Abraham Lincoln and West Point

8/25/2020 Daniel Worthington

Cadet candidates hoping to attend the United States Military Academy at West Point must be nominated for admission. United States senators or representatives have traditionally made these nominations, selecting young men or women from their respective states or congressional districts. Hezekiah G. Garber, an aspiring cadet in 1848, holds a unique distinction: he is the only cadet known to have received a nomination from Congressman Abraham Lincoln.

Hezekiah G. Garber was from Petersburg in Menard County, Illinois, one of the eleven counties making up the Seventh Congressional District, the district Lincoln represented in the U.S. House of Representatives. He was eager to receive a military education, and he solicited the help of his father Jacob Garber, a prominent farmer and justice of the peace who in the late 1840s would become a Menard County judge. The elder Garber enlisted the aid of Thomas L. Harris, a Mexican War veteran who in August 1848 would defeat Stephen T. Logan for Lincoln’s seat in Congress. How Lincoln became involved remains a mystery.

Abraham Lincoln to William L. Marcy (Papers of Abraham Lincoln)

In February 1848, Jacob Garber and Harris recommended Hezekiah for appointment in separate letters to Secretary of War William L. Marcy. Jacob related in his letter that Hezekiah, aged twenty, “has some of the requisite qualifications to make a good officer– physically.”

Well aware of West Point’s reputation for rigorous physical and academic standards, the elder Garber accentuated Hezekiah’s physical and moral qualities while minimizing his spasmodic frontier education. He offered this assessment of his son’s physical and moral fitness: “the candidate is...5 feet & about 7 inches high– free from any corporeal defect whatever, remarkably healthy– & always has been,– strong, active, & hardy– teeth well set & white– is addicted to no vice whatever.” “He writes a very fair & legible hand” Jacob wrote, “& indites well,– has studied English Grammar & the Arithmetic & may be termed by us “back woods” folks a tolerably good schollar.” Hezekiah was preparing himself to take the entrance examination “with a view to an appointment as a cadet (notwithstanding his many chances for a Defeat).”

Lincoln nominated Hezekiah in a letter to Secretary Marcy dated April 20, 1848. An unknown person wrote the text of the nomination; Lincoln signed it. Accompanying Lincoln’s nomination were the letters from Jacob and Harris.

Hezekiah received the appointment and entered West Point in July 1848. In July 1852, he graduated last in a class of forty-three, and the War Department commissioned him as brevet second lieutenant in the Fifth Infantry. From July 1852 to July 1854, Garber served garrison, scouting, and frontier duty in Kentucky and Texas. In July 1854, he received promotion to second lieutenant, and the War Department transferred him to the Fourth Infantry.

From 1855 to 1859, he was on frontier duty in California, the Oregon Territory, and the Washington Territory. In the Oregon Territory, rumors swirled of a romance between Garber and a Native American woman, leading to a reprimand and, after disobeying orders to stop seeing the woman, a six-month stint in the guardhouse. Garber died at Fort Hoskins, Oregon Territory, on October 12, 1859, aged thirty.

For more on Abraham Lincoln’s congressional career, explore the Papers of Abraham Lincoln at papersofabrahamlincoln.org.

Daniel Worthington,
Director, Papers of Abraham Lincoln

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