A Soldier's Story: Second Lieutenant Henry Ossian Flipper

Second Lieutenant Henry Ossian Flipper was born on March 21, 1856, in Thomasville, Georgia. Despite being enslaved until about 1865, he was still able to maintain his physicality and obtain his education from Atlanta University, which allowed him to accept an appointment to the US Military Academy at West Point at the recommendation of Representative James C. Freeman. He graduated n 1877 and was the first cadet of African descent to do so.

He was assigned to the 10th Cavalry and sent to Fort Sill, where Second Lieutenant Henry Flipper served as a frontier scout and surveyor.   He also acted as quartermaster. 

In 1882 Second Lieutenant Henry Flipper was accused of embezzlement by other officers, and while it was made clear during his court-martial that the charges were false. Second Lieutenant Flipper was still dismissed for "Conduct Unbecoming An Officer."

After his service, Second Lieutenant Henry Flipper worked as a civilian engineer for the US government and through the Justice Department and Department of the Interior on mining projects and other surveying projects in Alaska and Mexico and became an expert on Mexican land laws. He wrote the books: "The Colored Cadet at West Point" and "Black Frontiersman: The Memoirs of Henry O. Flipper, The First Graduate of West Point," as well as translated "Spanish and Mexican Land Laws: New Spain and Mexico."

Second Lieutenant Henry O Flipper's dismissal of service has always been considered suspect, and he continued to challenge his court-martial throughout his life. During the Spanish and American war, he tried to re-enlist, but bills in the US Senate and House that would restore his military standing stalled. After his death on April 26, 1940, his descendants continued his challenge, and on February 19, 1999, President Bill Clinton finally pardoned Seconded Lieutenant Henry Flipper.

He rests at the Flipper Cemetary in Thomasville, Georgia.


a.d. elliott is a wanderer, writer, and photographer currently living in Salem, Virginia. 

In addition to the travel writings at www.takethebackroads.com, you can also read her book reviews at www.riteoffancy.com and US military biographies at www.everydaypatriot.com

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