A Mysterious Cadet Death
Recently, while walking through the West Point Cemetery, I found myself near the Cadet Monument in the area where early classes erected monuments to fallen classmates. One in particular reads:
In memory of William R. Henry of Indiana who drowned during his passage across Lake Erie August 23d 1849...
One would suppose a shipwreck or a steamer explosion, which was fairly common, or perhaps an accident embarking or disembarking, which was also common. But none of these explanations appears to have been the cause of Cadet Henry's early death.
In Hazzard's History of Henry County, 1822-1906: Military Edition, the author recounts William R. Henry's last day. He includes a letter dated August 24, 1849 from an H. Garrard (possibly K. Garrard the future Union General?) to Superintendent Henry Brewerton. It reads:
Dear Sir :— It is with much sorrow that I am compelled to write to you concerning the disappearance of Cadet Henry.
Mr. Henry and myself were on board the steamboat Queen City, crossing from Sandusky City to Buffalo. Last night just before retiring he requested me to awake him on our arrival at Buffalo. I went to his state room, on reaching this place, this morning, but his berth was empty, although all the clothes he had worn the previous day were as he had placed them on going to bed.
I remained together with Mr. Norris on board until every possible searchand inquiry had been made, but as yet nothing has been discovered concerning his fate. Mr. Henry's trunk is in charge of James C. Harrison, Agent Reed's Line, Buffalo, New York.
I have the honor to be Your obedient servant.
Hmm. Suicide? Foul play? Maybe not. In the same history, author George Hazzard says that while Henry was on furlough before his death, he stayed at a hotel and woke up in a different room than the one rented to him. The author recounts, "Incidents of similar character showed him to be a somnambulist and his death, as related in the letter of General Miles, must doubtless be ascribed to this fact."
Death by sleepwalking! The West Point Cemetery has many tales to tell, but this is one of the most unusual I have come across. Rest in Peace Cadet Henry...