Cadet Johnson Whittaker
Cadet Whittaker was a West
Point Academy attendee. Whittaker was a son of a slave mother and grew
up on the plantation. As he was growing up he saw the Plantation he grew
up on basically destroyed by the Union Army. As time went on he was more
fortunate than most of the black children in those days. He got a great
education and even attended college at North Carolina. Then Whittaker was
accepted by the United States Military Academy. In 1876 he arrived at West
Point full of fear, and excitement. At the time of Whittakers arrival there
was only one other Black Cadet attending the academy. And him and Whittaker
were roommates until the other Cadet graduated from the academy. Then Whittaker
went through what was called the silent treatment for the remaining four
years. Whittaker could handle that much though.
One morning Whittaker was found
in his room face down in a puddle of blood unconscious. His hands and feet
were tied to the bed and it looked as if he had been badly beaten. And
even slashed with a knife. The school doctor arrived and after a few minutes
was able to revive Whittaker. They questioned the young Cadets about what
had happened all of them said they didn't know. Then Whittaker brought
fourth a letter he had received before the beating but did not take seriously
because he had received others.
The letter read as follows:
Mr. Whittaker. You will
Be fixed Better keep
General Schofield ordered Colonel
Lazelle to conduct a full investigation. Lazelle began by questioning the
doctor at the scene and all of the Cadets. then Drew up what he thought
Lazelle and the Doctor agreed
that if one of there Cadets did something like this it would be because
of pure mischief. But all of the Cadets quickly denied having anything
to do with it.
Colonel Lazelle wrote his report
saying that for some unknown reason Johnson Whittaker had wrote HIMSELF
the note then proceeded to beat himself up and then tie his hands and his
feet to the bed. Therefore he proceeded stated that Whittaker should resign
based on his deeds or ask for a Court Martial or for a court of inquiry.
Only three days after this all happening Whittaker stood before a court
of inquiry. Whittaker reaffirmed his story over and over again even under
As the court proceeded Whittaker
attracted the nations Newspapers.
During the courts proceeding
Dozens of witnesses were called Civilians Cadets and officers. At this
time since the media was so involved in the court case of Whittaker that
President Ruthford B. Hayes then president of the United States became
involved in it and sent his right hand man to make sure that the court
proceeding taking place were fair..
Whittaker was found guilty
in this court proceeding.
The man that the President
went to him and told him that he did not agree with the judgment that the
court had found so it went on to a court-martial proceeding. Whittaker
really wanted this so he could prove that he was innocent and the other
cadets wanted it so that they could prove that Whittaker was lying.
The court-martial began in
New York City on January 20, 1881. Ten officers a lot of who did not attend
west point were appointed to hear the case.
Whittaker went to court wearing
his uniform and then pleaded Not Guilty in a firm and distinct manner.
Some of the handwriting experts
said that the handwriting was in Whittakers handwrighting. The doctor that
saw Whittaker testified that he thought Whittaker did tie and beat himself.
However another doctor testified that he didn't see it possible for Whittaker
to do that kind of thing. Some of the witnesses then testified that the
ropes around Whittakers hands were tied very tightly which brought more
things to Whittakers favor. For over four months the court-martial went
on and finally on May 17 1881 the lawyers said there ending statements.
On June 10, 1881 nearly five months to the day that the Court Martial had
begun the board reached their verdict. They found Whittaker Guilty
of both mutilating himself and of perjuring himself before the court of
Inquiry that had been conducted earlier at West Point. The board sentenced
Whittaker to a dishonorable discharge from the military academy and to
a fine of one dollar. Before the sentence could be carried out however
the case had to be reviewed by the Judge advocate General office in Washington.
December of that same year DIG Swain the judge advocate took the papers
to the secretary of war. In his opinion the verdict reached was wrong and
should be reversed. Swain not only picked away at the case but also argued
the fact that president Hayes did not have the right to order a court martial
so therefore it was an illegal proceeding. The report from the Judge advocate
of to the secretary of war was then passed on to the attorney general and
then finally the President. James Garfield had been assinated earlier that
year therefore the new President Chester Aurther received the report on
March of 1882 He then overturned the court martial findings on the grounds
that the court martial itself was not legal. Although he did not offer
an opinion on whether he thought Whittaker was innocent or Guilty.
On the same day that Whittaker
received word that his conviction was overturned he had received word that
he had been formally discharged from the US Military Academy because he
had failed a philosophy course taken almost two years before this. He went
back to South Carolina where he finished getting his education and went
on to become a Lawyer a Teacher and a school administrator. He got married
had two sons which both received commissions in the United States Army
and served as officers in War War 1. Johnson Whittaker died in 1931 at
the age of 72.
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