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Bill Thayer

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A Sketch
of the
History and Topography
West Point
and the
U. S. Military Academy

"The means by which war, as well for defence as offence, are now carried on, render these schools of the more scientific operations an indispensable part of every adequate system."


The Author and the Work

Roswell Park's is the first History of West Point ever published. A very careful work, it draws upon the earliest official records and condenses them into a readable account. The most interesting facet of West Point's history to be brought out in it is one that the author could not have known: how after the initial hiccups in the first decade or so of the nineteenth century, the pattern then set by Col. Thayer in the early part of his superintendence in 1817‑1819 has remained pretty much the same as that of today's very successful institution; his work has withstood nearly two centuries and required very little adjustment. Park writes of an Academy which even its most recent graduates can still recognize today.

As for the author, before first seeing his book — as it happens, on the exact 140th anniversary of his death — I knew nothing whatsoever about Roswell Park, and he didn't help at all, studiously keeping himself out of his work, which is to be regretted since he had been a Cadet at the Academy he chronicles and could have produced a much more valuable work by enriching it with his own personal experiences and observations. The author of the fairly detailed and interesting biographical sketch of him in Cullum's Register to whom I eventually turned for information (see separate page) would probably have said the same, although in his assessment of Park's History of West Point I would not be quite so harsh.

The printed edition runs 142 pages with no divisions, too long for a single comfortable webpage; I've spread it out into five webpages, or "Parts", which of course are only for our convenience online, and have no authority.

The work is inscribed,

the Dialectic Society
of the
U. S. Military Academy,
these pages are
Respectfully Inscribed

The author.

Topography of West Point and its surroundings. Establishment of the post, its strategic importance, and its career in the Revolutionary War.

Foundation of the Military Academy; its early days, before Sylvanus Thayer.

Sylvanus Thayer and the true founding of the Academy. Mission, legal standing, course of instruction, and the professors and other staff thru 1840.

A quick summary of the buildings and monuments at West Point in 1840; a history of the cadet literary societies.

Justification of the Military Academy to its critics in the U. S. Congress and certain State legislatures.

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Technical Details


The text is that of what appears to have been the first and only edition, published in 1840 by Henry Perkins, 134 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, and now in the public domain. (Details here on the copyright law involved.)


This transcription has been minutely proofread. In the table of contents above, the sections are shown on blue backgrounds, indicating that I believe the text of them to be completely errorfree. As elsewhere on this site, the header bar at the top of each chapter's webpage will remind you with the same color scheme.

The printed book was exceptionally well proofread: I found nothing I could identify as a typographical error. A small number of odd spellings, curious turns of phrase, etc. have been marked <!-- sic --> in the sourcecode, just to confirm that they were checked.

Any mistakes in presentation must therefore be mine: please drop me a line to alert me to them, of course; especially if you have a copy of the printed book in front of you.

Pagination and Local Links

For citation and indexing purposes, the pagination is shown in the right margin of the text at the page turns (like at the end of this line);p57 these are also local anchors. Sticklers for total accuracy will of course find the anchor at its exact place in the sourcecode.

In addition, I've inserted a number of other local anchors: whatever links might be required to accommodate the author's own cross-references, as well as a few others for my own purposes. If in turn you have a website and would like to target a link to some specific passage of the text, please let me know: I'll be glad to insert a local anchor there as well.

[image ALT: A rather stiff engraving of a tall thin man standing at something like military attention on the far right of the frame; wearing a shako with a tall plume and looking across a river onto a pair of rectangular buildings. It is a schematic view of West Point in an early‑19c engraving, and is the icon used on this site to represent my subsite reproducing Park's History of West Point.]

The icon I use to indicate this subsite is a cropped version of a famous, but anonymous, early‑19c engraving, depicting West Point as seen from the east. The long gray line in the center is precisely that: not an island in the Hudson, but the Corps of Cadets drilling on the Plain.

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Site updated: 21 Jul 09