View of H. B. Boyer
What a flood of memories that name brings! Memories gay and
grave; painful and pleasant. But I can truthfully say my memories
of the place are mostly gay and pleasant.
On a hill
overlooking the Potomac River and Washington, Fort Myer was
laid out in the regular military post style of a quadrangle
with the officers' quarters facing the Potomac on the east side,
the hospital, quartermaster's and commissary buildings on the
west side, and guard-house and observatory on the south side,
and near the wall surrounding beautiful Arlington - the old
Lee Estate - the Nation's "Bivouac of the dead." Fort Myer as
I knew it is indelibly fixed in my memory. Many years after
I embraced the opportunity to revisit the place. It was the
occasion on which the Wright Brothers were to give their first
airplane built for the Government its final test of a flight
from Fort Myer to Alexandria and return, and it is interesting
to note that the Wrights refused to make the flight and obtained
an extension of time for the reason that the wind was too strong
- ten miles an hour! This visit to Fort Myer greatly
disappointed me, for the post had changed so much that I was
wholly unable to recognize any feature of it.
arriving in Washington, D.C.) Missing the last trip of the ambulance
I negotiated the distance from the end of the car line in Georgetown
to the Fort on foot, crossing the Aqueduct bridge and trudging
up the long road to the post carrying a heavy "grip" and a heavier
heart, for as this was my first separation from home and all
that word means nostalgia had already attacked me. Nor was my
dark outlook of life materially brightened by the howl that
greeted me from the barracks when the men caught sight of me.
With hilarious yells of "Fre-s-h fish! Fr-e-s-h fish!" they
surrounded and accompanied me to Top Sergeant Michael Mahaney,
a product of the old military school of non-coms, to whom I
I shall gloss
over the "settling down" process which, in my case I am sure
was rendered less difficult by reason of my being the "kid"
or youngest boy at the Fort at that time. In the adjustment
that followed I was kept quite busy for several days drawing
my allotment of clothing, uniforms, bedding, blankets, etc.,
from the quartermaster, and in drilling in the awkward squad.
I shall always remember that I arrived immediately before "retreat"
(sunset) and shortly thereafter the men were marched to the
mess-hall in column of twos. My long walk had given me an exceptional
appetite, notwithstanding my homesickness and dejection, and
I viewed the coming repast with pleasurable anticipation. On
a long bare table I found a cup of black coffee, a piece of
bread, and a plate containing five prunes! Yes, I counted
them; five - no more, no less. And on timid and anxious inquiry
I learned that a second helping was not permissible. That while
I would find no mention made of such a procedure in either Upton's
Manual or Army Regulations, it was taboo in polite Army circles,
and that Truman, the chef, would justly feel horrified and hurt
at such a display of vulgarity! The world, indeed, looked dark,
dank and dismal to me.
On the death
of Gen. A. J. Myer, which occurred August 24, 1880, a new policy
was inaugurated under the new Chief Signal Officer, General
W. B. Hazen. General Hazen, recognizing that the meteorological
work of the Corps demanded men of higher educational attainments
began reaching out into high schools, universities, and colleges.
The glittering bate was commissions. In view of the feeling
against the Army in the South at that time the number of recruits
obtained from southern universities and colleges was remarkable.
In parentheses I will state that of the seventy-one who were
at Fort Myer with me only two obtained commissions.
of the ways came on June 30, 1891, and the meteorological work
of the Signal Corps was taken over by the Weather Bureau, Department
of Agriculture, on July 1. With comparatively few exceptions,
the personnel of the Signal Corps elected to go out into civil
life. The Army, of course, protested vigorously, and it is rather
amusing, now, to note that the keynote of the protest was that
only Army rules and regulations could hold together the far-flung
stations, and make the men efficient and amenable to discipline.
This was found not to be true because under civil administration,
all the laxness that undoubtedly existed under military administration
abruptly ceased. I cannot, and will not attempt to explain this
sudden transition to a higher moral plane as regards the work
of the personnel, but I am free to state that this uplift took
place immediately, and the work of the Bureau carried on with
greater efficiency, conscientiousness, and enthusiasm.
