ABOUT WEST POINT: HISTORY

    


HOW WEST POINT GOT ITS NAME

West Point's name is connected to our nation's history and dates back to the Revolutionary War, when both sides realized the strategic importance of the commanding plateau on the west bank of the Hudson River. Since 1778 it has remained an active Army post. It is, in fact, America's oldest continuously occupied military installation.

General George Washington selected Thaddeus Kosciuszko, a polish engineer, to design the fortifications at West Point in l778, and Washington transferred his headquarters to West Point in l779. Continental Soldiers built forts, batteries and redoubts and extended a l00-ton iron chain across the Hudson to control river traffic. Fortress West Point was never captured by the British, despite Benedict Arnold's treason.

West Point became the moniker for the United States Military Academy a short time after the Revolutionary War. It was founded in 1802.

George Washington, along with other prominent legislators of our young republic, wanted to eliminate America's wartime reliance on foreign engineers, and urged the creation of an institution devoted to the arts and sciences of warfare. President Thomas Jefferson signed legislation establishing the United States Military Academy in 1802. He took this action because he recognized that it could have civilian as well as military benefits for the young nation.

Colonel Sylvanus Thayer is considered the "father of the Military Academy." He served as Superintendent from l8l7-l833 and was the first to upgrade academic standards, and instilled military discipline and emphasized honorable conduct within the corps of cadets. He appropriately made civil engineering the foundation of the curriculum. For the first half century, USMA graduates were largely responsible for the construction of the bulk of the nation's initial railway lines, bridges, harbors and roads.

West Point graduates dominated the highest ranks on both sides during the Civil War. Academy graduates, headed by generals such as Grant, Sherman and Sheridan and Lee and "Stonewall" Jackson, set high standards of military leadership for both the Union and the Confederacy. Battle Monument on Trophy Point serves as an impressive, and poignant promise made by post Civil War graduates to never again take up arms against they brother.

In 1919 Superintendent General Douglas MacArthur pushed for major improvements in the physical fitness and intramural athletic programs in response to the increasing physical demands of modern warfare he witnessed in WWI. "Every cadet an athlete" became an important goal. Additionally, the cadet management of the Honor System, long an unofficial tradition, was formalized by MacArthur with the creation of the Cadet Honor Committee.

In 1964, President Johnson signed legislation increasing the strength of the Corps of Cadets from 2,500 to 4,400. To keep up with the growth of the Corps, a major expansion of facilities began shortly thereafter.

Although the strength of the Corps was temporarily reduced to 4,000 after the end of the Cold War, in recent years the strength has been increasing almost to 4,400 as the nation faces the global war on terrorism. In concert with the increasing role of minorities and women in society and the military over the past four decades, greater numbers of minorities and the first women were admitted to the Corps of Cadets. Their presence has enhanced the quality and maintained the traditional representativeness of the institution.

In recent decades, the Academy's curricular structure was markedly changed to permit cadets to major in a wide range of subjects from the sciences to the humanities. With recent demands for increased cultural awareness, foreign language requirements and foreign exchange opportunities have been expanded.

As the Academy enters its third century, the institution continues to ensure that all programs and policies support the needs of the Army and nation today as well as in the foreseeable future. The Academy, with its long and rich history, remains an energetic, vibrant institution that attracts some of America's best and brightest young men and women. It offers a challenging and comprehensive array of opportunities while retaining its enduring commitment to Duty, Honor, Country.


THE GREAT CHAIN (AT TROPHY POINT)

Links forming the Great Chain stretched across the Hudson River at West Point during the Revolutionary War and served as a key element in the area defenses. Used from 1778 to 1782, the 500-yard chain floated on logs and was designed to act as a barrier to enemy ships. This was the second of two chains to be placed across the Hudson. The first was placed four miles below West Point between Fort Montgomery and Anthony's Nose, near the location of the present-day Bear Mountain Bridge.


WASHINGTON ESTABLISHMENT

In his annual messages to Congress, Washington always included a plea that the Congress provides facilities for the study of military art. In 1797 in his eighth annual address, for example, he said:

"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 a stock of military knowledge for emergencies. ...(The Art of War) demands much previous study, and . . . (knowledge of that art) . . . in its most improved and perfect state is always of great moment to the security of a nation . . . For this purpose an academy where a regular course of instruction is given is an expedient which different nations have successfully employed."

How deeply he continued to feel about the need for and Academy appears in a letter written two days before his death and addressed to Alexander Hamilton:

"The establishment of an Institution of this kind, upon a respectable and extensive basis, has ever been considered by me as an object of primary importance to this country; and while I was in the Chair of Government, I omitted no opportunity of recommending it, in my public speeches and other ways, to the attention of the Legislature."