4,000 students.

“First African American graduate of West Point,” The History Channel website, http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=Article&id=5095 (accessed Jun 15, 2009).

On This Day

1215 – King John of England put his seal on the Magna Carta.

1752 – Benjamin Franklin experimented by flying a kite during a thunderstorm. The result was a little spark that showed the relationship between lightning and electricity.

1775 – George Washington was appointed head of the Continental Army by the Second Continental Congress.

1836 – Arkansas became the 25th U.S. state.

1844 – Charles Goodyear was granted a patent for the process that strengthens rubber.

1846 – The United States and Britain settled a boundary dispute concerning the boundary between the U.S. and Canada, by signing a treaty.

1864 – An order to establish a military burial ground was signed by Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton. The location later became known as Arlington National Cemetery.

1911 – The Computing-Tabulating-Recording Co. was incorporated in the state of New York. The company was later renamed International Business Machines (IBM) Corp.

1978 – King Hussein of Jordan married 26-year-old American Lisa Halaby, who became Queen Noor.

1989 – In Shanghai three Chinese workers were sentenced to death for setting fire to a train during a pro-democracy protest.

1992 – It was ruled by the U.S. Supreme Court that the government could kidnap criminal suspects from foreign countries for prosecution.

June 15, 1863

Lincoln calls for help

On this day, President Abraham Lincoln calls for help in protecting the capital.

Throughout June, Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia was on the move. He had pulled his army from its position along the Rappahannock River around Fredericksburg and set it on the road to Pennsylvania. Lee and the Confederate leadership decided to try a second invasion of the North to take pressure off Virginia and to seize the initiative against the Army of the Potomac. The first invasion, in September 1862, failed when the Federals fought Lee’s army to a standstill at Antietam.

Lee later divided his army and sent the regiments toward the Shenandoah Valley, using the Blue Ridge Mountains as a screen. After the Confederates took Winchester, Virginia, on June 14, they were situated on the Potomac River, seemingly in a position to move on Washington, D.C. Lincoln did not know it, but Lee had no intention of attacking Washington. All Lincoln knew was that the Rebel army was moving en masse and that Union troops could not be certain as to the Confederates’ location.

On June 15, Lincoln put out an emergency call for 100,000 troops from the state militias of Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, and West Virginia. Although the troops were not needed, and the call could not be fulfilled in such a short time, it was an indication of how little the Union authorities knew of Lee’s movements and how vulnerable they thought the Federal capital was.

“Lincoln calls for help,” The History Channel website, 2009, http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=Article&id=2213 [accessed Jun 15, 2009]

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