Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 64.djvu/36

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32
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.
THE NEW WEST POINT.
By WILLIAM J. ROE,
NEW YORK.

TN the year 1802, by act of Congress, the United States Military Academy was established at West Point on the Hudson River. The experience of Washington during the war of the revolution with the militia of the several states and with raw volunteers was convincing as to the necessity for a permanent military establishment, and especially for the creation of a considerable body of officers sedulously trained in the art of war. The sentiments of the people then, and for many years after, were not favorable to the formation of a standing army, and it was not until the many and serious reverses of the land forces in the 'war of 1812' that any progress was made at West Point in the way of educating officers for their country's service. In the year 1817,—James Monroe being president and George Graham of Virginia secretary of war, Sylvanus Thayer, of Massachusetts, became superintendent of the academy, and at once began a system of instruction and discipline so complete and admirable as to have been maintained in almost the minutest detail to the present day. General Thayer remained at the head of the academy until 1833.

During the period between the close of the war with Great Britain and 1846, the sole opportunity for the graduates of West Point to prove their value was upon the frontier as it then was, the Rocky Mountains and the 'Plains' in contest with hostile Indians. In this sort of warfare there was more room for the display of the forester's and trapper's craft and experience than for the exercise of tactics or 'grand-strategy,' and the consequence was that again the people grew impatient with the appropriations for the academy's maintenance. By this time a numerous body of officers had been graduated, and the idea of a thousand or more men with a life tenure of office and something akin to 'special privilege' and European exclusiveness did not find favor with either 'democrats' or 'republicans.' About this time it was in fact seriously contemplated to abolish the academy altogether. It is more than probable that this would have been done by congress, if at this juncture the Mexican war had not suddenly burst upon the country. We have, it must be confessed, but little to be proud of as to the origin of this war, or to the aggressive and not wholly unscrupulous terms that were finally forced upon Mexico; but the war accomplished at least one good result by demonstrating the merit and necessity of trained leaders. With a