Jefferson Davis began his army career when John C. Calhoun, secretary of war, issued his “commission of Cadet” on March 11, 1824. As Davis explained much later, cadets were warrant officers assigned to duty at the military academy and “in the service as much as they will ever be.” But he was still very much the schoolboy when he returned a reluctant “I accept it” on July 7, adding, “am not able to go on before sept. for reasons I will explain to the superintendent on my arrival. Yours &C.” 1 The term at West Point began unremittingly on June 25, with the summer encampment for drill and artillery practice. Classes began on September 1. When Cadet Davis arrived, he found the session under way and the superintendent, Lt. Col. Sylvanus Thayer, not at all interested in his explanation. Had it not been for Capt. Ethan Allen Hitchcock, who “had known my family” when on duty in Natchez, and the fact that the academic board was sitting in special session to examine a cadet with the magic name of Washington, he could not have gotten in.
Even so, barring the way was his old enemy, mathematics. Hitchcock got him a hearing “and told me that I would be examined, particularly in arithmetic. He asked, 'I suppose you have learned arithmetic?' To which I had to answer in the negative…. He was quite alarmed, and went off and got me an arithmetic, telling me to study as much as I could of fractions and proportion. I had hardly commenced when an order came to bring me before the staff.” Davis muddled through the mathematics on his native wit and his knowledge of algebra. The French test he found easy, and the language professor, finding that Davis knew Greek, “launched into a discussion … as to the construction of Greek, with which he was so delighted that he kept on till the superintendent stopped him, and that broke up my examination.” From then on, says