The primary purpose of the Military Academy is to teach men how to wage war. That purpose is accomplished by producing a specially educated and highly trained body of officers competent to assume military command in the Regular Army and prepared to recruit and train a citizen army whenever the American people decide that their rights and liberties are endangered.
Proof of the value of West Point influence upon the effectiveness of American arms is seen in the military history of the United States for the past hundred years. Although its graduates served with distinction in the early Indian wars and the War of 1812, the Academy was first recognized as a positive factor in the success of military operations in the Mexican War. The richly deserved compliment from General Winfield Scott, who credited West Point with hastening the victory over Mexico, was sadly given proof a few years later when Academy graduates matched their skill against each other on the opposing sides in a protracted Civil War.
Although our naval victories were the most striking feature of the Spanish-American war, West Point graduates served with credit both here and overseas, living up to the traditions of duty in a way that earned Theodore Roosevelt's commendation: "There was never a moment during that time, by day or by night, that I was not an eyewitness to some performance of duty, some bit of duty well cone, by a West Pointer, and I never saw West Pointer failing in his duty." In 1917 they again faced the realities of war and acquitted themselves with distinction as part of a great army of 4,000,000, overcoming difficulties of a magnitude never before conceived, in battles that dwarfed those of previous wars. In World War II, West Point graduates made a vital contribution to mobilization of the staggering total of more than 8,000,000 fighting men trained and equipped to wage war on a global scale.
War forms a long and grim but inspiring chapter in the story of West p222Point. Ten years after the establishment of the Military Academy, the United States faced the prospect Ostia second war with Great Britain, while dealing with Indian troubles in the Northwest Territory and the South. Young West Point graduates served with the Fourth Infantry, which suffered casualties of twenty-five per cent at Tippecanoe in 1811, and fought with the same regiment a year later at Maguago, Mich. The first West Pointer to die in battle, ensign George Ronan, Class of 1811, of the First Infantry, fell in the vicinity of the present city of Chicago on aug. 15, 1812, when an American force was wiped out by Indians and British while on a march from Fort Dearborn to Detroit.
Only sixty-five graduates were in service at the start of the War of 1812, and slightly more than a hundred in all served throughout the war. While most of them were junior officers, several made major contributions in commands of great responsibility. Among them was the first West Point graduate, Joseph G. Swift, Class of 1802, who since leaving the Academy had been engaged in the construction of seacoast fortifications. At thirty years of age, in 1812, he was promoted to the rank of colonel and designated chief of engineers, aide-de‑camp to Major General Pinckney (commanding the southern department), and ex‑officio superintendent of the Military Academy. Swift completed the southern defenses in 1813, then assumed command of the garrison of Staten Island and undertook repair and improvement of the defenses of New York.
His task at New York finished, he was reassigned in August, 1813, as chief engineer of the northern army at Sacketts Harbor, and reported to General Wilkinson. After a personal reconnoissance of the upper St. Lawrence by Swift, the northern army aimed an attack at Montreal, which failed, however, because of General Hampton's refusal to effect a junction with Wilkinson after the indecisive battle of chrysler's Field. Of Swift's part in that battle General Wilkinson reported: "Colonel Swift took the boldest and most active part of any individual engaged except Adjutant-General Walbach." In recognition of his services with the northern army he was breveted a brigadier general.
British successes, particularly the invasion of Washington, so alarmed the people of the New York area that loud demands were made for enlargement of the city's defenses. General Swift, who had been detached from Wilkinson's army a few days after the battle which turned aside the thrust at Montreal, was assigned to carry out a comprehensive fortification project for the protection of manhood Island and Brooklyn. So well were his efforts appreciated p223that the city of New York placed his portrait in City Hall and presented him with a set of silver drawing instruments and a "large pleasure barge." The city also gave Mrs. Swift a service of plate.
General Swift resigned his commission in 1818. He lived to see the Civil War fought and won, and died on July 21, 1865, at the age of eighty‑two.
Two other West Point graduates rendered particularly outstanding service in the War of 1812. Eleazer D. Wood, Class of 1806, had, like Swift, but employed on coastal fortification projects since leaving the Academy. In 1813 he was detailed to duty under General Harrison as assistant to the chief of engineers and, because of the illness of the chief, actually performed the duties of chief engineer of the Army of the Northwest during the campaign of 1813. In that capacity he designed and erected the series of traverses which intercepted British fire and broke the twelve‑day siege of Fort Meigs. For his important part in this operation, which proved to be the turning point of the war in the Northwest, Wood was specially commended by General Harrison and breveted to the rank of major.
An assistant to William McRee, Class of 1805, chief engineer of General Brown's army on the Niagara frontier, Wood entered into close association with one of the most brilliant figures of the war. The two were breveted lieutenant colonel for their part in the battle of Lundy's Lane, July 25, 1814, and received special commendation in the report of General Brown, who mentioned their "high military talents" and recommended them as "worthy of the highest trust and confidence."
McRee and Wood, whose arguments dissuaded General Ripley from attempting to recross the Niagara after Lundy's Lane, next devoted their efforts to enlarging and strengthening Fort Erie. Wood commanded the Twenty-first Infantry during the subsequent siege of Fort Erie and was credited by General Ripley with "defeating a vaunted foe six times his force" in turning back an enemy thrust against his lines. Two days later he was mortally wounded while leading his command in a general counterattack against the enemy's batteries.
Wood's memory was honored by the erection of a monument at West Point, which was personally financed by Major General Brown. McRee's outstanding service was given recognition of another kind years later when General Winfield Scott expressed the opinion in 1843 that "of all the Army, he combined more genius and military science, with high courage, than any other officer who participated in the war of 1812."
According to the historian Lossing, a fourth of the Military Academy p224graduates engaged in the War of 1812 were killed or wounded, and a fifth of those who survived received one or two brevets for distinguished service and gallantry.
Indian troubles which marked the course of progress in settling the south and west kept the United States Army occupied for the greater part of the nineteenth century. Military Academy graduates served throughout these campaigns, gradually extending their influence as they advanced in seniority and increased in numbers.
Two wars with the Florida Indians and early operations in the West and Southwest kept our military forces busy from the close of the War of 1812 almost to the beginning of the Mexican War. The first campaign in Florida, in 1817 and 1818, resulted in defeat of the Indians in several engagements, and the capture of San Carlos and San Marcos de Barrancas.
