He received his elementary school education abroad and thus gained an exposure to languages.
He attended Phillips Academy and completed one year at Amherst College before becoming a cadet at the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1865, where he excelled in languages. He graduated tenth in the class of 1869 and was commissioned a second lieutenant of artillery.
His first duty was as assistant instructor of artillery tactics at West Point from July 6 to August 28 in the summer of 1869. He was then stationed in Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas in Florida. In this period after the Civil War, there was little chance of advancement in the Army so, after consulting with General William T. Sherman, he resigned in 1870.