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Flipper, Henry Ossian (1856-1940)

Born near Thomasville, Georgia on March 21, 1856, Henry O. Flipper rose to prominence as the first African American graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1877. Despite being born into slavery to Festus, a shoemaker, and Isabella Flipper, Henry was reared in a family that emphasized excellence, and he and his younger brothers all became respected members of their communities as a military officer, AME bishop (Joseph), physician (E.H.), college professor (Carl), and farmer (Festus, Jr.).

Commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army upon completing West Point, Flipper was transferred to the l0th U.S. Cavalry Regiment where he became the highest ranking and most famous of the Buffalo Soldiers (African Americans in all-black regiments) stationed at Western military installations.  Flipper"s assignments included Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and Fort Elliott, Fort Concho, Fort Davis, and Fort Quitman, all in Texas. Flipper earned distinction during the the Victorio Campaign which pitted the Apache leader Victorio against the U.S. Army in Texas and New Mexico between 1879 and 1880.  There he was assigned to A Troop under the command of Captain Nicholas M. Nolan.  While on that assignment he became the frirst officer of color to lead Buffalo Soldiers in battle.  

Trained as an engineer, Lt. Flipper was known for his design of a drainage system at Fort Sill, Oklahoma (popularly known as Flipper"s Ditch and now a national monument) which minimized malaria by removing standing water.

Flipper"s military career ended when Flipper was accused of embezzling $2,000 in government funds while serving as quartermaster at Fort Davis, Texas.  Flipper was charged with taking the funds and then lying about it when confronted.  He was tried and acquitted of all charges except "conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman" at a U.S. Army court-martial at Fort Davis on September 17, 1881. Despite appeals by Flipper"s supporters who argued that his close association with Mollie Dwyer, the sister-in-law of Captain

National Trust for Historic Preservation

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