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Part 1

This webpage reproduces part of
A Sketch of the History and Topography of West Point and the U. S. Military Academy

by
Roswell Park

published by
Henry Perkins,
Philadelphia, 1840

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Part 3
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

The History of West Point

["Part 2" of 5 in this Web transcription]

p31 It appears that a petition was presented to Congress, by Stephen Moore, of North Carolina, that the United States would purchase West Point, which had already been so long occupied for public purposes. On this petition, General Hamilton, then Secretary of the Treasury, made a favourable report, June 10, 1790. He quoted the opinion of General Knox, the Secretary of War, as stated by him in a report to Congress, on the 31st of July, 1786, that West Point is of the most decisive importance to the defence of the Hudson river, for the following reasons: "1st. The distance across the river is only about fourteen hundred feet, a less distance by far than at any other part. 2d. The peculiar bend or turn of the river, forming almost a re-entering angle. 3d. The high banks on both sides of the river, favourable for the construction of formidable batteries. p324th. The demonstrated practicability of fixing across the river a chain or chains, at a spot where vessels, in turning the point, invariably lose their rapidity, and of course their force, by which a chain at any other part of the river would be liable to be broken." These considerations, together with the difficulty of taking West Point by siege, its being within a single night's sail of New York or Sandy Hook, and its importance in preserving the communications between the Eastern and Middle States, induced General Hamilton to recommend its purchase by the United States, as a permanent military post, especially for purposes of defence.38 This purchase, as we have already stated, was made soon after.

The fortifications at West Point were afterwards materially improved and repaired as late as 1794, under the general superintendence of Colonel Vincent, and the immediate direction of Major Niven, both French engineers; the latter assisted by Captain Fleming. Major Niven reported, December 12, 1794, that the old wall of Fort Putnam, facing Fort Clinton, had been taken down p33and rebuilt, enclosing the point, for the advantage of enlarging the battery facing the ridge where Forts Webb and Willis stood; also, that nine bomb-proof arches were closed over the barracks and magazines, and he had hoped to finish four more, but was unable.39 Liancourt, in his "Voyage dans les Etats Unis," observed, in 1796, on visiting Fort Putnam, that thirty-five thousand dollars had been uselessly expended, because forty-five thousand more were refused by Congress to complete the work; and that the walls, half done, and the casemates only commenced, remained exposed to the effects of the wintry weather.

It may be interesting here to give a brief description of the works at West Point, as they existed at this period; and in this unfinished state they have ever since remained. Fort Putnam was an irregular work, occupying the summit of Mount Independence, and immediately overlooking the plain, with which it communicated by a road winding up the hill. It also commanded the view for a great distance up the river, and down the same as p34far as Forts Montgomery and Clinton. The entrance was on the east side, which was lower than the west, in order to defilade it against the higher hills in the rear. The west side was a lofty precipice, on which and on the north and east sides, the wall was of moderate height; but on the southeast and south sides the scarp was very high, and in rear of it were several casemates, or vaulted rooms, constructed we believe in 1794, over which the terrepleine was extended, resting on arches bomb proof. It was supplied with water by an unfailing spring within the work, and from its peculiar position was deemed almost impregnable. The northeast corner of Fort Putnam is four hundred and ninety-five feet above the level of the river. Of the three smaller forts on small eminences between this and the river, that nearest to Fort Putnam was called Fort Webb; the next, Fort Willis; and that nearest to the river was called Fort Meigs.

Fort Clinton, situated at the northeastern angle of the plain, presented regular fortified fronts, with earthen ramparts, on the south and west; but the northern and eastern fronts p35were irregular, and adapted to the brow of the slopes where the water batteries were placed, which this fort was designed to protect. These fronts of course had no ditch, but a scarp wall of stone on the east, and on the north, as far as the citadel or redoubt extended, which occupied the northeast corner, and was separated by an interior ditch from the other part of the work. Both the fort and the water batteries were favourably situated for opposing the passage of the enemy's vessels.

Fort Constitution, opposite to West Point, merits no particular description; but the chain between it and West Point was thus described by Dr. Thacher, in his interesting Military Journal, under date of September 26th, 1780. "As additional security, an iron chain of immense strength is thrown across at the short bend of the river, and fixed to huge blocks on each shore, and under the fire of batteries on both sides of the river. The links of this chain [several of which, we may add, still remain at the Military academy,] are about twelve inches wide, and eighteen long, the bars about two inches square. It is p36buoyed up by very large logs, of about sixteen feet long, pointed at the ends, to lessen their opposition to the force of the current at flood and ebb tide. The logs are placed at short distances from each other, the chain carried over them, and made fast to each by staples. There are also a number of anchors dropped at proper distances, with cables made fast to the chain, to give it greater stability." He adds, "Such is the formidable state and strength of this post, that it has received the appellation of the Gibraltar of America, and, when properly guarded, may bid defiance to an army of twenty thousand men."40

