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AfriGeneas Military Research Forum Archive

Re: Henry O. Flipper
In Response To: Henry O. Flipper ()

Nice to have you aboard Mr. Phillips. I was speaking with a mutual acquaintance of ours last night, (9/02/03) John Mapp. We were speaking of you and your interest in the Vicksburg Affair. I met John at Fort Laramie in 1997. We attended the interpretive workshop there which was sponsored by the NPS. For a week or so we lived the life of frontier cavalrymen.

My opinion or view of Lt. Flipper is “colored” in that as a person of color myself, my study and analysis of him have led me to hold him accountable for his “fall”. I believe Flippers experience at The West Point Military Academy was the beginning of an arrogance that blinded him to the realities of the world he was living in. The treatment he received at the Academy should have sharpened his senses, made he wise to the attitude of whites of his day. Just to graduate from the Academy one would have pondered, at least now “he would think he was acceptable”. Flipper went beyond this; he had no intention of excepting the door prize of “acceptability”.

In his own mind his experience at the academy did more than make him acceptable or even better, it made him superior. Not only as a Black man, Black Officer, (the first one to graduate from the “Point”), but as an Officer. Lt. Flipper’s arrogance fueled the fire of the racist officers that hated him and distanced those white officers who supported his cause. Flipper sought to get away with a type of social conduct that out side the army, would have seen black men beat down, wiped, shot, or hung and torched.

Here is a man “trouble” itself would have avoided had he not chased it down and tackled it. Flippers true indiscretion was laid bare for the whole Army to see, the Black enlisted and noncommissioned personnel, white officers and their wives and any and all white civilians in around Fort Davis. One might even wonder, under these circumstances if indeed the Black Troopers themselves questioned Flippers leadership out of the field. Even the Natives in the area had to have known, that here was a man asking for someone to hand him a jar of sweet goo so that he could pour it on himself and then lie down in a fire ant bed.

Lt. Flipper was already under scrutiny, because he was a Black officer, (not the first, when Flipper graduated from the “Point” in 1877, the Civil War was only a decade and a year in ones memory. Many veterans of that war, black and white were serving in the ranks of the frontier army and could still remember the black officers of that period, The Louisiana Native Guard, Martin Delany and those enlisted personnel of the 54th and 55th Massachusetts volunteers who were promoted to the rank of officer at the wars end and in early 1866.). He was also a West Point Graduate and he had the job of post quartermaster and commissary officer, he was in possession of large sums of money. This was a new stage in the experiment to enlist the service of Blacks as regulars. The burden that came with that type of notoriety was great in itself, now the burden would quadruple in weight because of Flippers indiscretions with a white woman. Whites looking in those familiar places to find reasons to discredit the Black Soldier did not have to look very hard or far in Flippers case. Lt. Flipper’s behaviors left him wide open to scrutiny which eventually cost him his military career.

Though they may have been racially motivated the charges brought against Lt. Flipper had some substance, (here I will leave the door open for other historians to share). I believe the final verdict of the courts martial was correct; however I believe the sentence was unjust and racially motivated. The military judicial system had allowed white officers to remain in the army for offenses far less in nature.

Having said this, one most still note that Henry Ossian Flipper over came the harsh and unjust hand the army dealt him, he live a distinguished life. Though he sought all his life to be exonerated, he was not, hope unfulfilled lie with him in the grave, but justice would come long after death. Despite this sad chapter of his life, his contributions outside the army as a civil engineer and land surveyor are still felt today.

Hopefully I have not been too vague, it was not my intention. I want to give opportunity to other historians to expound on points brought up in this brief and share other opinions and facts as they regard Lt. Flipper.

18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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