Several West Point graduates were with the Sixth Infantry during an operation against the arickaree Indians on the upper Missouri in 1823, and three of them, Lieutenants Nicholas Cruger, Thomas B. Noel, and William W. Morris, all of the Class of 1820, received special notice in reports of the campaign. Portions of the First, Fifth, and Sixth Infantry participated in an expedition against the Winnebagoes of Wisconsin in 1827 and 1828, and brought to account Indians accused of murdering white people.
Lieutenants Philip St. George Cooke, Class of 1827, and James F. Izard, Class of 1828, rendered conspicuous service with the Sixth Infantry when the Army first encountered the Comanche Indians in 1829. Four companies of the Sixth, which had been assigned the task of escorting an annual caravan of traders along the Santa Fe Trail to the Mexican border, fought off an attack by 500 swiftly mounted Comanches, who gave the Army its first taste of real plains warfare.
It was while serving with the seasoned Sixth Infantry that Lieutenant Jefferson Davis, Class of 1828 and 530th graduate of the Military Academy, captured and brought in as a prisoner the Indian chief, Black Hawk, whose depredations threatened to embroil the whole West and Northwest in a gigantic war. In the same campaign, which ended in 1833 with Black Hawk's force defeated and driven across the Missouri, Lieutenant Albert Sidney Johnston, Class of 1826, served ably as adjutant general and aide-de‑camp to the commanding general.
The performance of West Point graduates in the Army in this period merited the commendation of President Andrew Jackson, who said, in his first message to Congress, in December, 1829:
p225 "I recommend to your fostering care, as one of our safest means of national defense, the Military Academy. The institution has already exercised the happiest influence upon the moral and intellectual character of our Army; and such of the graduates as from various causes may not pursue the profession of arms will be scarcely less useful as citizens. Their knowledge of the military art will be advantageously employed in the militia service, and in a measure secure to that class of troops the advantages which in this respect belong to standing armies."
Seven years of bitterly fought war with the Seminoles, Tallahassies, Mickasuckies, and Uchees, began in 1835, fourteen years after acquisition of Florida by the United States. Although the Indians were comparatively few in number, they fought cleverly and with the advantage of being completely acclimated to a subtropical country in which white troops campaigned with the greatest discomfort and difficulty. In all, the United States used 20,000 troops and spent $20,000,000 in the war against a force of Indians estimated at some 1,600 with 250 Negro slaves. It proved to be practically a war of attrition, for when it ended in 1842 only a under Indians remained who had not been killed or persuaded to move to established reservations.
Nevertheless, the Florida War developed some of the bitterest and bloodiest fighting the Continent has seen between Indians and white men. Because of the character of the country and the methods by which the Indians chose to operate, there were many skirmishes in the junglelike and swampy inland areas of the peninsula where a sharp eye for the ambushed enemy and the ability to give a good account of one's self in hand-to‑hand encounter were of foremost importance to the soldier. The white man was obliged to fight the Indian's kind of war, and many a scalp was lost in the process.
Acts of heroism by individuals and groups became almost too common to arouse more than passing notice as the grim war went on. Lieutenant William E. Basinger, Class of 1830, of the Second Artillery, was the last officer of Dade's party to be killed when the Indians rushed in to complete their massacre with tomahawks as the dying soldiers lay among their empty powder boxes. Lieutenant Richard Henderson, Class of 1835, Second Artillery, fired thirty or forty shots from his musket with a broken left arm before he fell dead. Lieutenant John L. Keais, Class of 1835, Third Artillery, was powerless with two broken arms to ward off the tomahawk that split his skull. During a skirmish with Indians Lieutenant Justin Dimick, Class of 1819, was wounded in the leg and unhorsed by two Indians who fired simultaneously p226on him. As the Indians, thinking he was dead, approach to scalp him, he shot one dead and killed the other with his sword.
The Mexican War not only established the reputation of the Military Academy but served to prepare a group of young officers for posts of great responsibility later in the Civil War. More than 500 West Point graduates were in the service at the outbreak of hostilities in 1846, comprising about three quarters of the line officers of the Army. Their influence in the training and command of American troops enabled a comparatively small Regular Army, augmented by volunteers, to win a decisive victory over the enemy's numerically superior forces. In less than a year and a half the Americans swept to the Mexican capital, winning thirty engagements, Cartagena 40,000 prisoners, and taking a thousand cannon along the way.
Noting that the war was won without the loss of a single skirmish, General Scott, as we have seen, estimated that the conflict might have lasted four or five years, with many early defeats for the United States, had it not been for West Point's contribution. The Academy's graduate were with General Taylor at Palo Alto and Buena Vista, and with General Scott at Vera Cruz. They led troops which smashed through Cerro Gordo and Contreras to storm the capital city. With skill and determination they maintained a relentless pressure upon the enemy until General Scott was able to sit down in the National Palace of Mexico on a September day in 1847 and pen his concluding report: "At the end of another series of arduous and brilliant operations of more than forty-eight hours' continuance this glorious army hoisted, on the morning of the 14th, the colors of the United States on the walls of this palace."
The long and bloody road to the Mexican capital had been marked with unexcelled deeds of valor and exhibitions of military skill. Throughout the war the services of officers trained at West Point were recognized and valued. After the spectacular defeat of Santa Ana at Buena Vista, General Taylor reported:
"I discovered that our infantry (Illinois and Second Kentucky) hada engaged a greatly superior force of the enemy — evidently his reserve — and that they had been overwhelmed by numbers. The moment was critical Captain O'Brien with two pieces had sustained this heavy charge to the last and was finally obliged to leave his guns on the field — his infantry support being entirely routed. Captain Bragg, who had just arrived from the left, was ordered at once into battery. Without any infantry to support him, and at the imminent risk of losing his guns, this officer came rapidly into action, p227the Mexican line being but a few yards from the muzzles of his pieces. The first discharge of canister caused the enemy to hesitate; the second and third drove him back in disorder and saved the day."
Singling out Military Academy graduates for special mention, General Taylor stated: "No loss falls more heavily upon the army in the field than that of Colonels Harden and McKee and Lieutenant Colonel Clay. Possessing in a remarkable degree the confidence of their commands, and the last two having enjoyed the advantage of a military education. I had looked particularly to them for support in case we met the enemy. I need not say that their zeal in engaging the enemy, and the cool and steadfast courage with which they maintained their positions during the day, fully realized my hopes and caused me to feel yet more sensibly their untimely loss."