We come now to the history of the Military Academy. The first suggestion of this Institution, we believe is due to Colonel Pickering, as early as the 22d of April, 1783. A committee of Congress having been appointed to propose a peace establishment for the United States, Colonel Hamilton, its chairman, wrote to Washington, asking his sentiments on this subject; and Washington communicated a similar request to the principal officers then in camp. From the reply of Colonel Pickering, p37then quarter-master general to the army, we make the following extract: "If any thing like a military academy in America be practicable at this time, it must be grounded on the permanent military establishment for our frontier posts and arsenals, and the wants of the states, separately, of officers to command the defences on their sea coasts. On this principle it might be expedient to establish a military school or academy at West Point. And that a competent number of young gentlemen might be induced to become students, it might be made a rule, that vacancies in the standing regiment should be supplied from thence; those few instances excepted where it would be just to promote a meritorious sergeant. For this end, the number which shall be judged requisite to supply vacancies in the standing regiment might be fixed, and that of the students, who are admitted with an expectation of filling them, fixed accordingly. They might be allowed subsistence at the public expense. If any other youth desired to pursue the same studies at the military academy, they might be admitted; only subsisting themselves. p38Those students should be instructed in what is usually called military discipline, tactics, and the theory and practice of fortification and gunnery. The commandant and one or two other officers of the standing regiment, and the engineers, making West Point their general residence, would be masters of the academy; and the inspector-general superintend the whole."41

The importance of thorough military instruction had been deeply felt by Washington and his coadjutors in the war of the Revolution; not only in providing efficient commanders and engineers, but in disciplining the great body of the troops, and in preparing the militia for effective action, when called into service. Prompted by this experience, General Knox, the Secretary of War, after the establishment of the federal government, digested a plan for the organization and instruction of the militia, which he submitted to the President, January 18, 1790; and which Washington laid before Congress, for their information, on the 21st of the same p39month. He proposed that the militia from forty-six to sixty years of age, should form a reserved corps; those from twenty-one to forty-five the main corps; and those from eighteen to twenty, inclusive, the advanced corps; which latter should be assembled from ten to thirty days annually, to receive military instruction, being clothed and subsisted during that time by the government. He remarked that "All discussions, on the subject of a powerful militia, will result in one or other of the following principles: 1. Either efficient institutions must be established for the military education of youth, and the knowledge acquired therein be diffused throughout the country by means of rotation; or, 2. The militia must be formed of substitutes, after the manner of Great Britain. If the United States possess the vigour of mind," he added, "to establish the first institution, it may be reasonably expected to produce the most unequivocal advantages. A glorious national spirit will be introduced, with its extensive train of political consequences. But the second principle, a militia of substitutes," he afterwards observed, "is pregnant in a p40degree, with the mischiefs of a standing army;" alluding to the generally inferior and selfish character of mercenary soldiers.42 On this scheme, which has often been quoted, we would merely remark, that the officers required to instruct the advanced corps, above proposed, would have constituted a military academy on the grandest scale, had the plan been adopted. And a plan something like this we believe to be the only one, which could fit the great body of our militia for immediate efficient service; if indeed this were deemed necessary.

An act of Congress was passed May 8, 1792, "more effectually to provide for the national defence, by establishing a uniform militia throughout the United States;" but no provision was made therein for military instruction. Washington, therefore, in his annual message of December 3rd, 1793, suggested the inquiry whether this act had fully accomplished the desired objects, and whether a material feature in the improvement of the scheme of military defence "ought not to be, to afford an opportunity for the study of those p41branches of the art, which can scarcely ever be attained by practice alone." On this point no action was had, that season; but on the 7th (or 9th) of May, 1794, Congress passed an act "which provided for a corps of artillerists and engineers, to consist of four battalions, to each of which eight cadets were to be attached; and made it the duty of the Secretary of War to procure, at the public expense, the necessary books, instruments, and apparatus, for the use and benefit of said corps."43 This we believe was the first introduction of Cadets as a grade of officers in our service. The term is derived from the French, signifying a junior, and was previously applied in England to those young gentlemen who were trained for public employment, particularly for the service of the East India Company. In our army, it has always denoted a grade between that of lieutenant or ensign and sergeant; and has, we believe, been confined to the students connected with the Military Academy, at least since its first establishment.

p42In his last annual message of December 7th, 1796, President Washington again introduced the subject of military instruction, in the following explicit terms. "The institution of a military academy is also recommended by cogent reasons. However pacific the general policy of a nation may be, it ought never to be without an adequate stock of military knowledge for emergencies. The first, would impair the energy of its character; and both, would hazard its safety, or expose it to greater evils, when war could not be avoided. Besides, that war might not often depend upon its own choice. In proportion as the observance of pacific maxims might exempt a nation from the necessity of practicing the rules of the military art, ought to be its care in preserving and transmitting, by proper establishments, the knowledge of that art. Whatever argument may be drawn from particular examples, superficially viewed, a thorough examination of the subject will evince that the art of war is both comprehensive and complicated; that it demands much previous study; and that the possession of it in its most improved and perfect state p43is always of great moment to the security of a nation. This, therefore, ought to be a serious care of every government; and for this purpose, an academy, where a regular course of instruction is given, is an obvious expedient which different nations have successfully employed."44 The same was repeated, in substance, in Washington's address to the Senate, of December 12th, 1796, but without any immediate result.

