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Otway B. Norvell - Application to West Point 1856

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In 1856, Otway B. Norvell applied to the US Military Academy at West Point. At least he thought he was applying to West Point, when he wrote a letter to then President of the United States, Franklin Pierce, asking for his help so that he might be accepted as a candidate to become a Cadet at West Point.

I never realized how hard it was to get into this prestigious military school until I started trying to find out whether or not Otway had been accepted to the school. Apparently, there was a rigid process by which a candidate would be considered. This included the fact that he must have a letter from a representative of his state of residence, a congressman or senator, written to the War Department, attesting to his exemplary character and many virtues. Add to this various other letters from fine, upstanding citizens of his community also testifying on his behalf. There also must be an opening as each state had a limit as to just how many cadets might be appointed to attend West Point. All must be completed in a timely manner in order to be considered each year.

Otway's uncle, his father's youngest brother, Fayette H. Norvell, had been accepted to the academy in 1825 and began to attend in 1826. His application file contains no less than 11 letters lauding his virtues. I know that Fayette was accepted because his name appears in the Register of Cadet Applicants for the year 1825 with a notation that he was accepted for 1826. I searched the years 1856, 1857, and even 1858 for Otway's name in the registers; but, it is not included. I take this to mean he did not attend; and, in fact, was not even considered as having applied, although, the White House must have forwarded his letter to the President on to the school in order for it to have been in their collection of Cadet Applicant's Papers.

I think it was a shame that Otway was not able to make an appropriate application to the academy because he was the type of man who definitely would have been an asset as a commanding officer in the army, as evidenced by what those who fought with him in the Civil War thought of him, as expressed in their own letters. He was absolutely tireless in carrying out his duties; and did so in a way that gained him great respect.







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