12 September 1840, West Point, New York
They came in the middle of the night while Cord’s roommate, Fred Dent, was on guard duty. An obviously timed frontal assault for cadets skilled in the art of the attack. However, the odds, six to one, were in their favor, so surprise was not high on their tactical agenda.
Elijah Cord was waiting, seated on the edge of his bunk, stripped to the waist and wearing a pair of cast-off pants he’d scavenged from the laundress for just this occasion. The bottle of rum he’d been fortifying himself with was tucked up in the fireplace flue, out of sight.
The six wore their full dress grey uniforms, giving the impression they were on Academy sanctioned business. As they crowded into the room they were taken aback by Cord’s informal attire and his readiness for their visit.
Nathaniel Lyon, a First Class Cadet in the class of ’41, stepped to the forefront, flanked by the plebe representative of the Vigilance Committee, Simon Bolivar Buckner. The other four stood in the background, arms folded across their chests.
“As the representatives of the Vigilance Committee of the Corps of Cadets,” Lyon began, “we demand that you resign from the Academy for actions bringing discredit upon the Corps and conduct unbecoming a gentleman. We demand you tender your resignation immediately.”
Buckner placed a piece of parchment down on Cord’s desk and pointed at the pen resting in its inkwell. “We’ve done you the courtesy of already writing it,” he said. “Just sign, sir.”
Cord slowly got to his feet. It was early September and warm in the room. The academic year was getting into full swing. The barracks was still as death as the members of his company were in their bunks, awake, waiting to hear what would happen. Cord did not move toward the desk.
The seconds ticked by. Lyon glanced over at Buckner. A couple of the second rank figures fidgeted. This was not playing out the way they had anticipated.
“You will not comply?” Lyon asked.
“What exactly have I done that requires your visit?” Cord asked.
“You were absent from your room without permission,” Lyon said. “You failed to take responsibility for bringing dishonor on a young woman, and your actions caused Mister King to be discharged from the Academy just a week before his graduation.”
“Is it not true that Lucius Rumble, now a private in the Army, resigned to take responsibility for the very event which you now lay at my doorstep?” Cord asked. “Is it not true that Mister King’s own action brought about his dismissal?”
“Everyone knows—” Lyon began, but Cord cut him off.
“Everyone knows nothing. Has Lucius Rumble made a claim against me that you’re acting on? Has Mister King? I wish to know my accuser.”
“Your accuser is the Corps,” Lyon said. He took a step closer. “Your options are limited, Mister Cord. Resign.”
“I’m afraid I must disappoint you gentlemen,” Cord said. “Although I am indeed guilty of several mistakes, I will never resign.”
Lyon and Buckner exchanged a glance. Lyon took a few steps forward until he was right next to Cord. He lowered his voice to a harsh whisper. “You bring disgrace on all of us with your lack of honor. Do the right thing.”
“You equate right with honor?” Cord asked. He shook his head. “Never.”
Lyon stepped back and raised his voice. “Then you must face the wrath of the Corps and experience the ‘Silence’. No one will speak to you or acknowledge you. You will not exist.”
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