By an act dated April 27th, 1798, Congress authorized the raising of an additional regiment of artillerists and engineers, thus nominally increasing the number of cadets to fifty-six; but still without providing any instructors. In reference to this act, the Secretary of War, Mr. McHenry, thus wrote to the Chairman of the Committee of Defence, under date of June 28th, same year. "The Secretary, without designing to derogate from the merits of the officers appointed to the corps established by the acts cited, feels it his duty to suggest that other, and supplementary means of instruction, to the books p44and instruments to be provided, appear to be absolutely indispensable, to enable them to acquire a due degree of knowledge, in the objects of their corps. . . . . . The knowledge of certain arts and sciences, is absolutely necessary to the artillerist and engineer; such are arithmetic, geometry, mechanics, hydraulics, and designing. . . . . . . It is therefore submitted, whether provision ought not to be made for the employment of three or four teachers of the enumerated sciences, to be attached generally to the two corps of artillerists and engineers, and obligated to give instructions and lessons, at such times and places, and under such regulations, as the President may direct."45 Accordingly, on the 16th of July, 1798, an act was passed, to augment the army, and for other purposes, by which the President was authorized to appoint four teachers of the arts and sciences necessary for the instruction of the artillerists and engineers. We are not informed however that any such teachers were appointed, prior to the year 1801; p45probably because the few cadets then appointed, were dispersed with their respective regiments.

The subject of military instruction was again brought forward by Mr. McHenry, the Secretary of War, in a memoir dated January 5, 1800, and laid before Congress by President Adams on the 14th of the same month, as containing matters in which the honour and safety of the nation were deeply interested. In connexion with the reorganizing of the army, he proposed the establishment of a military academy, to consist of four schools; one to be called "The Fundamental School;" another, "The School of Engineers and Artillerists"; another, "The School of Cavalry and Infantry;" and a fourth, "The School of the Navy;" each to be provided with the proper officers, professors, and teachers, with suitable buildings and apparatus. Mr. McHenry then adds, "The cadets of the army, and a certain number of young persons, destined for military and naval service, ought to study at least two years in the Fundamental School; and if destined for the corps of engineers or artillerists, or for the navy, two p46years more in the appropriate school; if for the cavalry or infantry, one year more in the appropriate school. But persons who, by previous instruction elsewhere, may have become acquainted with some or all the branches taught in the fundamental School, may, after due examination by the directors and professors of that school, be either received then for a shorter time, or pass immediately to one or other of the schools of practice, according to the nature and extent of their acquirements and intended destination."46

In a supplementary report, dated January 31st, but transmitted to the House of Representatives, February 13th, of the same year, Mr. McHenry gave an estimate of the whole establishment; urging its importance, and the need which the country had of skilful engineers, by a long and cogent argument. The whole report, he observed, "contemplates certain military schools as an essential mean, in conjunction with a small military establishment, to prepare for, and perpetuate to the United States, at a very p47moderate expense, a body of scientific officers and engineers, adequate to any future exigency, qualified to discipline for the field, in the shortest time, the most extended armies, and to give the most decisive and useful effects to their operations."47 A bill in accordance with the above plan was introduced into the House of Representatives, March 19th, 1800, but postponed on the 29th of April, of the same year. The subject was renewed, however, in the following year, when, December 30th, 1801, the House of Representatives passed a resolution in favour of reducing the military establishment of the United States.48

On the 11th of January, 1802, the bill was reported, and, March 16th, in the same year, the act was passed, "fixing the military establishment of the United States," and establishing the Military Academy. By this act the artillerists and engineers were made to constitute two distinct corps; forty cadets being attached to the former, and ten to the latter. The corps of engineers was made to consist of p48one engineer with the pay, rank, and emoluments of a major; two assistant engineers with the rank of captains; two others, first lieutenants; and two others, second lieutenants; besides the ten cadets above mentioned, with the pay of sixteen dollars per month, and two rations per day. The 27th section provided that "The said corps, when so organized, shall be established at West Point, in the State of New York, and shall constitute a Military Academy; and the engineers, assistant engineers, and cadets, shall be subject, at all times, to do duty in such places, and on such service, as the President of the United States shall direct."49 It also provided that the senior engineer officer present should be the superintendent of the Academy; and authorized the Secretary of War to procure, at the public expense, the necessary books, implements, and apparatus, for the use and benefit of the institution. In the following year, another act, dated 28th of February, 1803, empowered the President to appoint one teacher of the French language, and one teacher of drawing.

