By Manuscripts Curator Susan Lintelmann
Here at West Point we are experiencing an unusually cold and snowy winter. Yet extreme winter weather conditions are not new to this area. We can confirm this by examining a diary in the Special Collections Division of the Library. Below are some of the entries recorded by Cadet Samuel Heintzelman, who graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1826.
Cadet Heintzelman was born in Manheim, PA. Judging from his diary, he was a serious young man keenly interested, possibly for want of other diversions, in the weather. Many of Heintzelman’s diary entries illustrate why the cadets have habitually called the time between the winter holidays and March “Gloom Period;” but he also records extracurricular activities like skating, hiking and chess, as well as the pleasures of time spent curled up with an absorbing book. In the end, we’re left to consider how little some things have changed in the last one hundred and eighty-nine years.
[Saturday] January 1st 
Room at NO 21 S[outh]B[arracks] with Cadets Minor and Mercer. Welcomed the New Year by giving to some of our most particular friends a treat of eggnog and fruit-the gentlemen present were Cadets Allen, Allison, Brooke, Dancy, Macrae, Grin, Izard,
Baldwin, and Sims. H.T. Washington was invited, but did not attend-cause not known. Academic exercises were suspended during the day, but we had study hour after supper. It began to snow about Tattoo.
Tuesday 4th [January]
A fine day cold and clear. No lecture to-day in chemistry. I marched on guard to-day, the wind has lifted nearly all the snow from the plain around the Barracks,
but the wind being so violent has left both parade grounds clear, and it is drifted so hard that it will bear a man in front of the Barracks, to-day. I drew from the
Quartermaster Renwick’s outlines of Philosophy, he had only the second volume. I drew it only on account of some theories it contained to account for the
formation of rain, hail and snow.
Saturday 15th [January]
The weather has been very bad to-day…at half past eleven the examination of my section in philosophy commenced, they examined four before dinner…. We
were called up again after dinner. They commenced to examine me, but before they had finished, they dismissed the section. I did not miss a word. I did
better than anyone in my section that has been examined.
Friday 21st [January]
Got up this morning at 4 o’clock. Was examined in chemistry, did not do very well. The first and second sections were examined together, they did not do very
well, they got through with us by one o’clock. The third and fourth sections were taken up at two o’clock and finished by night. They did not do very well. I spent the evening reading Shakespeare’s plays.
Saturday 5th [February]
The thermometer was at 4 and ¾ below zero this morning. I went skating this afternoon, the ice was pretty good though it was rather weak in some places. I
broke in several times, once up to my middle there were over a dozen broke in. It was on the flats where the water is not deep. I played chess this evening the
first time for a long time and beat a man six or seven times in succession.
Tuesday 15th [February]
Last night after taps I went down to [H]avens to get a supper-there were six of us, two went down before tattoo to engage the supper. It was very dark and
muddy. We had a pretty good supper. We started to return about one o’clock. This morning we heard the result of the presidential election. Our breakfast
hour has been changed. We breakfast at 7 and have guard mounting at half past. The river remains frozen over above the Point.
Sunday 20th [February]
We had inspection this morning. We marched to church today, but we had no preacher, so we concluded that it would be best to march back again.
Tuesday 22nd [February]
To-day it was proposed by the corps to illuminate. We obtained permission from the Superintendent to do it. We prepared a transparency with the name of
Washington. At 7 o’clock the signal was given to light candles. In the South Barracks we closed the window shutters and lighted the candles before the time so
that at the instant the signal was given we threw open the window shutters…. The lights were extinguished a little before 9 o’clock when the bugle sounded
to retire to quarters. The officers had a ball.
Monday 7th [March]
To-day 35 cadets were excused from duty, the greater number on account of colds. We had no recitation to-day in philosophy, our professor is sick.
Saturday 19th [March]
I drew a book from the library to-day. I took a walk to-day with several others along the banks of the river as far as Cornwall, about 4 miles from the Point, the
scenery was sublime beyond description…. We intended to walk along the shore but the rocks ran into the river…. We had to climb up the sides of the mountain
and at some places it was so steep that we had to hold on to the limbs and roots of trees and projecting rocks…. Another cadet was arrested today for
improper language to his teacher of drawing.
Saturday 26th [March]
Rain mingled with sleet fell last night and it continued during the day. I received a letter and 2 papers from my brother (The Lancaster Free Press) from home
to-day. I had to borrow 8 cents to get it out of the post oce.
Thursday 31st [March]
We had a drill to-day, but it was too cold to have a dress parade.
After graduating, Heintzelman served on the Northern Frontier and in Florida and was brevetted Major for his service with General Scott in Mexico. Years of Indian and outlaw fighting in Arizona and Texas followed and then during the Civil War he rose rapidly to the rank of Major General.
General Heintzelman retired in 1869 after 45 years of service, and died in Washington, D.C., in 1880, aged 74.