After Cerro Gordo General Scott reported: "I am compelled to make special mention of the services of Capt. R. E. Lee, Engineers. This officer greatly distinguished himself at the siege of Vera Cruz, was again indefatigable during these operations, in reconnoissance as daring as laborious, and of the utmost value. Nor was he less conspicuous in planting batteries and in conducting columns to their stations under the heavy fire of the enemy."
After the final victory, officers breveted for gallantry in the battles of del Rey and Chapultepec included Second Lieutenant U. S. Grant of the Fourth Infantry, and General Scott offered his commendation and thanks to Captain Lee, "so constantly distinguished," and to Lieutenants Beauregard, Stevens, and Tower, "all wounded."
Two of the most important trophies of the war were captured with the taking of twenty‑two brass cannon in the victory of Contreras. Among them were Captain O'Brien's guns "lost without dishonor" to Santa Ana at Buena Vista, but "recovered with glory" by a battery of the same regiment.
A total of 523 West Point graduates served in the Mexican War. Forty-nine of them were killed and 82 wounded. They received a total 452 brevets, all but five of which were conferred for distinguished service in battle. Many brevets were awarded for several different acts by an individual on or about the same date or in a continuous action lasting several days.
Said Secretary of War Randolph B. Marcy in 1848: "Among the considerations which render the U. S. Military Academy at West Point an appropriate depository of the trophies of the successful victories of our arms in Mexico is the admitted fact that the graduates of that institution contributed in an eminent degree to our unexampled career of success."
p228 Settlement of the issue with Mexico gave the United States the vast areas of California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and a portion of Colorado. The great gold rush of 1849 marked the beginning of an era of transcontinental migration that proved to be one of the most romantic and colorful in the nation's history. The Army's job in connection with the westward movement of the population was to protect Americans from the wrath of Indian tribes who elected to contest the white man's right to invade their territory.
Many veterans of Cerro Gordo and Buena Vista, as well as young graduates of the Military Academy, whose names later became important on both sides in the Civil War, saw intensive service as Indian flatters in the Southwest, on the plains, and along the Pacific slope during the thirteen years between the close of the Mexican War and the outbreak of hostilities between the North and South.
Indian troubles in Texas dated back to the Spanish conquest, and after the Mexican War the Army was obliged to continue its operations against the Comanches and Lipans and to fight some fifteen engagements in six years. So serious did the Indian campaigns become that two new regiments of cavalry and two of infantry were formed to augment the troops already in the field. One of the cavalry units was sent into Texas and served there until the Civil War. Among those wounded in this service were Major George H. Thomas, Captains Earl Van Dorn and Kirby Smith, and Lieutenants John B. Hood and Fitzhugh Lee.
Feats of great endurance and acts of exceptional bravery became commonplace with the officers and men who rode their ponies headlong over the rolling plains in pursuit of warring Comanches and Mescalero Apaches. Hood, for instance, after covering •200 miles in four days with his mounted party of seventeen men, who had made most of the journey without water, met up with a party of Lipans and Comanches who exhibited a white flag. The Indians made a sudden attack with lances and guns. The soldiers fought the savages off and killed or wounded twenty‑two of them. Hood, wounded, was among the seven casualties suffered by the troops.
Uprisings touched off by the Mexicans in 1847 shortly after the American occupation led to prolonged operations to subdue the Indians in New Mexico. The Army campaign for years to control depredations of the Navajos and Apaches and maintained such relentless pressure that the war‑impoverished Navajos sued for peace in 1861. The Apaches, more savage and eager to fight, proved more difficult to bring to account. They fought many p229a bloody skirmish with the United States troops, and marked Lieutenant Ambrose E. Burnside with an arrow wound in the head at Las Vegas in 1849.
Although the greatest plains wars with the Indians came after the Civil War, a number of sharp engagements were fought in that region between 1847 and 1861. An instance in which the Army attempted to bring an Indian to justice for stealing a Mormon's cow resulted in a clash which led to concerted action against the Sioux. With a party of thirty men from Fort Laramie, Wy., Lieutenant John L. Grattan of the Sixth Infantry called on the Sioux chief in August, 1853, to make an arrest for the theft of the cow. Grattan's party was then set upon by the Indians and the officer and every one of his men were killed. The Sioux then launched an attack on Fort Laramie itself. a
The Army marked the Sioux for punishment, and the next year a force of 1,300, including cavalry commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Philip St. George Cooke of the Second Dragoons, and infantry commanded by Major Albemarle Cady of the Sixth Infantry, set out from Fort Leavenworth, Kans., in search of the Indians. It took a month to find them. The Sioux camp was attacked from front and rear and wiped out.
In 1856 an expedition of six troops of the First Cavalry attacked the Cheyennes on the Solomon Fork of the Arkansas, dispersed them with a fierce saber charge, and destroyed their camp.
The Pacific Slope Indians fought a desperate battle against the white man's advances into California, Oregon, and Washington and put up many a bloody fight before they were finally installed on reservations. In all, the Army fought some fifty engagements with the Indians on the Pacific Coast between 1847 and 1861.
The Rogue River Indians were finally defeated and forced onto their reservation in 1856 after a bitter struggle. One force of these Indians held Captain A. J. Smith of the First Dragoons and ninety men of his command at bay at the big bend of the Rogue River without water for thirty‑six hours. In effecting their rescue Captain Christopher C. Augur of the Fourth Infantry lost a third of his troops in killed and wounded.
Another major operation grew out of a concerted attack upon three troops of the First Dragoons and a company of the Ninth Infantry in 1858 by a large force of Spokanes, Pelouses, Coeur d'Alenes, Yakimas, and other Indians. The soldiers made their escape by a night march with the help of the Nez Perce Indians. A few months later Colonel George Wright of the p230Ninth Infantry organized an expedition on which he routed the Indians in three engagements, captured and shot large numbers of their horses, and burned their winter stores of provisions. One member of this expedition was Philip Henry Sheridan, a subaltern of the Fourth Infantry, who was specially mentioned in orders.
Many a Military Academy graduate, like Sheridan, won his spurs in these Indian wars and gained experience which a few years later served him well in a responsible post of command in blue or gray.