p49 The early state and progress of the Academy were thus described by Colonel Jonathan Williams, then chief engineer, in a report requested by the President, and dated March 14, 1808. "This institution was established at West Point, in the year 1801, under the direction of a private citizen, and was nothing more than a mathematical school for the few cadets that were then in service. It was soon found that the government of young military men was incompatible with the ordinary system of schools, and consequently, the institution ran into disorder, and the teacher into contempt. When the peace establishment was made, . . . it was not probably foreseen, that, although the head-quarters of the corps might be at West Point, yet the duties of the individual officers necessarily spread them along our coast, from one extremity of the United States to the other; and as the whole number of officers can be no more than sixteen, they could not, in their dispersed state, constitute a military academy. . . . A part only of the officers were appointed soon after the passage of the act, p50of whom the major, who was ex‑officio the chief engineer, and two captains, took charge of the academy, the students of which were the cadets belonging to the regiment of artillery. The major occasionally read lectures on fortifications, gave practical lessons in the field, and taught the use of instruments generally. The two captains taught mathematics; the one in the line of geometrical, the other in that of algebraical demonstrations.

"As the corps was small, as it had little or nothing to do in its more appropriate professional duties, and as the students were few, the institution went on producing all the effect in its power, and all that could be expected, on its limited scale. It was soon discovered that mere mathematics would not make an artillerist or an engineer; and a power was given by law to appoint a teacher of drawing and of the French language. Had this law, instead of absolutely limiting the number of teachers, and designating their duties, left it general in the discretion of the President, to appoint such and so many as he might find requisite to produce the effect contemplated by establishment, and left p51the internal organization to him who, from constant observation, could judge of the most expedient one, with a reasonable but ample appropriation, we should, at this day, have a greater number of well-instructed young officers than we can boast of. From that time to this, however, the Academy has progressed beyond what could have been expected from its means; but now the first mathematical teacher has resigned, and the second has for several years been employed as Surveyor-General of the United States in the western country.

"During the last year, a citizen, of eminent talents as a mathematician, has been employed as principal teacher, and a first lieutenant of engineers performed the duties of assistant teacher, while the professor of French and drawing confined his abilities to these branches. So far as talents can go, nothing is wanting as to these teachers; they are all capable in the highest degree: the subscriber is only apprehensive that he shall not be able to retain them. Mr. Hassler, the chief mathematician, is already designated for a survey of the coast, when circumstances shall permit p52that business to be undertaken, and it could not be committed to more able hands. Mr. Mason [De Masson], the professor of French and drawing, is a man of too great and too extensive abilities to be kept in a situation so much below his merit; this gentleman, being perfect master of the French and English languages, fully acquainted with all that has been written on the art of fortification, and eminently distinguished in science and general erudition, ought, in the opinion of the subscriber, to be placed at the head of what the French call Le Génie, which cannot be literally translated in its extensive sense. It signifies the art of an engineer, generally, in all its branches. Mr. Mason [De Masson] being the only teacher designated by the law, he is the only one that, exclusive of the corps of engineers, can be said to belong to the institution. In short, the military academy, as it now stands, is like a foundling, barely existing among the mountains, and nurtured at a distance out of sight and almost unknown to its legitimate parents."50

p53Colonel Williams concluded his report by recommending the creation of an academical staff, consisting of the chief engineer, as superintendent ex‑officio, with the power of appointing one of the officers or professors to do the duties of superintendent in his absence; also a professor of natural and experimental philosophy; a professor of mathematics; and a professor of engineering, to have a drawing teacher, and a French teacher, and a German teacher under him; in addition to which he suggested the employment of professors of architecture, and, during a portion of each year, of chemistry and mineralogy, as also of riding, fencing, and sword masters, to attend periodically at the academy.

We may here add, that Colonel Williams being senior officer of the corps of engineers, was ex‑officio superintendent of the Military Academy, from its first establishment, until his resignation from the service, July 31st, 1812. Colonel Williams was consul of the United States in France, during the War of the Revolution; was appointed to the corps of artillerists and engineers about 1799, and p54served in the Western States, until he reached the above appointment. He afterwards rose to the rank of Brevet Brigadier General, and after resigning from the service, resided in Philadelphia until his decease, in 1815. The teachers at the Academy during his superintendence, were, of mathematics, George Barron, appointed January 6th, 1801, and dismissed by the President, February 11th, 1802; Ferdinand R. Hassler, appointed February 14th, 1807, who resigned February 14th, 1810, to superintend the coast survey;a and Captain Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Alden Partridge, appointed an assistant in this department, November 4th, 1806. The teacher of French and drawing was Francis De Masson, who was appointed July 12th, 1803, and resigned March 31st, 1812. He was afterwards a teacher in the Military College of Sandhurst, England. We should add that Christian E. Zoeller acted as teacher of drawing from September 1st, 1808, to April 30th, 1810, when Mr. De Masson again supplied his place, until July 1812.51 It is stated, we believe on good authority, that p55Captain William A. Barron of the corps of engineers acted as teacher of mathematics; and Captain Jared Mansfield of the same corps, as teacher of natural philosophy, commencing with the year 1802; the former being succeeded by Mr. Hassler, in 1807, and the latter, though absent some years in the West, as Surveyor-General, returning afterwards to the Academy, as we shall again have occasion to mention. The students at the Academy, in 1802, were Lieutenants James Wilson and Alexander Macomb (the latter now major-general), and Cadets Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Joseph G. Swift and Simon M. Levi.52

