The United States Military Academy at West Point By Vivian Rand
The American Revolution • The area of New York currently known as “West Point” was first developed as a Continental Army fort in 1775. • During the Revolution, General George Washington quickly recognized West Point’s strategic position on the Hudson. In 1779, Washington moved is military headquarters there. • The land was owned by Mr. Stephen Moore, but Washington kept troops on the land until 1790 when he had Alexander Hamilton, the Secretary of the Treasury, purchase the land for government use.
Fortifications • Washington hired Polish engineer Thaddeus Koscuiczko to fortify West Point in 1778. • Infantrymen were the primary construction workers. • One of the fortifications of the base was a great iron chain that spanned the Hudson to prevent British ships from sailing up the river to divide the Continental troops and colonies. It was quite successful.
Benedict Arnold’s Treason • Benedict Arnold was an American general during the Revolution who gained command of West Point in 1780. • Arnold was unhappy with his position in the Continental army and the state of the Revolution in 1778. • In September 1780, Arnold’s plot to surrender West Point to the British was exposed. • He defected to the British Army and has been known in American history as an infamous traitor.
Academic Roots • In 1776, the Continental Congress wanted to establish a “Corp of Invalids.” This would basically be a school where gentlemen could become military officers. • After the American Revolution, many people (including President Washington) wanted to create an institution devoted to the study of war in order to eliminate America’s need for foreign engineers. • However, his advisor Thomas Jefferson, a “strict” interpreter of the Constitution, prevented the Academy from being created by Congress.
Establishment of the Academy • Eventually, Jefferson realized the benefits of an academic institution. In 1802, President Jefferson signed into legislation a "Corps of Engineers" which "shall be stationed at West Point and constitute a Military Academy.”This was to be West Point Academy. • Jefferson hoped that this “Military Academy” would realize his idea to create a national university of science and engineering. He hired Jonathan Williams, a civilian, to lead the Academy. • Possibly underwhelmed by the results, Jefferson would found the University of Virginia in 1819.
Early Years of the Academy • For the first decade of the Academy’s existence, there were few academic and admittance standards for students, also known as “cadets.” • One of the earliest graduates, Alden Partridge, was a professor of mathematics and eventually the second Superintendent. Partridge established the gray uniforms that cadets still wear today. • Congress attempted to train more officers at West Point before the War of 1812, but it was largely unsuccessful. More formal academic standards were adopted after the War of 1812. • In 1817, Partridge resigned, and Colonel Sylvanus Thayer became Superintendent of the Academy.
West Point Under Thayer • Col. Sylvanus Thayer’s strict disciplinary standards, codes of conduct, and academic standards earned him the title “Father of the Military Academy.” • Some of the “Thayer Method” ideas are still practiced today, like daily homework for students and independent study. • Thayer’s new curriculum was mostly engineering-based. West Point graduates were largely responsible for building the country’s roads, bridges, harbors, and railways for many years. • It wasn’t until before the Mexican-American War that West Point focused on military education again.
Future Civil War Leaders • Many West Point graduates distinguished themselves with their military leadership during the Mexican-American War between 1846 and 1848. • These graduates went on to fight for both sides of the American Civil War. • Generals Ulysses S. Grant, Andrew Jackson and William Sherman commanded the Union Army, while General Robert E. Lee led the Confederate Army. • Unfortunately, these Generals were largely trained with Revolutionary War-Era weapons and tactics. More accurate rifles combined with old military tactics led to high casualties.
USMA Fun Facts • West Point is the longest continually occupied military post in U.S. history. • Students and alumni are known as “The Long Gray Line.” • The Academy was the first educational institution to have class rings. • Just as Fort Knox stores American gold, a mint at West Point stores American silver. • Today, West Point values a Cadet’s education at over $450,000.
Works Used • http://www.usma.edu/wphistory/SitePages/Home.aspx • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Military_Academy • http://www.nps.gov/york/historyculture/arnoldbio.htm • http://www.slideshare.net/guest036eb13/usma-soldier-admissions-info-paper