The Civil War tried West Point in two ways. The institution itself was subjected to the strain of an unprecedented upheaval of human emotions as the time came to choose between the North and the South. Its teachings were equally put to the test as graduates of the Academy moved into the places of highest command on both sides for the greatest contest between trained military minds that the nation had ever seen.
The trend of feeling throughout the country over the issues of states' rights and slavery, which finally brought the North and South into conflict, began to be reflected at West Point about the time of John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859. Lincoln's nomination brought on a fresh surge of excitement. the cadets conducted a straw vote in October, 1860, and Southern members of the Corps were angered by the sixty-four votes Lincoln received.
The first Southern cadet to resign was H. S. Farley of South Carolina, class of 1862, who quit the Academy after Lincoln's election in November, 1860. By the end of the year all but one of the other South Carolina cadets had followed Farley's example, as did others from mission and Alabama. The remaining cadet from South Carolina and one from Texas resigned in January, 1861.
Jefferson Davis paid his last visit to the Military Academy in the fall of 1860, in connection with an official visit of the Prince of Wales. On Jan. 23, 1861, Major Peter G. T. Beauregard was appointed superintendent of the Academy to succeed Major Richard Delafield. Beauregard, whose state, Louisiana, had already seceded from the Union when he was given the appointment, went to West Point and actually assumed command as superintendent. A few days later he was informed that his orders had been canceled and that Delafield would resume command as superintendent.
The flow of resignations of cadets and Army officers that began with Lincoln's election mounted to a flood with the forming of the Confederacy and Jefferson Davis' election to its presidency in February, 1861. The gallant p231Robert E. Lee made his decision after receiving an unofficial officer to command the United States Army. "I have been unable to make up my mind to raise my hand against my native state, my relatives, my children & my home," he wrote to a relative in the service. "I have therefore resigned my Commission in the Army & never desire again to draw my sword save in defense of my State. I consider it useless to go into the reasons that influence me. I can give you no advice. I merely tell you what I have done that you may do better."
During the late winter and spring of 1861 excitement among the cadets at West Point remained at a high pitch. There was considerable informal debating about the merits of the two causes and personal encounters between cadets were not uncommon. Demonstrations were staged on several occasions, one of which was said to have been led on the Northern side by George A. Custer, Class of 1861.
Finally, in April, came the electrifying news that Beauregard — so recently contemplating a term as superintendent of Military Academy — had fired on Fort Sumter. He fired not only on the United States flag but on Major Robert Anderson, commanding officer of the fort, under whom he had studied artillery tactics at the Academy twenty-five years before. With mixed emotions the cadets at West Point saw a chapter closed in the history of the Military Academy. They gave hearty farewells to cadets and officers leaving to join the fight on both sides. One of the last to go was their beloved Lieutenant Fitzhugh Lee, Class of 1856, who was serenaded as he took his departure after personally taking leave of every cadet in his company.
Eighty-nine per cent of West Point graduates, including the two classes graduated in 1861, saw service in the Civil War, nearly three-fourths of them in the Union Army. More than half of the graduates who had returned to civil life volunteered their services on one side or the other in approximately equal numbers.
The value of West Point preparation for a military career, so well demonstrated in the Mexican War and subsequent operations against the Indians, was thoroughly established by the time the nation moved to civil war. Until the outbreak of hostilities in 1861 no graduate of the Military Academy had ever served as a general officer in the line of the United States Army except by brevet. One graduate had been appointed a brigadier general in the Regular Army but had declined the appointment. He was Jefferson Davis. The Civil War ended, however, with Academy graduates in the highest posts of command on both sides.
p232 The tremendous expansion of the Union Army as it prepared for war opened appointments to high posts of command which were eagerly sought by political candidates. During 1861, four of five major generals of volunteers appointed were prominent politicians who lacked the recommendation of any particular military background. Such candidates continued to crowd the lists during the war, leading President Lincoln at one time to remark that the generals without commands, by whom nobody wanted to be commanded, constituted one of the greatest burdens of his life.
Sharp lessons learned on the battlefield soon convinced that administration that mere numbers could not defeat the determined armies of the South. The need for well-trained troops and expert leadership not only at headquarters but in the field became apparent at once. As the war progressed, more and more Military Academy graduates were moved into the posts of greatest responsibility. During the Wales are more than one‑third of the Academy graduates involved became general officers. Three-fourths of the brigadier generals of volunteers appointed during the first year were graduates, a large proportion of whom had reentered the service from civil life. As time went on the political generals found themselves shifted to commands of less military responsibility, and by 1863 two‑thirds of the major generals (highest rank in the Union Army) were West Point graduates.
The list of generals of the Regular Army contained the names of Academy graduates alone in 1865 as the war moved into its last year. In all, nearly 300 graduates rose to the grade of general officer in the Union Army during the war.
on the side of the South, more than half of the 296 West Point graduates who joined the Confederate cause became general officers. Unhampered j be restrictions of tradition or prejudice, and faced with the necessity of placing the best possible force in the field in the shortest possible time, the Confederates proceeded to build an army as they thought it should be built. They appointed only West Point graduates to the full grade of general. Eight Academy graduates were appointed full generals, fifteen were made lieutenant generals, forty were made major generals, and eighty-eight, brigadier generals. Only two Confederate lieutenant generals were non‑graduates.
The scope and intensity of the war made serious inroads upon the ranks of Academy graduates in both the North and South during the four dark years. The influence of the Academy was exerted throughout the armies of both sides, however, as West Point men trained officers appointed from the p233ranks or from civil life. Thus there grew up on both sides during the war of class of officers competent for every duty to which they were assigned, from subaltern to corps commander.
The general strategy of the South was originally to fight a defensive war, not only because of its weaker position but in view of its philosophy that Southerners were merely defending their assumed right peaceably to secede from the Union. The original strategy of the North, in putting down a rebellion, was naturally one of offense. The South in time, however, took an offensive, invading Northern territory and seriously threatening the Union capital.
The boldness of the South, and the expert manner in which its thrusts were made, gave the North good cause for worry and reason to believe that the war could be won or lost on generalship. It was good news, therefore, when President Lincoln decided to make one officer responsible for all military operations. Accordingly, Major General U. S. Grant was placed in command overall armies and promoted to the newly authorized grade of lieutenant general in March, 1864. With all resources of the nation's military establishment at his command, Grant was given the task of crushing the armies of the Confederacy.
