John Jay Bernard
Lieutenant John Jay Bernard, of the Fourth United States Infantry, was born April 1st, 1872, at Fort Bidwell, California, and was killed in the battle of El Caney, before Santiago, Cuba, on July 1st, 1898. He was a son of General Reuben F. Bernard, United States army, and his mother was Alice Virginia Frank, daughter of Jacob Frank, of Washington, D. C. General Bernard's father was John Bernard, a farmer of Hawkins county, Tennessee, a native-born Tennesseean of German and English descent . General Bernard enlisted in the regular United States army, and was appointed First Sergeant, Company D, First Dragoons on the 19th of February, 1855, and Second Lieutenant, First Cavalry on the 17th of July, 1862. He was three times promoted for gallantry during the Civil War, and once for gallant and meritorious services against the Indians of Arizona, for which service he was made Brevet Brigadier General on February 27th, 1890. General Bernard was retired in 1896 by operation of law. He is now Governor of the United States Soldiers' Home at Washington, D.C.
John Jay Bernard received his early education at the army post schools. He was prepared for the University in the school at Jonesboro, Tennessee. As a boy, he lived a hearty and healthy life, fishing and hunting over the country adjacent to the posts where his father was stationed and was noted for his personal daring, hardihood and love of sports. While yet a small boy he rode horseback with his father's company, all the way from Brownsville, Texas, to Fort Meade, South Dakota, a distance of about two thousand and forty miles. Bernard entered in 1890 the Sophomore class of the Scientific course of the University of Tennessee, and was graduated with the degree of Bachelor of Science in 1893. He made a specialty of chemistry, geology, and related subjects, and upon graduation was appointed assistant in chemistry for the session 1893-1894. He was an earnest, faithful student, and was specially noted, on the one side for his love of athletics and military drill, and on the other for his conscientious and accurate work. The latter characteristics made him such an excellent analytical chemist that his friends advised him to follow this business. As a cadet he held all of the usual positions in the battalion, including that of Lieutenant and Adjutant, which place he filled, during his Senior year, with great credit. After due consideration Bernard decided to adopt the military profession and sought a commission in the army. Failing to get one by direct appointment, he enlisted on the 20th of August, 1894, in troop I, First Cavalry, located at that time at Fort Bayard, New Mexico. After the troop removed to Fort Huachuca, Arizona, the young man was appointed first a Corporal and then a Sergeant. During his residence in Arizona, he was occupied much of his time scouting after renegade Apache Indians and earned high commendations from his superior officers for his skill and determination. In the spring of 1897 Bernard went up for examination for a commission and was the only candidate who passed the War Department Board at that time. He stood number ten in a class of forty-two in the final examination at Fort Leavenworth. He was appointed Second Lieutenant of the Fourth Infantry on April 13th, 1897, and immediately joined his regiment at Fort Sheridan, Illinois, where he remained on duty continuously until the opening of the war with Spain when he went with his regiment to Tampa, Florida, and thence to Cuba. From August 20th, 1894, when he enlisted in the army, to the date of his death, he was constantly on duty, never being sick and never having a leave of absence. He was devoted to the cavalry, and had applied for a transfer to that arm of the service.
On the day he was killed, his father had visited the War Department and secured a promise from the Secretary that the young Lieutenant should be transferred to that arm at the first opportunity, and was in the act of leaving the Department building when a telegram was handed him announcing that his beloved son had been transferred by the Father of us all to His own higher service. The Fourth Infantry belonged to the Third brigade, commanded by Colonel Miles, and on July 1st, along with the Twenty-fifth Infantry (McCorkle's regiment), occupied the centre before the stone fort at El Caney. Bernard's company was one of those selected to form the firing line in the assault upon this fort, which decided the day. All we know of his sad death is that he was killed by a sharp shooter, as so many officers were, while in the act of advancing up the hill against the fort. Though belonging to a different regiment, Bernard's company is said to have fought alongside of McCorkle's and on his left. In this manner it came about that our University lost two of her noblest sons in the same action. Out of six of her sons known to have been in the battle before Santiago, two who were officers, were killed and one, a private, in the splendid 12th Infantry (Chaffee's brigade), was severely wounded in the battle of El Caney. It has been impossible to get fuller details about Bernard's position or action in this battle. We only know that he was shot through the neck while rushing forward with his company and that after lingering totally unconscious for two hours he passed peacefully away.
As a student Bernard was regular, methodical and thorough. He was a very quiet man; but grew steadily in the esteem and affection of his teachers and fellow students. He was distinguished for his earnestness, his perfect self-control and thoroughness of his work. In the recitation room and laboratory, he was very deliberate, almost slow, but always very accurate; but upon the athletic field, he was equally distinguished by his swiftness of action and enthusiasm of spirit. These almost opposite traits illustrated the perfect control under which the man had all of his powers. This rule applied to his moral as well as his intellectual and physical nature. He was scrupulously conscientious in the performance of what he considered his duty, and correct in his conduct and morals. It is said that during the whole of his college and army life he was never the subject of the criticism of a superior officer. While a student at the University of Tennessee, Bernard made a profession of Christianity, and connected himself with a Knoxville congregation. He was not a man to make a display of his religion; but, what was a great deal better, he lived it completely. His brief life is a splendid illustration of what a nobly earnest and able, but perfectly self-controlled young man can do. He knew nothing but duty, and he did it as he knew it, bravely and truly. The loss of such men as Bernard and McCorkle is indeed a great calamity to their family, their friends and their alma mater. We are too apt, while we mourn our loss, to forget the great blessing their lives, and even their death, may be to us and the whole world. These noble boys gave their lives for the cause of freedom and humanity and the glory of their country. The glory of their death we partly recognize now, but the benediction of their lives can only be appreciated as the years go by. 'Tis a glorious thing to die for one's country, but it is far more glorious to have lived as these young men lived. Such faithfulness and devotion to duty teaches us a grander lesson than the most sublime and sudden translation can do. May their pure and faithful lives be at once an example and an inspiration to all the students who follow them at the University of Tennessee.
[ Source: University of Tennessee record, Volume 1 By University of Tennessee, Knoxville, 1898]
Transcribed by AFOFG.
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