1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/West Point

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WEST POINT, a village and military post, in Orange county, New York, U.S.A., on the west bank of the Hudson river, 50 m. above New York City. It is served by the West Shore railway, and is connected by ferry with the New York Central railway at Garrison. The United States Military Academy occupies a plateau 180 ft. above the river, reached by a roadway cut into the cliff and commanding a view up and down the river for many miles. Between 1902 and 1908 Congress appropriated about $7,500,000 for the reconstruction of the academy, but most of the old buildings of historic interest have been incorporated. The Headquarters Building and Grant Hall (the mess hall) contain portraits of famous American soldiers. The military library is one of the finest in existence (80,000 volumes in 1910), and its building contains interesting memorials, by Saint Gaudens, to J. McNeill Whistler and Edgar Allan Poe, both former cadets in the academy. Cullum Memorial Hall (1899) was the gift of Major-General George Washington Cullum (1809-1892), superintendent of the academy in 1864-1866. Opposite it is a monument (1845) to Major F. L. Dade's command of 110 men who were ambushed and killed by the Seminole Indians in Florida in December 1835. In the S.E. corner of the parade ground (60 acres) is a granite statue to Colonel Sylvanus Thayer (1785-1872), who was superintendent of the academy from 1817 to 1833. In the N.W. angle is the bronze statue (1868) of Major-General John Sedgwick, U.S. Volunteers, who was killed by a sharpshooter, on the 9th of May 1864, while making a personal reconnaissance at Spottsylvania. Between Trophy Point and the hotel is the Battle Monument (1874, 78 ft. high, surmounted by a statue of Victory by MacMonnies) , a memorial to the soldiers of the regular army who died in the Civil War. Above the cliff towards the N. and E. of the plain is Fort Clinton; in its E. front stands a monument erected in 1828 by the Corps of Cadets to Kosciuszko, who planned the original fortifications here in 1778. About 1 m. N. of the academy is “West Point Cemetery” (about 14 acres) on the E. angle of an elevated plain overlooking the river, formerly known as “German Flats,” in which rest the remains of Thayer, Winfield Scott, Robert Anderson and other distinguished soldiers. The Cadet Monument (1817) stands on the E. angle overlooking the river. High above the academy on Mount Independence (490 ft.) still stands old Fort Putnam, commanding a fine view for miles up and down the Hudson. In 1908, as the gift of Mrs. Russell Sage and Miss Anna B. Warner, there was added to the military reservation Constitution Island (about 280 acres), lying directly opposite West Point, with the remains of two forts built during the War of Independence.

West Point, “the Gibraltar of the Hudson,” was first occupied as a military post in January 1778, when a chain of redoubts was erected at various strategic points along the Hudson. At West Point were built a half-dozen earthwork fortifications, of which Fort Putnam on Mt. Independence, Fort Clinton on the extremity of the point (not to be confused with the Fort Clinton captured by the British in 1777 farther down the river) and Battery Knox, just above the river landing, were the largest. These were the fortifications that Benedict Arnold, their commander, in 1780 agreed to deliver into British hands. After the discovery of his treason, Washington made his headquarters for some time at West Point before removing to Newburgh. Later Washington recommended West Point as a site for a military school. Such an establishment had been suggested by Henry Knox in May 1776; and in October of that year the Continental Congress passed a resolution appointing a committee to draw plans for “a military academy of the army.” A Corps of Invalids was established in June 1777, was organized in Philadelphia in July 1777, and was transferred to West Point in 1781; this corps was “to serve as a military school for young gentlemen previously to their being appointed to marching regiments.” Three buildings had been erected here to house a library, an engineers' school and a laboratory, and practical experiments in gunnery had been begun here in February 1780 In 1783, at Newburgh, Washington laid before his officers the matter of a military academy such as Knox had suggested. A school for artillerists, engineers and cadets of the corps was established here on the president's recommendation in 1794, and continued until the buildings were destroyed by fire in 1796. In July 1801, Henry Dearborn, Jefferson's secretary of war, directed that all cadets of the corps of artillerists, a subordinate rank which had been established in 1794, should report at West Point for instruction, and in September of that year a school was opened with five instructors, four of them army officers. On the 16th of March 1802, President Jefferson approved an act establishing a military academy at West Point, and on the 4th of July it was formally opened with ten cadets present. Acts of 1802 and 1808 authorized 40 cadets from the artillery, 100 from the infantry, 16 from the dragoons and 20 from the riflemen. But few of these were actually appointed, and for several years instruction was disorganized and desultory. In 1811-1812 instruction was practically abandoned, and in March 1812 the “academy” was without a single instructor. Up to this time 88 cadets had been graduated, but they had been admitted without any sort of examination, and at any age between 12 and 34. An act of Congress of the 29th of April 1812 reorganized the academy, and laid down the general principles and plan on which it has since been conducted. A maximum of 250 cadets was then authorized. Under the able superintendency of Major Sylvanus Thayer this plan was perfected and put into successful operation. Up to 1843 no territorial requirement was necessary for appointment, but in that year a custom that had grown up of providing for one cadet from each Congressional district, each Territory and the District of Columbia, was embodied in the law.

