How West Point Cadets became Cows and Ulysses S. Grant became a cadet

An excerpt from Duty, Honor, Country which explains both:

June exams were over—Cord had passed all courses, barely—and now the cadets in the class of 1843 were free until the 28th of August. Summer furlough between the second and third years at the Academy was the highlight of most cadets’ time at West Point, being a time when they didn’t have to be at West Point.  Finishing their Yearling year, cadets went home and came back to be called Cows, due to the additional weight most gained away from the meager fare of the cadet dining hall and the strictness of the training regime.

Cord left his room and met Sam Grant, also in mufti, in the hallway of the barracks. Grant held a small haversack containing all his non-military clothing and gear.  Unlike Cord, Grant had not put on weight, although like him, Grant had gained his adult height.  Over the course of two years Grant had grown six inches, but still remained a paltry one hundred and twenty pounds.

“Looking very civilian,” Cord said to Grant.  “To Ohio?”

Grant was enthused. “Yes.  I’ll be there in a few days.”  He slapped Cord on the back.  “Be careful you don’t split those britches.”

“I’m moving slowly for just that reason.  Already ruined the shirt.”

Grant looked at the damage. “What’s that?”  The edge of a black scroll was visible etched into the skin on Cord’s chest.

Cord grabbed the left side of his shirt, covering the tattoo. “Something I got at sea in memory of my mother.  You know how the Supe feels about inking the skin.”

Grant sighed, looking back into his room, like an inmate let out for a little exercise but knowing he’s going to be locked up again. “I feel like I’ve been here forever.  Gray, gray, gray.  Buildings, uniforms, mood.”

“I don’t mind the gray,” Cord said. “Better than being on some ship.  I just thought some things would be different coming here.”

“Different how?” Grant asked.

“I don’t know,” Cord said. “Why’d you come to West Point?” he suddenly asked Grant.

Grant laughed bitterly. “I didn’t want to.  My father arranged my appointment without consulting me.  When the appointment was a given, I was informed and told in no uncertain terms that I would be going to the Academy.”

“Why’d your father want you to come here?” Cord pressed.

“My father is very conscious of pecuniary matters. It pleases him to no end that I am receiving my higher education on the government’s teat.  He also told me that he sensed I had little skill in the world of business.”

“So you are at odds with your father,” Cord said.

“No.”  Grant shrugged. “One has to trust family.  He has my best interests at heart.  It’s what a father does.”  Grant hefted his haversack over his shoulder.  “Why’d you come here?”

“To escape.”

“From your home?”

“Yes.  My journey here is the opposite of yours. I wrangled my appointment from an uncle on my mother’s side of the family who has political connections.  I informed my father after it was a given.”

“His reaction?”

“He was probably as pleased to hear of my appointment as you were to be informed of yours.”

“And now we both go back,” Grant observed as they walked out of the barracks together, mingling with other former Yearlings.  They were heading for South Dock to catch the ferry to New York City, where they would scatter across the country for their few months of freedom.  It was a pleasant, early summer day.  The trees were green, the sky was blue and one could almost forget the misery of the dark winter and shake off the gray stone on the buildings.

Grant stopped to shake hands with Pete Longstreet.

A new blog post every day leading up to the 150th Anniversary of the start of the Civil War on April 12th and the publication of Duty, Honor, Country, a Novel of West Point & the Civil War, the first in my series.

Tomorrow:  How Texas Caused the Mexican War


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