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Captain Symmes was born in Kentucky, and came to the Military Academy from Ohio, in 1843. He graduated at the head of the Class of 1847, and was assigned to the Second Artillery. p78In 1849 he was transferred to the Ordnance, and became First Lieutenant in 1853, and Captain in July, 1861. For two years, 1847‑49, he was on duty at West Point as Assistant Professor of Geography, History, and Ethics. From 1850 to 1853, he was at Watervliet Arsenal; then for a year on the Rio Grande, Texas, in charge of the armament of fortifications; again at the Military Academy from 1855 to 1856. In 1855, he declined a Captaincy in the Tenth Infantry. At Watertown Arsenal, Massachusetts, from 1856 to 1859; in command of the Leavenworth, Kansas, Ordnance Depot till 1860; on leave of absence till November, 1861, when he was retired.
The cause of his early retirement was aberration of the mind. He was in Europe at the time of his retirement and never returned to this country. The following is taken from a classmate's letter: "He had high aspirations in his profession, but always hoped to be wealthy, I think for ultimate noble purposes. He had a copy of his father's book when a Cadet and I think I was the only man in our class who was permitted to read it, fearing ridicule of the theory of "Concentric Spheres," or the old story of "Symmes' Hole."a The father showed no signs of unregulated imagination in his reasoning, and stimulus given by his lectures in the West to Arctic Explorations cannot be estimated, for this was the main object of his life, to reach the pole or to sail into the interior of our shell. Symmes' failure to gain universal acceptance for his bridge truss, which was excellent for light loads, and ornamental reaches, was the beginning of his aberration of mind. His infirmity so late as 1886 did not unfit him for the enjoyment of life or of domestic relations. The last letter I received from him told me that I might expect a call from him anyday from his balloon, in which he was coming across the Atlantic. The late Senator Matt. Carpenter was for two years his room mate at West Pointb and kept up a correspondence till the Senator's death."