Despite the general progress that Union forces had made in 1863, excepting Chancellorsville and Chickamauga, the assignment was by no means an easy one. The Confederate armies showed a definite tendency to grow more tenacious as their fortunes waned. But by the close of 1864 it was becoming apparent that they could not withstand much longer the pressure that was being exerted upon them. Lee's Army, which had made two invasions of Union territory, was at last driven back to the defenses of Richmond, and Grant was poised for a decisive blow in that direction.
At the beginning of 1865 the Army of Northern Virginia was the only formidable Confederate army in the field. Nevertheless, Robert E. Lee was appointed general in chief of all the Confederate armies on Feb. 5, giving him equal authority with General Grant on the Northern side. The South's cause seemed hopeless, yet one last daring scheme was attempted. General Joseph E. Johnston was given command of the Army of Tennessee and the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, with orders to move against General William T. Sherman as the Union general marched northward from Savannah to join Grant in Virginia. Lee, then, was to attempt an escape from Grant and join Johnston, and the combined Confederate forces were to try first to crush Sherman, then Grant.
p234 This final strategy had been anticipated by Grant for about a year, and he put Sherman on his guard. While Sherman, during February and March, marched his 60,000 troops northward through the Carolinas, uniting with Scofield's force of 40,000 and sending Johnston's army into retreat, Grant began his movement against Lee at Richmond. By Apr. 3 the Union forces were in the Confederate capital and Lee's army was seeking to effect junction with Johnston. Headed off in that attempt, the Army of Northern Virginia was finally driven to its last stand at Appomattox.
Graduates of the Military Academy stood at the head of all armies engaged in the final, decisive actions of the Civil War. Their names alone were signed to the articles of surrender of the Confederate forces. In all but five of the sixty most important engagements of the war the forces on both sides had been commanded by graduates of the Military Academy. Proof of the splendid organization and discipline of the Confederate armies was shown in their orderly surrender instead of resorting to unauthorized, protracted guerrilla warfare and prolonging the distress of people already exhausted by the heroic defense of a lost cause.
With the issue settled between the North and South, the Army found itself faced again with Indian campaigning as a new and concerted movement began for development of the west. The building of transcontinental railroads, and the migration of thousands westward to seek gold or to establish homesteads rallied the Indians to a final effort to defend their hunting grounds against the great white tide. Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Kiowa, and Comanche increased their attacks, which had started during the lull in Indian campaigning during the Civil War.
West Point graduates who had risen to posts of high command in the Civil War were not prominent in large numbers during the first ten years of these operations against the Indians, because the campaigns were carried out mostly by small detachments. Generals Sheridan and Hancock were in active command. Sheridan adopted the strategy of a thinking the Indians in the winter when they were forced to become inactive and their ponies were in a starved condition. The Indians put up spirited resistance despite severe losses. The operations resulted in diverting 12,000 Indians from the war path to the reservations and brought Indian troubles virtual to an end in several states.
The Indian wars, however, were not over. The Army discovered in 1876 that 28,000 Indians were absent from the reservations and had to be accounted for. In June of that year Custer and his entire command of troops p235of the Seventh Cavalry were wiped out at the Little Big Horn while taking part in an attack on the combined force of Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull. For fifteen more years the campaigns were continued under Sheridan's general command, involving more than 400 skirmishes and battles, in which more than a thousand officers and men of the Army were killed or wounded. By 1891 the Indians had been generally quieted and persuaded to live on their reservations.
Many of the Regular Army officers who had served in the Civil War and the Indian campaigns in the thirty years following the great conflict between the states were still on active duty or returned to the service when the nation went to war with Spain in 1898. Some, in fact, such as Fitzhugh Lee, who had fought with the South in the Civil War, were in United States Army blue again.
The destruction of the U. S. S. Maine in Havana Harbor on Feb. 15, 1898, and subsequent developments in the situation with Spain which indicated that hostilities were probably unavoidable, led to mobilization measures in the spring. The task to Regular Army, small in numbers, was to lend its influence as quickly and effectively as possible in the organizing and training of a large volunteer force.
Twenty‑six thousand regulars were mobilized in the southern part of the country on Apr. 15, and two weeks later this force was increased to 61,000. Regular Army officers knuckled down to the takes of effecting necessary changes in organization and selecting 29,000 recruits from among 127,000 who applied.
The President issued his first call for 125,000 volunteers on Apr. 23, and the next day Spain declared war on the United States. The American declaration of war came the following day, and on Apr. 26 West Point graduated its eager Class of 1898. A month later the President issued his second call for volunteers, this time asking for 75,000. The organization of three regiments of cavalry and a brigade of engineers brought the total of volunteers to 223,000.
Thus the Army was faced with the job of providing for and training a total force of 278,000 volunteers and regulars. To do that and to place effective troops in the field against the enemy not only in Cuba and Puerto Rico but halfway around the world in the Philippines, it needed fully qualified and competent officers. Of the 1,800 Academy graduates living at the time, about 325 served as general and staff officers.
After final defeat of the Spanish forces in Cuba, officers of the Regular p236Army undertook to fulfill their second important assignment of the war. This was to assist in the rehabilitation of Cuba and its people and the establishment of a free government in place of the Pictish rule from which the island had been freed.
Destruction of the Spanish fleet at Manila on May 1, 1898, resulted in surrender by the Spanish, but there still remained the problem of putting down the Philippine Insurrection. with this accomplished by forces under Generals Lawton, Arthur MacArthur,1 and Wheaton, the Army was faced for the first time with a large-scale responsibility of establishing military government over extensive foreign territory. High-ranking officers found themselves in control of the lives and fortunes of millions of people living in areas as large as some European countries. Even recent West Point graduates exercised authority in administering the affairs of thousands.
How well the Army performed its tasks of government in both Cuba and the Philippines was attested in an order of July 4, 1902, quoting Secretary of War Elihu Root. "He [the President' thanks the officers and enlisted men who have been maintaining order and carrying on the military government in Cuba, because they have faithfully given effect to the humane purposes of the American people," the order started. "They have with sincere kindness helped the Cuban people to take all the successive steps necessary to the establishment of their own constitutional Government." With respect to the Philippines operation the order said: "The President thanks the officers and enlisted men of the army in the Philippines, both regular and volunteers . . . with admirable good temper, sympathy, and loyalty to American ideals its commanding generals have joined with the civilian agents of the Government in healing the wounds of war and assuring to the people of the Philippines the belongs of peace and prosperity."
