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A Subaltern's First Experiences in the Old Army Eugene C. Tidball On an early autumn day in 1848, at the army post ofFort Brown, Texas, a tall, twenty-three-year-old brevet second lieutenant hesitantly made his way along the rows of tents searching for his captain's battery. "The sun was hot," he recalled , "and the deep, dirty sand still hotter." He was reporting for his first tour of duty after graduating from the U.S. Military Academy three months earlier. The officer he was looking for was Thomas West Sherman, commander ofLight Battery E, 3d U.S. Artillery, 1836 graduate of West Point, hero of the Mexican War, renowned throughout the Old Army as an eccentric disciplinarian and known, not necessarily affectionately, as "Old Tim." The young lieutenant was John C. Tidball, who had decided during his last years at West Point that he wanted to be an artilleryman and who was experiencing the typical uncertainty and trepidation of a first day on the job. At length he found the battery, orderly and neat as might be expected. At one side were the white tents of the men; opposite were the guns and caissons, carefully protected from the weather by tarpaulins. A little to one side was "Old Tim's" tent, and there he was himself, striding up and down in front of it. I could see from the path he had worn that this was a habit with him. Although it was a hot afternoon he had his coat tightly buttoned, and his neck encased in a tall leather stock of the soldier pattern of the period. He did not walk as one at leisure or in reverie, but rather as a sentinel on post, observant of everything about him, and ready to halt and call to account any transgressor. He was about the medium height of a well built man, erect in figure and alert and military in every movement. Impressed with the importance of being correct and soldierly in this, my first reporting for duty, I had arrayed myself in my uniform, which evidently announced to him as I approached that I was his expected brevet second lieutenant, and as I drew neigh, he abruptly halted on his path and, facing towards me waited until I came up to him and with military salute introduced himself to him. At the same time I presented my order to report to him.1 1 "First Experiences," John Caldwell Tidball Papers, manuscript, U.S.M.A. Archives, West Point, New York, 7-10. Civil War History, Vol. xlv No. 3 © 1999 by The Kent State University Press 198CIVIL WAR HISTORY Sherman looked Tidball up and down with his "cold, gray eyes, unsympathetic with their hail-stone like luster." After glancing at the paper handed to him, he fixed his piercing stare upon the young lieutenant, grunted, and remarked , "You are behind time, sir. You are too late, sir. Your should have reported by the last day of September, sir. Your order states that you are to be dropped from the rolls, sir." This statement, delivered fiercely, momentarily stunned Tidball, but he explained in as positive manner as he could all of the difficulties he had experienced in arranging transportation to Fort Brown. Sherman's response was another grunt. Then he inquired if Tidball had been taken up in the morning report. "This was a poser to me," Tidball wrote in his memoirs many years later, "I am now free to confess that I had never before heard of a morning report or how it differed from an evening report, or anything else." Evidently comprehending the young lieutenant's perplexity, Sherman went off on a tangent voicing uncomplimentary remarks as to the course of instruction at West Point, saying that it seemed to be now no better than in his time, when everything was taught cadets except that which would be useful to them at the start of their service. "Particularly did he inquire of me if cadets were now instructed as to the requirements of Army Regulations," Tidball wrote, "and if I had been furnished with a copy of them." Answered in the negative, the Captain produced...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 197-222
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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