United States Military and Naval Academy Records

By Carolyn L. Barkley

Last Saturday, Navy beat Army –yet  again – in their annual gridiron conflict. It seemed fitting to follow that contest with a look into the records available for these two bastions of military education. (Apologies to the Coast Guard, Air Force and Merchant Marine…perhaps future blogs will discuss those academies.)

First, let’s take a look at the historical background of West Point and Annapolis.

The ultimate location of the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, strategically placed above the western banks of the Hudson River, played a part in the Revolutionary War. Thaddeus Kosciuszko designed fortifications on the site in 1778. A year later, George Washington established his headquarters there. Despite the best efforts of Benedict Arnold, the British never captured West Point, and today it is the oldest continuously occupied military post in the United States. The Revolutionary War effort relied heavily on European engineering and artillery support. Realizing that the new nation would need to develop such skills among the members of its own military infrastructure, President Thomas Jefferson signed into law a bill establishing the United States Military Academy in 1802. Engineering became the focal point of the West Point curriculum until the time of World War I when Superintendent Douglas MacArthur diversified the course offerings. Later, following World War II, an increased emphasis was placed on science and technology. Women became eligible for admission following legislation to that effect in 1976. A Notable West Point Graduates List includes such individuals as Sylvanus Thayer of the class of 1808, known as the “Father of the Military Academy.” In addition, notable graduates include most of the high command of both the Confederate and Union armies (Robert E. Lee, George G. Meade, John Sedgwick, Ulysses S. Grant, “Stonewall” Jackson, George E. Pickett, Ambrose P. Hill, James E. B. Stuart, and George A. Custer), as well as individuals such as George S. Patton, Omar Bradley, Dwight D. Eisenhower, George Catlett Marshall, Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin, Michael Collins, Brent Scowcroft, and Kristin Baker, class of `1990, the first woman brigade commander.

The United States Naval Academy at Annapolis was established several decades after West Point. Following the end of the Revolutionary War, the Continental Navy was demobilized. In 1795, almost a decade later, Washington realized the need for an American naval presence that would help combat the growing threat of piracy. By 1825, however, no action had been taken and President John Quincy Adams asked Congress to establish a naval academy. He was unsuccessful, and it was not until 1842 that a training ship, the Brig Somers, was used to train volunteers with an eye to their recruitment in the navy. This effort proved to be a disaster, however, as mutiny broke out among the students and several were hanged. In 1845, a naval school was established at, ironically, an army base, Fort Severn in Annapolis, Maryland. Five years later it became the United States Naval Academy. In 1933, the academy began to award bachelor of science degrees and in 1976 began to accept women. Notable Graduates of Annapolis provides an extensive list, with biographies, of among others, a President of the United States (Jimmy Carter), Cabinet members, ambassadors (to Portugal, Ireland, Spain, United Kingdom, Norway, Slovak Republic and China), members of Congress, state governors, secretaries of the Navy, the Air Force, commandants of the Marine Corps, chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Chiefs of Naval Operations, Nobel Prize winners (Albert A. Michelsone and Jimmy Carter), seventy-three Medal of Honor winners (beginning with Orion P. Howe in the class of 1870), fifty-two astronauts (from Alan B. Shepard, class of 1945, and Walter M. Schirra, class of 1946, to  Christopher Cassidy, class of 1993), and many more.

Cadet records and applications provide a great deal of genealogical and historical information. The original records are housed at the National Archives and include U. S. Military Academy Cadet Application Papers, 1805-1866, Record Group 94, Records of the Adjutant General’s Office 1780s-1917, NARA microfilm publication M688; U. S. Naval Academy Registers of Delinquencies, 1846-1850, 1853-1882, and Academic Conduct Records of Cadets, 1881-1908, 1846-1908, Record Group 405, Records of the U. S. Naval Academy, NARA microfilm publication M991; Military Academy Registers, 1867-1894, Record Group 94, Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, NARA microfilm publication M2061; and Register of Cadet Applications, 1819-1867, Record Group 94, Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, NARA microfilm publication M2037. Luckily for those of us searching for a cadet ancestor, access to these records is now available on ancestry.com in its database U.S. Military and Naval Academies, Cadet Records and Applications, 1805-1908. (Please note, if your personal subscription does not provide access to this database, visit your local library and use Ancestry Plus.) Over 115,000 individuals are named.