In my telegraph
test I had a rather amusing experience with the Signal Service
sergeant in charge of the telegraph division.
reason, which I do not recall, I failed to take the test with
my class and was later ordered to appear at the Signal Office
for an individual examination.
to the sergeant, he placed me at a table containing the usual
telegraph instruments which he connected, locally, with a set
at the far side of the room.
test you out in receiving." he said. "And remember, I'm in Washington
and you, theoretically, are in Baltimore."
a newspaper, he proceeded to his table, placed his watch before
him, and began to send, gradually increasing the speed from
about fifteen words per minute. Without break I smoothly followed
the clicking instrument to twenty words per minute, twenty-three,
twenty-five and then hurriedly jumping up, I called, "Hey sergeant!"
Robinson continued sending, apparently not having heard me.
you're going to fast," I called in a louder tone. Robinson sat
unmoved and unhearing, the sounder clattering on with increasing
across the room I tapped Robinson on the arm and said, "Sergeant,
slow down; you're going too fast for me."
the key and whirling around, Robinson gave me a long, steady
look and grunted, "When did you arrive? Darned fast trip that!"
I stammered, "I don't quite understand what you mean, sergeant."
"I mean just
what I said," he came back at me with a rasp in his voice. "You
were supposed to be in Baltimore weren't you? If you
had actually been there, under the same circumstances,"
and here his tone took on fine sarcasm, "you would have dropped
your key, grabbed your hat and coat, and lit out for Washington,
I suppose. Fine operators they're turning out up at Fort Myer!
Do you understand now? If so we'll try it again," this is a
I did understand;
sheepishly and in all humility I returned to my table.
were a problem at Fort Myer. They kept us scratching for a living
throughout the summer of 1881. There was no surcease from their
savage attacks until winter drove them into the innermost cracks,
crevices and interstices of the barracks building where they
hibernated, gained strength, and multiplied for the next season's
in the walls of the barracks these entomological pests resisted
every effort to dislodge them, and at last we capitulated, and
retreated, with our bedding, to the porch where we slept in
however, we put up a stiff fight. Incessant stalking, sniping,
and use of gas bombs in the form of kerosene, failed to relieve
the situation, and we had about given up in despair when one
of the several old Army veterans suggested throwing our blankets
over the cots and sleeping on them, the idea being that the
insects would find great difficulty in crawling over the blankets,
the fuzzy wool offering such obstacles to their activities that
they would become discouraged and disgusted and abandon the
met with favor, and was adopted. But we had met with defeat
so many times that our acceptance of the scheme was not optimistically
enthusiastic. Our assailants had caught us in the rear and on
the flank so often that we had reached the stage of doubt as
to our ability to meet the unexpected and unforseen attacks
of our enemy which gave every evidence of thorough organization
a relief - the first night! The second night we began to twist,
and squirm, and scratch, punctuating the darkness with exclamations
more or less explosive and descriptive in character until finally
one of the group yelled, "Boys, it's of no use. The damned things
are dropping on me from the ceiling!" and grabbing his
bedding he made for the porch followed by a scrambling line
of boys driven to desperation.
One of my
assignments was at the New Orleans Signal Service office, and
I must confess that the assignment caused me no little alarm.
In view of the fact that although four years had elapsed since
the terrible yellow-fever epidemic of 1878 had swept the lower
Mississippi Valley, it was still the topic of conversation,
and there was an epidemic of the disease then at Pensacola.
On the way to New Orleans our train stopped at Pensacola Junction
where I saw men patrolling the station platform with shot guns
on their shoulders, and was informed that it meant a "shot-gun
quarantine" against Pensacola. Naturally, this incident failed
to cheer my faltering and depressed spirits.
I was stationed
at New Orleans about three years, including six months in charge
of the station at Port Eads where I had the pleasure of meeting
James B. Eads, the great engineer who constructed the St. Louis
bridge and the Mississippi jetties. The port Eads station was
discontinued under me, and while awaiting instructions, I received
a note from a friend who informed me that orders would soon
be issued for me to proceed to Key West, Florida.
I was nearly
panic stricken. It should be understood that at that time Key
West was commonly looked upon as being a hot-bed of yellow fever
which, I was told, was endemic at that place and that to the
unacclimated, death was certain.
of my probable assignment, my friends gathered around me with
lugubrious and sympathetic faces, and recounted the most horrifying
tales of the great 1878 epidemic - stories that congealed my
blood, and at night, made me spring up in bed and cry out in
terror with nightmare. And they denounced in unstinted terms
a Government that would heartlessly and cold-bloodedly and brutally
send its servants to certain death!
I hastily composed a long telegram to my father in Washington,
D.C. Through the influence of Senator Don Cameron of Pennsylvania,
my orders were revoked and I remained at New Orleans.