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Henry Flipper Court-Martial: 1881

A Different Kind Of Trial, The Court-martial, Flipper's Later Fate, Suggestions For Further Reading

Defendant: Henry Flipper
Crimes: Embezzlement and conduct unbecoming an officer
Chief Defense Lawyer: Merritt Barber
Chief Prosecutor: John W. Clous, Judge Advocate
Presiding Officer: G. Pennypacker
Court: J. F. Wade, G. W. Schofield, W. E. Waters, William Fletcher, W. N. Tisdall, R.G. Heiner, E.S. Ewing, W.V. Richards
Place: Fort Davis, Texas
Date of Trial: September 15; November 1-December 13, 1881
Verdict: Not guilty of embezzlement; guilty of conduct unbecoming an officer
Sentence: Dishonorable discharge from the army, with loss of all benefits

SIGNIFICANCE: This court-martial deserves to be known if only because it drove out of the army the first African American to graduate from West Point and thus the first to be a regular army officer. Beyond that, many historians believe the case grew out of racial prejudice and that the sentence was disproportionately harsh.

In the years following the Civil War, despite the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution, the United States remained a largely segregated society. West Point at least deserves some credit for accepting its first African-American cadet, James Webster Smith, in 1870, even though his time there was filled with continual "pain and strain" and he never graduated. (He failed a course in his fourth year and was dismissed.) Two more African Americans were admitted, but both failed courses and dropped out. Finally in 1873, the fourth African American and the first to graduate was admitted, Henry Ossian Flipper, born a slave in Georgia in 1856.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1833 to 1882