Such was the state of this institution, when the following special message was submitted to Congress, by President Jefferson, on the 18th of March, 1808. "The scale on which the Military Academy at West Point was originally established, is become too limited to furnish the number of well instructed subjects, in the different branches of artillery and engineering, which the public service calls for. The want of such characters is p56already sensibly felt, and will be increased with the enlargement of our plans of military preparation. The chief engineer having been instructed to consider the subject, and to propose an augmentation which might render the establishment commensurate with the present circumstances of our country, has made the report which I now transmit for the consideration of Congress. The idea suggested by him of removing the institution to this place, is also worthy of attention. Besides the advantage of placing it under the immediate eye of the government, it may render its benefits common to the Naval Department, and will furnish opportunities of selecting, on better information, the characters most qualified to fulfil the duties which the public service may call for."53 This message seems to have produced no immediate result; for although an act was passed, approved April 12th, 1808, which has been quoted in reference to this subject, and although it provided for the appointment of 156 additional cadets, among the officers of the new troops p57which it authorized to be raised, yet it did not attach them to the Military Academy, nor make any provision for their instruction. Accordingly, the whole number of cadets appointed in the four years prior to 1812, we believe was only fifty-two. "To send them to their regiments without instruction was deemed useless; and to order them to West Point could not have been done with propriety, without making suitable provision for the reception and instruction of so great a number."54 The proposition for removing this institution to Washington, was then, as it has ever since been, discarded or rejected.

The revision of the preceding laws was recommended by Mr. Madison, in his annual message, dated December 5, 1810, "with a view to a more enlarged cultivation and diffusion of the advantages of such institutions, by providing professorships for all the necessary branches of military instruction, and by the establishment of an additional academy, at the seat of government or elsewhere. The means," he added, "by which wars, as well p58for defence as offence, are now carried on, render these schools of the more scientific operations an indispensable part of every adequate system. . . . In a country, happily without other opportunities, seminaries where the elementary principles of the art of war can be taught without actual war, and without the expense of extensive and standing armies, have the precious advantage of uniting an essential preparation against external dangers, with a scrupulous regard to internal safety. In no other way, probably, can a provision of equal efficacy for the public defense be made at so little expense, or more consistently with the public liberty." In the following year, the President again reminded Congress "of the importance of these military seminaries, which, in every event, will form a valuable and frugal part of our military establishment."55

Accordingly, on the 29th of April, 1812, an act was passed, "making further provision for the corps of engineers;" the second section of which provided that the Military p59Academy should consist of the corps of engineers and the following professors, "in addition to the teachers of the French language and drawing already provided," viz. one professor of natural and experimental philosophy; one professor of mathematics; and one professor of the art of engineering; each of them to have an assistant professor, taken from the most prominent characters of the officers or cadets. By the third section of the same law it was enacted: "That the cadets heretofore appointed in the service on the United States, whether of artillery, cavalry, riflemen, or infantry, or that may in future be appointed, as hereinafter provided, shall at no time exceed two hundred and fifty; that they may be attached, at the discretion of the President of the United States, as students, to the Military Academy, and be subject to the established regulations thereof: that they shall be arranged into companies of non-commissioned officers and privates, according to the directions of the commandant of engineers, and be officered from the said corps, for the purposes of military instruction; that there shall be added to each company of cadets four p60musicians; and the said corps shall be trained and taught all the duties of a private, non-commissioned officer, and officer, be encamped at least three months of each year, and taught all the duties incident to a regular camp; that the candidates for cadets be not under the age of fourteen, nor above the age of twenty-one years; that each cadet, previously to his appointment by the President of the United States, shall be well versed in reading, writing, and arithmetic, and that he shall sign articles, with the consent of his parent or guardian, by which he shall engage to serve five years, unless sooner discharged: and all such cadets shall be entitled to, and receive, the pay and emoluments now allowed by law to cadets in the corps of engineers."

The fourth section of the same law provided, "That when any cadet shall receive a regular degree from the academical staff, after going through all the classes, he shall be considered among the candidates for a commission in any corps, according to the duties he may be judged competent to perform; and in case there shall not, at the time, be a vacancy in such corps, he may be attached p61to it, at the discretion of the President of the United States, by brevet of the lowest grade, as a supernumerary officer, with the usual pay and emoluments of such grade, until a vacancy shall happen: Provided, That there shall not be more than one supernumerary officer to any one company, at the same time."

