The establishment of the United States Military Academy at West Point was the result of numerous considerations, mainly strategic and topographical. The sudden volte-face here of the Hudson was seized upon by Revolutionary military leaders as the logical place to hinder hostile passage of the river; and the long, tragic interlude of Arnold and Andre, with the failure of the British campaign treacherously supported by them, is interwoven with the importance of this region in the war. The close of the Revolution brought recommendations for the continuance of an army training post here; a Military Academy had been suggested as early as 1776, and now, after the endless delays that infected legislation even in those days, Congress set about following the plans of American army officials for this establishment.
The organization of distinct corps of artillery and engineers, and the creation of a new rank, the cadets, occurred in 1794. Seven years later one George Barron undertook to conduct an acaartillery and engineers, and the creademy for the few cadets then in service; but, says the Colonel of the Corps, "the Institution soon ran into disorder, and the Teacher into contempt." Under Government management, however, the Academy began to broaden its scope of learning, and the early curriculum of Mathematics and Engineering was supplemented by Frence and Drawing. At that time the 30 odd cadets lived in barracks dating from the Revolution, boarded promiscuously, and attended, classes in the two-story wooden "Academy."
Effected by War of 1812
The War of 1812 produced a belated but powerful effect on the Academy, for it brought the appointment in 1817 of Major Thayer as superintendent, and an increase of the enrolment to 260. The easy-going discipline of the first years gave way to military exactitude, and this strict master issued precepts of education that were long and thoroughly successful. His Roman sternness lost the Academy one type of genius, of Edgar Allen Poe was dismissed after eight months of stormy revolt; but under Major Thayer, Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee learned lessons that helped at least the latter to his military ascendancy.
The stunted war with Mexico occasioned a tremendous rise of popularity for the Academy, since its graduates formed the motive power of the successful American campaigns. After 1848, under the able superintendence of Robert E. Lee, the institution expanded physically, and extended its course to five years.
Again war meant the distinction of West Point through its graduates. The long list of one-time cadets whose service on either side in the Civil War was outstanding is too well known for comment. But the apathy of peace meant forgetfulness anew of West Point's im- portance, and for 30 years the progress of the Academy was little noted. With the turn of the century a new administration came into power on the Hudson, and a climatic period of growth accompanied it. The Corps was increased by 100 cadets, hazing was abolished, and practically all the present magnificent buildings were constructed in the period from 1904 to 1911. Most famed of these for its Gothic beauty is the Chapel, rising from a high spur of land a little removed from the campus.
During the twentieth century too, the present curriculum and administrative policies were established. The limited academic field of earlier years gave way to a course likewise arbitrary in its requirements, but considerably winder in range; so that the cadet graduating now is generally studied in French, Spanish, and English literatures, as well as in matters more directly military. The fundamental subject is, however, engineering, and in this the cadets are thoroughly trained.
"Yes, furlough," and "Rein-hart"
The internal operation of West Point, its traditions, its undergraduate customs, are difficult for a person unacquainted with the Academy to learn. Still, a few of these customs are broadcast knowledge: the new cadet's trial of three weeks in "beast barracks", his life as an underling plebe, the bursting of the cocoon when he enters Third Class and the dignity of a yearling; the indiscriminate dubbing of plebes as Mr. Ducrot, from a scandal whispered in Keetel's French Grammar; the two months' practical camp training during July and August, accompanied by a cry of "Yea, furlough!", with results curiously like those of the Cambridge "Rein-har", though doubtless of different origin.
But externally the 1300 cadets are one perfectly drilled and orgainzed body; their individuality is merged into the strong and envied West Point type; and they inherit the long scroll of the Corps's distinguished record