As always, I explored this database for Barclays/Barkleys.  I looked at the cadet record for Richard Warren Barkley. From other research, I knew that Richard was born in Chillicothe, Missouri, on             21 February 1859, the son of James Chambers Barkley III (1832-1898) and Melinda Catherine Warren (1840-1868). Originally appointed to the Naval Academy on 19 June 1875, he was dismissed on            13 December 1876 “for hazing.” He was reinstated on 8 July 1880 by an Act of Congress and graduated on 9 June 1883. The cadet record that I reviewed indicated that Richard had been appointed from the 10th Congressional District of Missouri by the Hon. R. A. Debolt and that he was first examined for admission on 19 June 1875. Richard had received both public and private education and his religious denomination was listed as Christian. His father, named as J. C. Barkley, was an editor. The conduct report began on     4 October 1881, a year following his reinstatement. He apparently was not a model midshipman, being cited almost daily for such infractions as no regulation name on wardrobe, no foot tub, dirty working suit, coat off in corridor, and a dusty window sill. On 4 October 1882 he was cited for inattention to duty with no muster list at sea drill; on 4 January 1883 he was cited for improper conduct for laughing while marching to an afternoon recitation; on 31 January 1883 he was cited for insubordination when he insisted on resigning the position of cadet officer [Cadet Ensign] after having been warned that to do so would be considered as insubordinate conduct. Following his resignation he was deprived of his cadet rank and placed in solitary confinement for seven days. While the contents of this record do not paint a complimentary picture, they do provide quite a detailed one. I also looked at the United States Military Academy Cadet Application File for William H. Barclay of Uniontown, Pennsylvania. On 4 June 1861 his father, W. D. Barclay, wrote a letter to the new president, Abraham Lincoln, seeking an appointment for his son whom he described as 21 years of age, 5’ 11½”, a good English scholar and good at mathematics. He indicated that he had written previously and had been informed that there were no vacancies. In an oblique reference to mobilizations for the Civil War, Barclay noted that based on reading the newspaper, he believed that there were “now or soon will be” vacancies. Other letters, written by Barclay neighbors, attested to the good character of William H. Barclay, noting that his father was a “highly respectable influential and true republican.”

While the ancestry.com database is rich with information on cadets at the two academies, other online sites provide information on academy graduates: Genealogy Today includes a list of members of the United States Naval Academy Graduates Association from 1840 to 1890 who were listed in the fifth annual reunion booklet (1890). Genealogy Quest provides a list of Dismissed Cadets from West Point from its inception in 1802 to 1835. While no information is included other than name, state and year of dismissal, one can search for the dismissed information in the ancestry.com database. I was pleased to find no Barclays or Barkleys during a quick scan of the list, which is arranged in semi-chronological order, beginning with John Doyle of Washington, D.C., dismissed in 1803, and ending with C. A. Kennedy of Tennessee, dismissed in 1834. Another Genealogy Quest list provides the names of twenty-seven African-Americans nominated to West Point between 1870 and 1887. Do not overlook information that might be provided in biographies and autobiographies. For example, Access Genealogy provides a list of members of the West Point graduating class of 1877 taken from an autobiography of Lt. Henry Ossian Flipper, the first “graduate of color” from the United States Military Academy.

Volume 1 of Patrick G. Wardell’s Genealogical Data from United States Military Academy Application Papers, 1805-1866 (Heritage Books) compiles data taken from handwritten applications of young men who wrote directly to the Secretary of War. Another interesting article is George Hexrt Pheble’s “U. S. Navy and Naval Academy Registers: A Source of Biographical and Genealogical Information,” published in New England Historical and Genealogical Register 27 (July 1873), 237-238.

Cadet records provide a great deal of genealogical and anecdotal information about your army or navy service academy ancestor. I hope you will take the opportunity to use them and in the meantime – Go Army!

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