The fifth section appropriated the sum of $25,000 towards the buildings, apparatus, library, implements, and contingent expenses of such an institution; and thus laid the broad basis of the present United States Military Academy.

Under the provisions of this act, the number of cadets was progressively enlarged to its present complement; and on the resignation of General Williams, July 31st, 1812, the superintendence of the Academy devolved on Colonel Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Joseph G. Swift, (appointed Brevet Brigadier General in 1814,) as senior officer of the corps of engineers. The act of March 3rd, 1815, by which the army was reduced to ten thousand men, made no reduction in the Military Academy; but on the other hand, Mr. Madison, in his last message, dated December p625th, 1815, recommended its enlargement, and the establishment of others in other sections of the Union. Accordingly, during the sessions of Congress in 1815 and 1817, bills were introduced, in the House of Representatives, for creating additional military academies; but they were not definitively acted upon.

It is stated in the Register of the Military Academy, that General Swift was relieved January 3rd, 1815; joined again November 25th, 1816; and was finally relieved as superintendent, January 13th, 1817; and that Captain Alden Partridge, of the corps of engineers, was superintendent from January 3rd, 1815, to November 25th, 1816, and from January 13th to July 28th, 1817. As there appears to have been a difference of opinion concerning the office of superintendent during this period, we offer here the following extracts, by way of explanation. The first is from Military Academy orders, of March 24th, 1814, signed by General Swift; as follows. "The Academical regulations of the 25th May, 1810, are hereby confirmed, and will continue to be enforced. Captain Alden p63Partridge, Professor of Engineering, has the internal direction and control of the Academy, and direction of the steward's department. The academic duties of the cadets, in every particular, and of the various Professors, Instructors, and Academic Officers, are under his control; [and] no other officer of the Engineers than Captain Partridge, will interfere with the Academy. The Rev. Mr. Empie, on his arrival, will commence the duties of chaplain; [and] until a Professor of History and Geography be appointed, Mr. Empie will discharge the duties of that station. Captain Samuel Perkins, as Deputy Quarter-Master General, takes post at West Point, and will discharge the duties of Quarter-Master to the Post and Academy. Mr. Isaac Partridge is appointed to discharge the duties of Steward, and will immediately commence the Cadets' Commons."

The next extract is partly from Regulations for the Military Academy, dated January 3d, 1815, and partly from an Order of the War Department, dated February 28th 1815; both approved and signed by James Monroe, then Secretary of War, and the two being substantially p64the same. The former provided that "A permanent Superintendent shall be appointed to the Military Academy, who, under the direction of the Secretary of War, shall have exclusive control of that institution, and of those connected with it, and will be held responsible for the conduct and progress of it;" and the latter added, he "will direct the studies, field exercise, and all other academic duties." The former provided that the commandant of the corps of engineers should be the Inspector of the Academy, and should visit it officially, and report thereon to the Department of War, proposing such alterations and improvements as he and the Superintendent might deem necessary. The latter added that the Inspector "is responsible to the Department of War for the correct progress of the institution. From the Inspector only, the Superintendent of the Academy will receive orders, and to him only with the Superintendent make all returns and communications pertaining to the institution. No officer of the army, of any rank whatever, shall exercise command at West Point, unless subordinate to the Inspector or Superintendent of p65the Academy." Both the Regulations and Order farther provided for the supply of ordnance stores from the ordnance department near Albany, the supply of books and stationary by the quarter-master at West Point, the appointment of a suitable person to act as treasurer for the cadets, and the promotion of graduates to such corps of the army as their diploma might authorize or recommend.

A separate series of "Rules with respect to the Promotion of Cadets of the United States Military Academy" was approved by Mr. Monroe, probably at about the same time; providing that their distribution to the different corps, and their rank in the same, should depend on their general merit, as ascertained by a competent board of examiners; and that no cadet should be promoted until after having completed his course of studies and received his diploma; nor in case of failure to do this, should he on any account receive an appointment in the army, until after the promotion of the class to which he belonged; and finally, that no cadet who should be dismissed, or compelled to resign, p66on account of idleness, neglect of duty, or any species of bad conduct, should be eligible to any office or post in the army, until at least five years after the promotion of the class to which he belonged.56

The remaining extract is the following, from a letter addressed to General Swift, dated Department of War, July 1st, 1816, and signed by William H. Crawford, then Secretary of War. "I have the honour to return the regulations defining a complete course of education, drawn up by the Academical Staff, and transmitted by you to this Department, which has been approved, with such modifications as have been judged necessary by the President. The regulation requiring the unmarried professors, teachers, and assistants, to eat with the cadets, is believed to be conformable to the general usage of colleges, and ought not to be considered onerous. I understand also that Captain Partridge is himself a bachelor, and of course subject to the regulation. From his signing some of his acts as superintendent of the p67academy, he may have supposed that he was not embraced by the rule. This, however, is a mistake. No officer, as long as the law remains as it is, can be the superintendent of the institution but the principal officer of the corps of engineers, or the next in command, of that corps, in case of his absence. If, however, in your opinion, the proposition made by the Academical Staff to attend the mess houses, and make daily reports of the fare, will protect the cadets from imposition, you are authorized to suspend the rule until further orders."57 A reference to the law of 1802, will show, we think, that Captain Partridge being the senior engineer officer present at the Academy, was legally its Superintendent at the time of Mr. Crawford's communication.