Secretary Root paid special tribute to the Military Academy in his report of June 30, 1899, in which he said: "I believe that the great service which [the Military Academy at West Point] has rendered the country was never more conspicuous than it has been during the past two years. The faithful and efficient services of its graduates since the declaration of war with Spain have more than repaid the cost of the institution since its foundation. They have been too few in number and most heavily burdened."
Operations in the Philippines were still in progress when General Arthur MacArthur was called upon to furnish troops for the allied campaign in China for putting down the Boxe are Rebellion. These developments presented p237the United States with an opportunity to demonstrate its military strength its willingness to take a hand in Far Eastern affairs if required. A number of West Point graduates, including many young officers who led their troops in the attacks which smashed resistance to the allied march on Pekin, took part in the operations in China during 1900 and 1901. Dozens of these officers were cited for gallantry in action.
The United States entered World War I in 1917 with West Point graduates in high places of command at the start for the first time in the history of the Military Academy. Many of them were veterans of the Philippine actions, in which, like Pershing and Bullard, they had distinguished themselves for gallantry and administrative ability. In high and low places, however, they proved themselves time and again through acts of heroism which accomplished important military ends and served as an inspiration to the whole Army.
As in the Spanish-American War, the Regular Army was again given the task of mobilizing, equipping, and training a citizen army as the United States moved toward war with Germany. The conflict which had begun in Europe a month after the assassination of the Archduke Francis of Austria and his wife in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on June 28, 1914, began to affect American interests directly when a German submarine torpedoed the Gulflight, an American-owned ship flying the American flag, on May 1, 1915. Two Americans died in that attack, and the loss of 124 American lives among the 1,195 who went down with the Lusitania six days later sent a hot wave of indignation through the country. With the beginning of unrestricted German submarine warfare on feb. 1, 1917, the United States broke off diplomatic relations with Germany and began to arm our merchant ships.
Conscription which began with the draft law signed by President Wilson on Mar. 15, 1917, together with voluntary enlistments, resulted in the mobilization of a huge army of 4,000,000 men. The first of these troops landed in France on June 26, less than three months after the United States declared war on Germany. With our allies they countered the enemy offensive during twelve months of some of the hardest fighting the world had ever seen and turned the tide of German aggression a few miles short of Paris. The victory which started the German retreat across the Marne on July 19, 1918, was followed up with the taking of St. Mihiel by American troops on Sept. 13, and the opening of the long Meuse-argonne battle a week later. The cracking of the Hindenburg line on Sept. 27, and successive Allied victories through October and early November, led at last to the abdication of p238the German Kaiser on Nov. 10, and the signing of armistice terms the next day in Marshal Foch's railway coach in the forest of Compiègne.
On every battlefront West Point graduates exhibited skill and determination in command of troops, personal fortitude and bravery, and in countless instances their readiness to perform any act necessary to inspire their men. Many of them disclosed then the caliber that marked them for greatness. Brigadier General Douglas MacArthur, Class of 1903, hammered home important blows in the closing weeks of the war when, as a brigade commander, he personally led his troops in the taking of two important hills and the Cote‑de-Chatillon in France in mid‑October, 1918. The Distinguished Service Cross oak‑leaf-cluster citation he received for this action declared: "On a field where courage was the rule, his courage was the dominant feature." At that same time Brigade General Fred W. Sladen, Class of 1890, who was to relieve MacArthur as superintendent of the Military Academy in 1922, was successfully pushing through with an advance under almost insurmountable difficulties near Ferme de la . Sladen, almost exhausted after forty-eight hours of continuous duty without rest, made his way through three kilometers of severe artillery fire to the front line when he learned that it was held up by enemy machine‑gun fire. Finding the battalion commander killed and the unit badly disorganized, he personally reorganized the troops under heavy firre, launched the advance anew, and remained in the action even though at one time he fainted from exhaustion.
Lieutenant Colonel George S. Patton, Jr., Class of 1909, of the Tank Corps, displayed conspicuous courage and intelligence in directing the advance of his brigade down the valley of the Aire near Cheppy, France, in September, 1918. He rallied a force of disorganized infantry and led it forward behind tanks under heavy enemy fire until he was wounded. Unable to advance farther, he continued to direct the operations of his unit until all arrangements for turning over the command were completed.
In all, 3,445 graduates of the Military Academy served in World War I. At the end of the war, West Point graduates held practically all the high positions in our Army. General John J. Pershing, Class of 1886, was the commander in chief of our forces in France; General Peyton C. March, Class of 1888, as Chief of S0, held a correspondingly important post in the United States. General Tasker H. Bliss, class of 1875, was United States representative on the Supreme War Council, where he served along with Clemenceau and Lloyd George. Lieutenant General Hunter Liggett, p239class of 1879, commanded the First Army. Lieutenant General Robert Lee Bullard, class of 1885, commanded the Second Army. Lieutenant General Joseph T. Dickman, class of 1880, commanded the Third Army. Of the thirty-eight corps and division commanders who were in command in France at the end of the war, thirty-four were West Pointers. In addition, many of the senior staff officers and the heads of practically all the great supply and administrative branches were graduates of the Military Academy.
The record of these West Point officers called forth a statement of high commendation ten years later by Newton D. Baker in a letter to Major General William H. Smith, superintendent of the Academy. Said the man who was Secretary of War during World War I:
"in the World War, West Point again demonstrated its supreme value to the country in the hour of need. Our great overseas army was made and led by West Point men and the incredible swiftness with which it was trained for its great task is a tribute to the fineness of the raw material and also to the leadership generated by West Point. In all walks of life, character is the indispensable basis of enduring success. West Point does many things for its men, but the highest quality it gives them is character and in the emergency of World War, our success rested upon the character of our leaders. It therefore finally rested upon West Point."
General Pershing himself had said:
". . . West Point has again, in this war, demonstrated its usefulness and justified itself a hundred times over, in furnishing to this great American Army in Europe the splendid men who have served here in the old West Point spirit."
The Military Academy was seriously disorganized in meeting the demands made upon it to provide officer training during the war. The first class (Class of 1917) was graduated two weeks after the declaration of war on Germany, and the Class of 1918 went out four months later. Another class, that which would normally have remained until 1919, was graduated a year early, in June, 1918. The next month a new fourth class was received but the War Department ordered graduation of the second and third classes on Nov. 1, 1918, and the fourth class, augmented by 800 additional appointees, the following June.
