HENRY O. FLIPPER
Army Officer (1856-1940)
Henry Ossian Flipper was born in
Thomasville, Georgia, on March 21, 1856, into slavery and spent his formative years in
Georgia. Following the Civil War, he attended the American Missionary Schools in his
home state. In 1873, Flipper was appointed to the U.S.
Military Academy, and in 1877 he became the first African-American to graduate from
the institution. He was commissioned a second lieutenant and assigned to the 10th
Calvary. From 1878 until 1880, Lieutenant Flipper served on frontier duty in various
installations in the southwest, including Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
His duties included scouting, as well as
serving as post engineer surveyor and construction supervisor, post adjutant, acting
assistant and post quartermaster, and commissary officer. In 1881, Lieutenant
Flipper's commanding officer accused him of "embezzling funds and of conduct
unbecoming an officer and a gentleman." As a result of these charges, he was
court-martialed. He was acquitted of the embezzlement charge but was found guilty,
by general court martial, of conduct unbecoming an officer. On June 30, 1882, he was
dismissed from the Army as required by this conviction. As a civilian, Henry Flipper
went on to distinguish himself in a variety of governmental and private engineering
positions. These included serving as a surveyor, civil and military with the Alaskan
engineering Commission, aide to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, as well as an
authority on Mexican land and mining law. He wrote and published several
His first publication was an autobiography,
Colored Cadet at West Point (New York" Lee, 1878; reprint, New York: Arno,
1898). His memoirs , Black Frontiersman: The Memoirs of Henry O. Flipper, first
Black Graduate of West Point (Fort Worth, Texas: Texas Christian University Press, 1997)
were compiled and edited with introduction and noted by Theodore D. Harris. His
other works included: Spanish and Mexican Land Laws: New Spain and Mexico for the
Department of Justice in 1895. Throughout the balance of his life, Henry Flipper
maintained that he was innocent of charges that resulted in his court-martial and
dismissal from the Army and made numerous attempts to have his conviction reversed.
He died in Georgia in 1940. In 1976 descendants and supporters applied to the Army
Board for the Correction of Military Records on behalf of Lieutenant Flipper. The
Board, after stating that it did not have the authority to overturn his court-martial
convictions, concluded the conviction and punishment were "unduly harsh and
unjust" and recommended Lieutenant Flipper's dismissal commuted to a good conduct
The Assistant Secretary of the Army
(Manpower and Reserve Affairs) and The Adjutant General approved the Board's findings,
conclusions and recommendations and directed that the Department of the Army issue
Lieutenant Flipper a Certificate of Honorable Discharge, dated 30 June, 1882, in lieu of
his dismissal on the same date. On October 21, 1997, a private law firm filed an
application of pardon with the Secretary of the Army on Lieutenant Flipper's behalf.
Seven months later, the application was forwarded by the Acting Assistant Secretary of the
Army (Manpower and Reserve Affairs) to the Office of the Pardon Attorney, Department of
Justice, with a recommendation that the pardon be approved. President William
Jefferson Clinton pardoned Lieutenant Henry O. Flipper on February 19,1999. In
pardoning this officer, the President recognized an error and acknowledged the lifetime
accomplishments of this American soldier.
Revised: July 18, 2013.