By acts of 1900, 1902, 1903 and 1908 the Corps of Cadets as now constituted consists of one cadet from each congressional district (appointed on recommendation by members of Congress), one from each Territory, one from the District of Columbia, one from Porto Rico, two from each state at large (on recommendation of the senators), and 40 from the United States at large, all to be appointed by the president. Four Filipinos may also receive instruction and become eligible on graduation for commissions in the Philippine scouts. The maximum number of cadets under the apportionment of the twelfth census was 533. Candidates for admission must be between 17 and 22 years, unmarried, and at least 5 ft. 4 in. high. For entrance there are physical examinations, and examinations in algebra, plane geometry, English grammar, composition and literature, geography and general history. In 1902 the entrance requirements were raised and the actual amount of work done in the academy was thus decreased. The principal courses are: tactics for all classes; civil and military engineering (first class); practical military engineering (fourth, third, second and first classes); mechanics and astronomy (third and second classes); mathematics (new cadets, fourth and third classes); chemistry, mineralogy and geology (third and second classes); drawing (third and second classes); modern languages, i.e. French and Spanish (fourth, third, second and first classes); law (first class); ordnance and gunnery (first class); military hygiene (second class); and English and history (new cadets and fourth class). The course is four years, and academic instruction continues from the 1st of September to the 5th of June. The summer months are devoted to field work and encampments. Each cadet while in attendance receives pay at the rate of $600 a year and one ration per day, or commutation thereof at thirty cents per day, amounting to $709.50. The number of graduates from 1802 to 1909 inclusive was 4852. The superintendents of the academy have been: in 1802-1803 and in 1805-1812, Jonathan Williams; in 1812-1814, Joseph Gardner Swift (1783-1865); in 1815-1817, Alden Partridge (1785-1854); in 1817-1833, Sylvanus Thayer; in 1833-1838 René E. De Russy (1796-1864); in 1838-1845 and in 1856-1861, Richard Delafield (1798-1873); in 1845-1852, Henry Brewerton (1801-1879); in 1852-1855, Robert E. Lee; in 1855-1856, John Gross Barnard (1815-1882); in January 1861, P. G. T. Beauregard; in 1861-1864, Alexander Hamilton Bowman (1803-1865); in 1864, Zealous Bates Tower (1819-1900); in 1864-1866, G. W. Cuilum; in 1866-1871, Thomas Gamble Pitcher (1824-1895); in 1871-1876, Thomas Howard Ruger (1833-1907); in 1876-1881, J. M. Schofield; in 1881-1882, O. O. Howard; In 1882-1887, Wesley Merritt; in 1887-1889, John Grubb Park (1827-1900); in 1889-1893, John Moulden Wilson (b. 1837); in 1893-1898, Oswald Herbert Ernst (b. 1842); in 1898-1906, Albert Leopold Mills (b. 1854); in 1906-1910, H. L. Scott (b. 1853); and, 1910, T. H. Barry (b. 1855).

See G. W. Cullum, Biographical Register of the Officers and Graduates of the United States Military Academy (4 vols., New York, 1891-1904); E. C. Boynton, History of West Point (ibid. 1863); J. P. Farley, West Point in the Early Sixties (Troy, 1902); Morris Schaff, The Spirit of Old West Point (Boston, 1907); and the annual reports of the superintendent.