Thus the Military Academy virtually lost the aspect of an educational institution and became more a training camp. The armistice did not improve the situation. In December the November graduates returned to the p240Academy as a special student-officer class, uncomfortable on discovering themselves to be neither fish nor fowl. They were cadets in officers' uniforms, shown deference by the regular cadets but treated as cadets by the academic staff. The Corps was composed, then, of old fourth-class cadets in gray, new fourth-class cadets in khaki, and student officers wearing bars.
When Douglas MacArthur became superintendent in June, 1919, a three-year course was established, but after careful study by the Academic Board and civilian consultants it was considered inadequate. A year later the Academy returned to the standard four-year course.
The shortening of the course during the war years, and the presence of classes of cadets who had entered at irregular intervals deprived the Corps of the guidance of experienced upperclassmen. Through the able successive administrations of Generals MacArthur and Sladen, however, the Corps of Cadets was brought back to the standards of former years. During his three years as superintendent, from 1919 to 1922, General MacArthur vigorously undertook the solution of many of the institution's pressing problems. Planning well into the future, he brought about revision and modernization of the curriculum, improved and brought up to date the military-training program, and instituted an excellent program of physical training and intramural athletics.
Repeatedly, between World War I and World War II, the Academy's curriculum was studied by the Academic Board with the collaboration of committees of civilian educators called in for consultation. In each case the resultant recommendations were adopted with the most salutary results. One of the principal improvements in academic organization was the development of the Department of Economics, Government, and History. History and English had comprised one department, but separating them made it possible for the Academy to devote more time and greater emphasis to economics and government, and modern history and current events. As a result, cadets began to participate in round-table discussions with students of other colleges on such subjects as political science and won the commendation of leading educators for their grasp of subjects and ability to present them clearly and forcefully. Another important step was the reorganization of the Department of Physics, which laid the elementary basis for more advanced work in other scientific departments thereby relieved of the task of imparting basic knowledge to the cadets.
With many of the veterans of World War I in posts of high command, and West Point graduates of more recent years in key positions throughout the p241military establishment, the Army tackled with confidence the gigantic task of mobilizing the biggest citizen army in the nation's history for World War II. It was an army that reached the staggering total of 8,300,000 men by V‑E Day — an army trained to perfection in global warfare and equipped with the finest and most advanced weapons from automatic rifles to giant bombing planes.
The invasion of Poland by German troops on Sept. 1, 1939, after months of uncertain international negotiations in Europe, was the beginning of the greatest war in history. The possibility of new German armed aggression had been observed with growing anxiety by the democracies during Adolf Hitler's rise to power and the spread of totalitarian doctrine through cleverly devised and powerful Nazi propaganda. The fall of France on June 22, 1940, under the enemy's startling blitzkrieg tactics, which placed England within easy range of the powerful German air force, brought the American people face to face with the reality of the Rome-Berlin-Tokyo Axis plan of world conquest.
The United States began mobilizing for war with the registration of 17,000,000 men on Oct. 16, 1940, under the Selective Service Act which had been adopted in September. While Britain carried on under a hail of German bombs, American military and naval authorities began the grinding process of building and training the largest fighting force in the nation's history. On Mar. 10, 1941, early in his third term in the White House, President Roosevelt signed the Lend-Lease Bill, and the United States became the "arsenal of democracy."
Our first brush with Germany came, World War I fashion, with the torpedoing of an American freighter, the Robin Moor, by a German submarine •950 miles off the coast of Brazil on May 21, 1940. On June 14 the President directed the freezing of United States assets of Germany and Italy and of all invaded or occupied European countries, and two days later the United States ordered all German consulates in this country closed by July 20.
United States Marines effected the friendly occupation of Iceland on July 7, 1941, giving us an important outpost in the North Atlantic. Three months later a destroyer, the U. S. S. Kearney, was torpedoed off Iceland. Then a United States Navy tanker was torpedoed in the same region. In November the President and the State Department received the Japanese envoys, Saburo Kurusu and Admiral Nomura, who had come to negotiate the Far Eastern issues affecting American and Japanese relations. Then, on Dec. 7, while these negotiations were still in progress, came the Japanese p242blow at Pearl Harbor. Within a few days we were at war with the Axis.
The United States and Britain acted at once to coordinate all their military and naval operations under a single strategic control to be exercised by their Combined Chiefs of Staff. This plan was evolved at a conference in Washington in December, 1941, between President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill accompanied by the top military and naval leaders of both nations. At this meeting the decision was also made to follow the plan of first defeating Germany, then Japan.
It was recognized from the outset that the final blow against Germany must be delivered by means of an invasion of the European continent by ground troops across the English Channel, followed by an eastward thrust through the plains of western Europe. This and plans to reduce pressure on the hard-fighting Red Army were under discussion when German successes in North Africa, climaxed by the loss of Tobruk, shifted attention to the necessity of measures to prevent a collapse in the Middle East, and loss of the Suez Canal and the Abadan oil resources. The cross-channel invasion was postponed and the north African invasion of Nov. 7, 1942, was projected. With the success of that operation assured, President Roosevelt, Prime Minister Churchill, and the Combined Chiefs of Staff met at Casablanca in January, 1943, and decided upon the invasion of Italy though Sicily as the next move after conclusion of the Tunisian campaign. It was also decided then to begin the huge mobilization of men and matériel in the British Isles for the invasion of western Europe. The whole Anglo-American strategy in Europe and the Pacific was reaffirmed at another conference in Washington in May, 1943, and by August the concerted air attack on German oil resources was under way.
With the Axis powers on the strategic defensive as the result of Allied successes in north Africa and the Soviet along the Volga, Italy was knocked out of the war, though the German forces in that country continued resistance until May 2, 1945. As American and British military and naval forces pressed their campaign in Italy, the great invasion of western Europe got under way with the assault upon the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944. It had been preceded by a gigantic air bombardment of the fortress of Europe, which reached its climax in February. Three months later France was liberated and the Allied armies converged upon the Nazis in several concerted derives. In response to direct orders from Hitler the Wehrmacht made its last desperate attempt to fight back in the ardennes p243counterattack of mid‑December, 1944, when von Rundstedt's forces attempted a break-through to Antwerp. The failure of this move, and subsequent loss of the Remagen bridge across the Rhine, spelled the end for Germany and forced the final surrender at Reims on May 7, 1945.
