I understand the subject of your letter to be that the cadets at the State Seminary are spoken to by the officers of the institution in too authoritative a manner, and that their commands are sometimes “arbitrary.” If you will spend a day at the Seminary I think you will understand the better. There everything must move by the clock and to the minute. This requires quick motion on the part of every one (to which, as you doubtless know, our boys are but little accustomed - except, indeed, when they are after mischief, and then they are rather too quick); hence the quick, authoritative, decided tone of voice necessarily assumed by military men. This at first, and for some time, grates harshly on the ears and feelings of boys who have been accustomed to home tones and to take as long time as they pleased to do a thing, or to go to a place that they haven't much fancy for, and it is natural enough therefore that he should be, even unduly, sensitive under it.
It is for us at home, parents and citizens, to guard ourselves that we do not suffer the reflection of this sensitiveness to exercise an undue influence on our feelings. I think that some gentlemen have sent chronic cases to this institution as their last hope for a cure, but we do not intend to keep that kind of a hospital. Before we have been able to get rid of them, however, they have sown some bad seed, which will take a little time, care, and patience all round, to eradicate.
As to the regulations, for the government of all connected with the institution, they were prepared with much care and labor about the middle of November by a Board convened for the purpose by an order of the Board of Supervisors at a meeting in August last, and composed of three members of this Board and the members of the Academic Board. That they were not published and placed in the hands of each as was intended to have been done, was no fault of any member of the institution or myself, but arose from the [illegible], though doubtless well-intentioned, assumption of authority on the part of an individual member, in whose hands the manuscript had been placed for preservation, but [who], when called for it by the superintendent at the moment of his departure for New Orleans, to take with him to be printed, refused to give it up for that purpose, on the ground that they had not been submitted to the Board of Supervisors, although that Board had adjourned from August to next May, having ordered the institution to be opened on the first Monday in January, and the regulations to be prepared for its government.
In this dilemma, I directed the superintendent to have such portions as related to the duties, studies, division of time, and deportment of cadets, copied in writing and placed on order boards in the hall where all could see, read, and copy them.
That the professors should not sometimes be irritated at the unaccountable tricks of the boys, would be expecting too much of even professors' nature. As an example a morning or two since, when the professor of mathematics met his class, he found his own chair and all of his blackboard thickly smeared with hair-grease, which it took the only two servants the institution is able to afford, near half a day to cleanse them of, and then they had to be repainted. The only punishment the superintendent imposed on the offender, who was brought to taw, was to make him pay the expense of cleansing and repainting.
The cadets are allowed, and encouraged, to go to church on Sabbath day. A list is taken of those desiring to go, and they are placed under the charge of the most responsible cadet of the squad. In two instances citizens of Alexandria reported to me that some of them were seen in grogshops. In the first instance I apprised the superintendent, in the second I wrote him a letter designed for effect on the young men. To show you the character of the man it has been our real good fortune to obtain the services of for this position, I enclose you his reply - and have no objection, to your showing it to some of your friends, although it is written with the unreserve of private correspondence.1 . . . Whilst he will require them to discharge their duties, one alike to themselves, their family, and their institution, he is loath to believe ill of them, and I stand up in their defense.
It can hardly be expected that everything will work smooth at the [beginning) in such an institution as this. Time, patience, care, and forethought is – to use a surgical term - the “lubricating fluid” (illegible), and then it will be a gallant ship entering on an open sea of success after having surmounted the shoals and quicksands of navigation.
A great help to this will be in home-folk impressioning the conviction that “there is no other name known unto men, whereby he can” get creditably through this institution, but order and industry.
1 See pages 128-129. — ED.
SOURCE: Walter L. Fleming, General W.T. Sherman as College President, p. 148-50