The professors appointed to the Military Academy, from 1812 to 1817 inclusive, were the following. Captain Alden Partridge of the corps of engineers, was appointed professor of mathematics, April 13th, 1813; and so continued till appointed professor of engineering, p68September 1st, 1813, which appointment he resigned, December 31st, 1816, on assuming the duties of Superintendent. Captain Partridge graduated at the Academy in 1806, and remained there as assistant professor, till 1813, as already mentioned. He resigned his commission in 1818; and has since been superintendent of a private military academy, at Norwich, Vermont, and at Middletown, Connecticut. Andrew Ellicottb was appointed professor of mathematics, September 1st, 1813, and so continued till his decease, August 29, 1820. Lieutenant John Wright was appointed assistant professor of mathematics, April 1st, 1814; and Lieutenant Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Charles Davies succeeded him, December 1st, 1816. Lieutenant-Colonel Jared Mansfield, of the corps of engineers, was appointed professor of natural and experimental philosophy, October 7th, 1812, and so continued till his resignation, August 31st, 1828. The Essays on Mathematics published by Colonel Mansfield, attracted the notice of President Jefferson, who conferred on him, unsolicited, the appointment of captain of engineers, and ordered him to West Point as an instructor, p69in 1802. In 1803, he was appointed Surveyor-General of the Northwestern Territory, and there applied for the first time the system of rectangular co‑ordinates in the surveying and laying out of land. He filled this place until 1812; and after his resignation in 1828, he resided in Cincinnati until his death about two years thereafter. He was much beloved; and his portrait, painted at the request and expense of the class which graduated in 1829, is still preserved with much interest at the Academy. Captain David B. Douglass, of the corps of engineers, was appointed his assistant, January 1st, 1815, and so continued till 1821.

Claude Crozet was appointed assistant professor of engineering, October 1st, 1816; and succeeded Captain Partridge as professor of that branch, January 1st, 1817; but he resigned this station, April 28th, 1823, and has since been chief engineer of the State of Virginia. To him the Academy, and we believe our country, was indebted for the introduction of the black board, as a means of instruction; for the introduction of the important science of descriptive geometry, and its p70various applications, including the topographical representation of ground by means of horizontal curves, or by pen or colours; also for the introduction of the French analytical mathematics; and for a thorough course in the art of war and fortification. He first instructed a few cadets who had sufficient knowledge of French, and they became the instructors of others. Claudius Berard succeeded Mr. De Masson, as teacher of French, January 3rd, 1815; and we are happy to say, has continued in that station till the present time. Christian E. Zoeller who had before acted as teacher of drawing, was reappointed, July 1st, 1812, and so continued till his resignation, January 5th, 1819. Pierre Thomas was appointed sword-master, March 1st, 1814, and resigned December 12th, 1825.

Rev. Adam Empie was assigned to duty as chaplain at West Point, and acting professor of Ethics, &c., from August 9th, 1813, to April 30th, 1817; before this office was made a permanent part of the Declaim. General  Joseph G. Swift, who has been already mentioned as Superintendent of the Academy during a part of this period, was p71one of its first two graduates, in 1802; became captain in 1806, aide-de‑camp to Major-General Pinckney in 1812, colonel in the same year, and brevet brigadier general in 1814. He resigned his commission in 1818, and has since been employed by the United States in superintending the national improvements on Lake Ontario.

A series of Rules and Regulations for the Government of the United States Military Academy, was drawn up and approved by Mr. Crawford, we believe on the 6th of March, 1816. Besides embodying most of the preceding regulations, it provided for the appointment of a Board of Visiters,c to consist of five suitable gentlemen, who should attend each general examination, and report thereon, through the Inspector, to the Secretary of War. Of this Board, the Superintendent was constituted the President. It also provided that the General Examinations should take place twice in each year, commencing on the 15th of July and the 15th of December; and that there should be an annual vacation, to commence immediately after the examination in July, and end on the p72last day of August. New cadets were required to join the Academy between the first of September and January, and to be examined in spelling, reading, writing, and arithmetic. It was farther directed that "A course of studies, embracing definitively all the branches of science and instruction to be pursued at the Military Academy, and also all rules for the classification of the cadets, shall be compiled by the Superintendent and Academic Staff; which, when approved by the Secretary of War, shall be considered as comprising a complete course of education at the Institution."

