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    Description

    John W. Phelps Autograph Letter Signed from West Point. Two and one-half pages, 8" x 9.75", West Point, July 28, 1832, to his father, John Phelps of Guilford, Vermont. Only days after arriving at the United States Military Academy, John Phelps writes of life as a cadet and the fear of cholera among troops out west fighting "the Indians." In part as written:

    "We have a great many things to contend with that are seldom in the other world. firstly, the third class retaliate upon us the injury they received while Plebes as they call us. reports are laid upon us without mercy and finally there is nothing but what we have to bear. However several of late resented their treatment, fought with them, and of course were imprisoned. If a Cadet gets in the course of the year 200 the merits, he is without farther ceremony turned away. ten were sent off last week. . . . I have abandoned all use of tobacco, for which thing numbers get reported every week. . . . I have been on guard several times and have once or twice been reported the best Sentinel. our discipline here differs not much from that of war. . . . Our artillery drill is very pleasing to me. a battery of nine guns throwing forth its thunder, lightning and smoke constantly must please any one, but I have a peculiar taste for it."

    Phelps graduated four years later and was assigned to an artillery unit. This letter is on toned paper with minor separations at some folds. The final page has two tears resulting in the loss of a small amount of text. The address panel contains an early West Point postmark.


    More Information:

    John Wolcott Phelps (1813-1885) was born and died in Guilford, Vermont. In the seventy-two years between those events, he not only witnessed change, he also worked and sacrificed to create it. Following his 1836 graduation from the U.S. Military Academy, Lieutenant Phelps was given command of an artillery regiment and ordered to Florida Territory to take part in the Seminole War. He later served throughout the Mexican War under Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott. In the late 1850s, Phelps was a member of the Utah Expedition. That expedition, the largest U.S. military exercise between the Mexican and Civil Wars, was sent to Utah to suppress a possible revolt from the state's large Mormon population.

     

    At the outbreak of the Civil War, Phelps, an abolitionist, was quickly promoted to brigadier general and, while serving under General Benjamin Butler in early 1862, was instrumental in the capture of New Orleans and its environs. He was soon stationed seven miles outside the Southern city at Camp Parapet, which quickly became a refuge for fugitive slaves. After large numbers of slaves had arrived, Phelps organized the men into three regiments, drilled them, and asked General Butler to supply them with 3,000 muskets, 225 swords. Butler refused and ordered Phelps to enlist the fugitives in manual work, but Phelps refused and remained adamant in pressing the U.S. military into using former slaves as soldiers, not as unskilled labor. After Butler failed to act, Phelps resigned in disgust on August 21, 1862, the same day the Confederate government declared him an outlaw for his actions.

     

    But thanks to Phelps' efforts and the course of the war, changes came quickly. Over the remaining months of 1862, President Lincoln's thinking -- propelled forward by men like Phelps -- changed so much that in his January 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, he not only freed Southern slaves, but he also made known intentions to enlist those freedmen in the U.S. military. Two years later in the spring of 1865, 179,000 black men were serving in the U.S. military.

     

    Following his resignation, John Phelps retired to his Vermont home. In the 1880 presidential election, the American Party nominated the sixty-seven-year-old veteran, whose platform included justice for American Indians.



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