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Bill Thayer

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Part 3

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

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 5
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

The History of West Point

["Part 4" of 5 in this Web transcription]

 p112  The first buildings occupied by the cadets were of wood, erected we believe during the  p113 Revolution, or at least as early as 1794, and demolished about the year 1817. They stood on the north side of the plain, at a short distance west of the new hotel. They were occupied originally by soldiers; afterwards by soldiers and cadets together; and finally by the cadets alone, until their removal to the new barracks, we believe in 1815. In 1812, as we should have before mentioned, the jurisdiction of 250 acres of land was ceded by New York to the United States, and in that year or the following, the building called the Academy, (recently burnt,) the mess-hall west of it, and the south barrack east of it, were commenced, but not finished until 1815. These three buildings formed a line crossing the southern part of the plain. The north barrack, a large building projecting into the plain, near the south barrack, and forming an L with the latter, was completed in 1817. Of the brick edifices on the west side of the plain, the one directly south, and the two next north of the mess-hall, were built in 1815‑16; and the three most northern were constructed in 1820‑21; in front of which are the flag-staff and parade ground. The  p114 remaining brick building, next to the southmost, and situated back from the street, was built we think in 1829. Of the three blocks of stone dwellings, at the northwest angle of the plain, on the road to the German Flats, the one farthest west was erected in 1821; the two others in 1825‑6. These buildings front the north, and overlook Camptown, with its old magazine and arsenal, and the barrack erected for the musicians about 1828.

The hospital, at the extreme south end of the plain, and the hotel, at the opposite extremity on the north, fronting up the river, were built in 1828‑29. The water-works, for supplying part of the buildings with water, and for extinguishing fires, were completed in 1830, at an expense of about $4,500. The new chapel, southeast of the south barrack, was completed, we believe, in 1836; and the new Academy, south of the barracks, the basement story of which is used as an exercise hall for riding, &c., was finished, or nearly so, in 1838. The old academy, used formerly as a chapel, and which contained the library and apparatus, was destroyed by fire in February, 1838; but most of the books  p115 and instruments were saved. A new stone building, of superior construction, is now in progress, situated east of the new academy, for containing the library and for astronomical and other purposes. The library is well selected, chiefly of military, scientific, and historical works, comprising nearly ten thousand volumes. The apparatus, both philosophical and chemical, is quite extensive, and embraces the latest improvements.

The monument on a small hillock near the flag-staff, is a cenotaph erected by the late General Brown to the memory of Colonel Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Eleazar D. Wood. The beautiful monument in the West Point Cemetery, on a romantic point about a mile north of the Academy, at the eastern angle of the German Flats, was erected by the corps of cadets, in 1817, to the memory of Vincent M. Lowe, of New York, who was killed by the accidental discharge of a cannon in that year. It was done at the suggestion of his friends of the Amosophic Society, and at an expense of about twelve hundred dollars. His funeral oration was delivered by Robert Emmet, son of Thomas Addis Emmet, who was then at the  p116 Academy, and is now a professor in the University of Virginia. The monument is a conic frustum, surmounted by military emblems; and, from being inscribed with the names of other cadets who have died at the Academy, it is known as the Cadets' Monument. The Cemetery, which commenced with this monument, is beautifully situated, half surrounded with groves, yet over­looking the river; and in its calm seclusion, can hardly be visited without exciting the most solemn emotions.

The other monument, over the levelled redoubt or citadel of Fort Clinton, at the northeast angle of the plain, is sacred to Kosciuszko. It was first suggested and advocated by Cadet Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Henry St. James Linden, we believe in 1825, and completed in 1829, at the expense of the Corps of Cadets, its cost being about five thousand dollars. An oration was written for the occasion by Cadet Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Charles Petigru, of South Carolina. The monument is a Doric column, resting on a lofty pedestal, with appropriate Grecian ornaments. It bears no other inscription than the name of Poland's hero, whose memory is so dear to Americans,  p117 and so closely interwoven with the early reminiscences of West Point. The monument was designed by John H. Latrobe, Esq., of Baltimore, a pupil, but not a graduate of the Academy.​a The surplus of the fund raised for this purpose was expended in improving the access to a romantic spot on the east side of the plain, a shelf of the rocky precipice, known as Kosciuszko's Garden, from its having been his favourite resort while engaged on the fortifications at this place.

The Academy has been for many years provided with a Literary Society, similar to those in our colleges, for the improvement of the cadets in literary and classical acquirements. The Amosophic Society was organized in May, 1816, for "improvement in debate, composition, and recitation," or declamation. It embraced at first about twenty-five members, and subsequently, in its best days, about fifty. Among its early members were the lamented Vincent M. Lowe and Professor Emmet, already mentioned. Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Benjamin Vining was its first president, and as such, delivered the first address before it. This society existed till about 1823, and had collected a library  p118 of nearly 500 volumes. Meanwhile, about 1822, a new society was formed called the Philomathean, in which the Amosophic Society appears to have been merged in the following year.

From the union of the Philomathean Society with another of short duration, called the Ciceronian, as we are informed, sprang the Dialectic Society, which was founded, we believe, in the winter of 1824‑5, and has continued to flourish to the present time. Among its early and active members were Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Leonidas Polk, now Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Arkansas, and Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Charles Mason, now Chief Justice of Iowa Territory. The office of Reader of anonymous compositions was established in 1828, and first filled by Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Joseph Ritner, Junior, an excellent and distinguished member, since deceased. An able address was delivered before this society, December 29th, 1838, by Lieutenant Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Alvord, in commemoration of the officers who fell in battle in Florida.​b The Dialectic Society has collected a library of several hundred volumes, chiefly of historical and classical works; and we think has a very favourable influence on  p119 the character and acquirements of those cadets whom it receives as members. A Lyceum of Natural History existed for several years at the Academy; but was dissolved by a vote of its members in 1831; its minerals being presented to the Academic Cabinet, and its books to the Dialectic Society.

Thayer's Notes:

a John Hazlehurst Boneval Latrobe, son of Benjamin Latrobe (the architect of the United States Capitol and the Basilica of the Assumption in Baltimore), wrote engaging Reminiscences of his years at the Point (complete text onsite); where he explains in a footnote why he did not graduate, despite every good prospect.

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b In the Second Seminole War: for full details, see "The Dade Massacre", Florida Historical Society Quarterly 5:123‑138 (1927); and Alfred Mudge's Memorials, pp383‑393, which includes a letter of notification from Alvord to the father of one of those killed.

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