Victory in Europe allowed the Allies to undertake redeployment of troops to the Pacific for a concerted attack on Japan. The decision to increase the pressure on Japan had been taken back in May, 1943, at the Washington conference, and plans were worked out in more detail at the Quebec conference in August, 1943. It was then that General Douglas MacArthur was directed to schedule the retaking of the Philippines by the fall of 1944, and operations were planned in the Gilberts, the Marshalls, and the Marianas with the objective of taking the Ryukyus by the spring of 1945. Meanwhile, specific aid to China, for which plans had been decided upon at Casablanca in January, 1943, was undertaken by stepping up the air delivery of matériel across the Himalayan "Hump," and the effort to reestablish land communication with China through the Burma campaign.
These operations proceeded so well on schedule that by the time victory was achieved in Europe the United States Navy dominated don't Pacific, the Philippines had been liberated, and our forces were poised for the knockout blow on Japan, whose cities were crumbling under our terrific air attack. The war ended when the United States introduced the most powerful weapon in history — the atomic bomb. One of these bombs destroyed Hiroshima, a military base, on Aug. 6, 1945. The second destroyed Nagasaki on Aug. 9, the day after Russia entered the war against Japan. On Aug. 10 the Japanese sued for peace.
The atomic bomb had been developed under the executive direction of Brigadier General Leslie Richard Groves, Class of 1918. In the summer of 1942 General Groves was given charge of the program which involved the biggest secret in the world's history. He supervised the research and development which went on in two plants in Tennessee and one in the State of Washington and culminated in the test in New Mexico on July 16, 1945, through which the scientists and military authorities working on the project knew that they were ready to blast open the atomic era.
West Point graduates distinguished themselves in all theaters of the greatest of wars. The first award of the Congressional Medal of Honor in the war was made posthumously, on the recommendation of General Douglas MacArthur, to Second Lieutenant Alexander R. Nininger, Jr., class of 1941, who was killed on Bataan. Nininger, who was attached to the Fifty-seventh p244Infantry (Philippine Scouts), voluntarily joined a company of his regiment that was under severe attack by a superior enemy force. He kept himself engaged in desperate hand-to‑hand combat and died after dispatching one enemy officer and two enemy soldiers at a point far inside the Japanese lines.
Including the graduating class of 1944, there have been 14,434 graduates of the Military Academy since it was founded in 1802, some 10,000 of whom were alive on V‑J Day. Of this number, approximately 8,810, or 88 per cent of the living graduates, were on active duty in the Army during World War II, serving on all fronts. The contributions of the junior officers graduated from the Academy during World War II were outstanding. More than eight per cent of the members of the four wartime classes were killed in the line of duty. Although they comprised but two per cent of the entire officer corps of the Army, West Point graduates filled a majority of the key positions in the mobilization and training program. Moreover, upon their relatively small numbers fell an entirely disproportionate share of responsibility for organizing and executing the grand strategy of the war. Outstanding contributions in this respect were made by such graduates as General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, class of 1903, commander of United States and Allied forces in the Pacific; General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower, Class of 1915, supreme commander of the Allied Armies; General of the Army Henry H. Arnold, Class of 1907, commanding Army Air Forces; Lieutenant General Lesley J. McNair, Class of 1904, commander of the Army ground Forces; General Brehon B. Somervell, Class of 1914, commander of the Army Service Forces; General Mark W. Clark, Class of 1914; and Lieutenant General George S. Patton, Jr., Class of 1909.
With more order and better results than in World War I, the Military Academy quickly geared itself to meet the increased need for officers not only to fight as soon as they could be made ready but to maintain the Army's high standards in the peace to follow. The four-year course at the Academy was again suspended and a three-year course established in the fall of 1942. Two classes were graduated in 1943: the Class of 1943 in January and the Class of 1944 in June.
With sixty per cent of its plebe class appointed directly from the armed forces in 1944, the Academy intensified its academic program, placed increased emphasis on its Tactical Department, and introduced training in the newest developments of battle-tested methods and equipment. A maneuver ground of •10,000 acres at near‑by Camp Popolopen (now named Camp p245Buckner in honor of General Simón Bolívar Buckner, Class of 1908, Commander of the Tenth Army, who was killed on Okinawa), established in 1943, provided facilities for training cadets sin the latest battle techniques under almost perfectly simulated war conditions. There cadets were able to pilot tanks, bring artillery into action, move platoons over pontoon bridges erected across Lake Popolopen, make landings and establish beach-heads, and conduct house-to‑house street fighting in a specially constructed village. Summer camp was concluded with a period of training in field maneuvers at Pine Camp in northern New York State. There the cadets became part of a wartime division, plebes serving as privates, and upperclassmen as commissioned and noncommissioned officers.
An intensified aviation problem kept Stewart Field humming with activity. There the Academy's Basic and Advanced Flying School gave every cadet 20 hours of observer training and provided for those electing the air arm a complete course of pilot training. The privilege of making this choice was extended in the middle of the second year at the Academy, and by June, 1945, a total of 825 cadets had taken advanced training and were graduated from the Academy with their pilot's wings.
During West Point's rugged winters the cadets turned out to learn skiing and winter warfare.
Major General Francis B. Wilby, the Academy's wartime superintendent, declared on the institution's 143rd anniversary, in March, 1945:
"The Military Academy is not lost in the future, nor dwelling in the past. It is geared for war. Never before has cadet life been so strenuous, nor its demands more exacting. The leisures permitted by the four‑you course are gone, and the curriculum, military and academic, has been compressed into three years. The cadet has been made acutely conscious of wartime demands by the speed and realism of his training."
Having been spared the mistakes and confusion it suffered in World War I, the Military Academy entered the postwar period after V‑J Day ready to reestablish its four-year course and carry on with its mission to prepare men for professional careers as Regular Army officers. It will fulfill its responsibility to an Army which, as expressed by General of the Army George C. Marshall, must "provide the knowledge, the expert personnel, and the installations for training the citizen-soldier upon whom . . . the future peace of the world largely depends."
1 Father of General Douglas MacArthur.
a For more details, if with a pro-Indian bias, see the text accompanying the view of his burial place at Find-a‑Grave.
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Crane Crane & Kieley's
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