Execution Hollow

A place for odd or rarely told stories about pre-WWI West Point & the Hudson Valley. 

Crazy First Days as a Cadet, 1814

Crazy First Days as a Cadet, 1814

One of the craziest first days as a cadet has to be the experience of future Chief of Ordnance George D. Ramsay, USMA Class of 1820. Ramsay was appointed at just age 12! Setting off from Virginia in August of 1814, the young man and a chaperone made their way by stage to New York City, a journey of about four days passing through Baltimore, Lancaster, and Philadelphia. They arrived at the American Hotel on Broadway to rest before finding passage to West Point. But, because Ramsay was wearing his cadet uniform for the journey, he was recognized and informed that the Corps was actually in the City encamped on Governor's Island. After meeting a couple of cadets, he was invited to join them at the encampment and finish the journey to West Point with the Corps. 

Castle Williams on Governors Island, designed and built (1807-1811) by West Point's first Superintendent, Jonathan Williams. 

Castle Williams on Governors Island, designed and built (1807-1811) by West Point's first Superintendent, Jonathan Williams. 

Arriving on Governor's Island, Ramsay settled into one of the cadet tents and unofficially joined the Corps' activities. Because the War of 1812 was still underway, the camp gave a real Army experience for the Corps. This was never clearer than on Ramsay's first full day in camp. The 12-year old was welcomed to the Army by witnessing the execution of a deserter. This poor soul was likely Thomas Fitzgerald, who's death on August 20, 1814 was recorded in The Long-Island Star on August 24th. They reported that Fitzgerald was "shot on Governor's Island pursuant to the sentence of a Court martial, for frequent acts of desertion." What a first day!

George D. Ramsay by Matthew Brady.  Source: NARA

George D. Ramsay by Matthew Brady.  Source: NARA

Ramsay's experience as a new cadet only got worse. After a sloop trip back to West Point with the Corps, the cadets all headed for the two messes, Mrs. Thompson's (near the current Firstie Club) and one operated by Isaac Partridge on the Plain near the present location of the Supe's House.  Ramsay went to Mrs. Thompson's first, but was turned away. He then tried Partridge's and was also barred from entry. Homesick and forlorn, he wandered alone around the Plain until his spirits lifted. Wandering back to Mrs. Thompson's, he was shown kindness by Souverine, Mrs. Thomspon's assistant. Souverine was of African-Caribbean ancestry and was known for her wit and good-humor. With a good meal in him, Ramsay's spirits were lifted and his cadet career was off to a proper start. 

Best of luck to the West Point Class of 2020!!

Sources:

Ramsay, George D. "Recollections of Cadet Life of George D. Ramsay," in George W. Cullum, Biographical Register of the Officers and Graduates of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., Third Edition Revised and Extended, Vol. III. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, and Co., 1891. 

Movable Monuments Part 1: Wood's Monument

Movable Monuments Part 1: Wood's Monument

West Point, from above Washington Valley, 1834

West Point, from above Washington Valley, 1834