The means of prevention adopted now were somewhat different from those of a year before. A file-closer would watch and follow me closely, and when I fell in would put a plebe on each side of me. It was really amusing sometimes to see his eagerness, and quite as amusing, I may add, to see his dismay when I would deliberately leave the place thus hemmed in by plebes and fall in elsewhere.
We see here again that cringing disposition to which I believe the whole of the ill-treatment of colored cadets has been due. The file-closers are usually second-class sergeants and third-class corporals. By way of "boning popularity" with the upper classmen, they stoop to almost any thing. In this case they hedged me in between the two plebes to prevent upper classmen from falling in next to me.
But it may be asked why I objected to having plebes next to me. I would answer, for several reasons. Under existing circumstances of prejudice, it was of the utmost importance to me to keep them away from me. First--and by no means the least important reason--to put them in the front rank was violating a necessary and established custom. The plebes are put in the rear rank because of their inexperience and general ignorance of the principles of marching, dressing, etc. If they are in the front rank, it would simply be absurd to expect good marching of them. A second reason, and by far the most important, results directly from this one. Being between two plebes, who would not, could not keep dressed, it would be impossible for me to do so. The general alignment of the company would be destroyed. There would be crowding and opening out of the ranks, and it would all originate in my immediate vicinity. The file-closers, never over-scrupulous when I was concerned, and especially when they could forward their own "popularity-boning" interests, would report me for these disorders in the company. I would get demerits and punishment for what the plebes next to me were really responsible for. The plebes would not be reported, because if they were their inexperience would plead strongly in their favor, and any reasonable explanation of an offence would suffice to insure its removal. I was never overfond of demerits or punishments, and therefore strenuously opposed any thing that might give me either; for instance, having plebes put next to me in ranks.
Toward the end of the year the plebes, having learned more about me and the way the corps looked upon me, became as eager to avoid me as the others. Not, however, all the plebes, for there were some who, when they saw others trying to avoid falling in next to me, would deliberately come and take their places there. These plebes, or rather yearlings now, were better disciplined, and, of course, my own scruples vanished.
During the last few months of the year no distinction was made, save by one or two high-toned ones.
When the next class of plebes were put in the battalion, the old cadets began to thrust them into the front rank next to me. At first I was indignant, but upon second thought I determined to tolerate it until I should be reported for some offence which was really an offence of the plebes. I intended to then explain the case, à priori, in my written explanation to the commandant. I knew such a course would cause a discontinuance of the practice, which was plainly malicious and contrary to regulations. Fortunately, however, for all concerned, the affair was noticed by an officer, and by him summarily discontinued. I was glad of this, for the other course would have made the cadets more unfriendly, and would have made my condition even worse than it was. Thereafter I had no further trouble with the plebes.
One day, during my yearling camp, when I happened to be on guard, a photographer, wishing a view of the guard, obtained permission to make the necessary negative. As the officer of the day desired to be "took" with the guard, he came down to the guard tents, and the guard was "turned out" for him by the sentinel. He did not wish it then, and accordingly so indicated by saluting. I was sitting on a camp-stool in the shade reading. A few minutes after the officer of the day came. I heard the corporal call out, "Fall in the guard." I hurried for my gun, and passing near and behind the officer of the day, I heard him say to the corporal:
"Say, can't you get rid of that nigger? We don't want him in the picture."