Accordingly, a course of studies, and rules connected therewith, was drawn up, at the Academy, on the 22d of May, 1816; and approved, as we have already seen, by Mr. Crawford, on the 1st of July, in the same year. The substance of this document is contained in the following extract. "The course of the first year shall embrace English grammar and composition, and the French language; logarithms, algebra, and plane geometry, to include ratios and proportions. The course of the second year shall embrace a continuation of the French p73language; the geometry of planes and solids, and the construction of geometrical problems; the application of algebra to geometry, and the mensuration of planes and solids; plane and spherical trigonometry, with their applications; conic sections, practical geometry, and drawing. A course for the third year, shall embrace natural and experimental philosophy, astronomy, engineering, and drawing continued. A course for the fourth year, shall embrace geography, history, and ethics, the review of the English grammar, and of the Latin and Greek languages; also a general review of the most important branches in each of the departments." Fluxions were to be taught and studied at the option of the professor and student; the elements of chemistry were included under philosophy; and those of natural and political law, under ethics. The Greek and Latin languages were to be reviewed only by those who had studied them previously to their entering the Academy. The military instruction was separately referred to, being then taught only practically in the field.58 A separate p74General Order was issued June 29th, 1816, repeating and defining the qualifications for admission to the Academy, as prescribed by the act of 1812; and another General Order was issued, September 4th, 1816, prescribing the uniform, nearly the same as that now prescribed, excepting the common hat and cockade then required to be worn.

It becomes necessary here to present the following statement, made by General Macomb, then Chief Engineer, in a Report to the Department of War, dated March 30th, 1822. "The Military Academy may be considered as having been in its infancy until about the close of 1817, or beginning of 1818, prior to which there was but little system or regularity. Cadets were admitted without examination, and without the least regard to their age or qualifications, as required by the law of 1812. Hence the institution was filled with students who were more or less unfit for their situations. It is not surprising, therefore, that a large portion of them have been under the necessity of leaving the Academy without completing their education."59

p75 The same statement had been made in substance, in a memoir drawn up by General Bernard and Colonel McRee, communicated to Congress, January 15th, 1819, by Mr. Calhoun, then Secretary of War; its object being to recommend the establishment of one or more Schools of Application, or Practice, for the army. They say, "The Elementary School at West Point has hitherto been very inferior as such, and altogether inadequate to the objects for which it was established. A project has been presented, however, calculated to place this school upon the footing of the most perfect of the kind which exists. As to a School of Application, there is none. The degree of instruction given to the cadets, at the school of West Point, has heretofore been for the most part limited to a general acquaintance with those branches of knowledge which are common to all the arms of an army, and which ought to have been extended and applied to artillery, fortification and topography. If any have been so fortunate as to render themselves serviceable, either in the artillery or engineers, the cause must be sought for in their own industry, and p76not in the education received by them at West Point, which was barely sufficient to excite a desire for military inquiries, and of military pursuits."60 That the Academy was nevertheless favourably regarded, is proved by the fact that Mr. Calhoun, in the same communication to Congress, January 15th, 1819, recommended not only a School of Application, in accordance with the above, but an additional military academy, for the southern and western states.


The Author's Notes:

38 Am. State Papers, Claims. p19, 20.

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39 Am. State Papers, Mil. Affairs, I.104.

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40 Thacher, p258.

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41 Sparks, VIII.417.

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42 Am. State Papers, Mil. Affairs, I.6, 8.

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43 Colonel Johnson's Report, p3.

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44 Foreign Relations, III.31, 2.

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45 Military Affairs, I.129.

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46 Mil. Affairs, I.133.

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47 Mil. Affairs, I.142.

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48 Smith's Report, p6.

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49 Johnson's Report, p5.

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50 Military Affairs, I.229.

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51 Military Affairs, II.387.

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52 Military Affairs, II.634.

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53 Military Affairs, I.228.

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54 Military Affairs, II.381.

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55 Johnson's Report, p7.

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56 Mil. Affairs, I.839.

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57 Military Affairs, I.838.

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58 Am. St. Papers, Mil. Affairs, I.838.

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59 Mil. Affairs, II.381.

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60 Mil. Affairs, I.834.


Thayer's Notes:

a For Prof. Hassler and the early history of the Coast Survey, see Adm. L. O. Colbert, "Hitching Our Country to the Stars" (SciM 65:372 f.).

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b For reminiscences of Prof. Ellicott by a member of the Class of 1822, see J. B. Latrobe: Reminiscences of West Point, passim.

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c Not only is this spelling what is to be found thruout in the printed text — remarkably free of errors — but it was the spelling adopted by the Board itself, and thus what a researcher needs to look for. See for example the Official Reports subject of, and linked in, my note to "West Point Fifty Years Ago" (Gen. F. H. Smith's 1879 address to the alumni of his Class).


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