West Point

Text from William Wade -

Fifty-two miles from New York, and ninety-three from Albany, is West Point, the seat of the United States Military Academy. The land was ceded to the government of the United States by the state of New York, in 1812. The academy was established by act of Congress in May, l802. The buildings first occupied by the academy have long since gone to decay. The mess-hall, the chapel and the south barracks were erected in 1813. The three brick edifices nearest the mess-hall were built in 1815-16, and the other three nearest the flagstaff, on the same line, in 1820-21. The north barracks were built in 1817. Of the three stone buildings west of the flagstaff, the farthest was erected in 1821, the others in 1825-1826. The hospital and hotel were built in 1828-29 and the ordnance-house in 18:30.

The annual expense of the academy is about one hundred and fifteen thousand dollars, averaging four hundred and twenty-five dollars for each cadet. The philosophical apparatus is extensive. It was brought from France, and is constructed with the latest improvements. The library is well selected, being composed of military, scientific, and historical works, amounting to nearly ten thousand volumes.

This academy was contemplated at a very early period of our history. We find notices of its necessity in the communications to Congress of General Knox, the first Secretary of War, and of General Washington, as President; and Presidents Jefferson and Madison, with others of the most eminent of our countrymen, have given it their full and earnest support. It were needless here, and at this day, to show how unfounded were the prejudices which have at various times, and for various purposes, been excited against the academy, or how substantial have been the benefits by which it has sought to repay the country for her care and support. Those curious regarding its struggles for existence, and the history of its government, are referred to the account given by the talented Mr. Hunt, in his "Letters about the Hudson," from which most of the above facts are taken.

West Point is one of the most interesting spots in the whole tract of the classic ground of America over which we have passed. The school of the country's hope, it was the residence of her old defenders. It formed one of the most important fastnesses of the American army during the eight years contest with Great Britain, and the consequence attached to it in a military point of view was evinced by the repeated, but unsuccessful, efforts of the enemy to obtain it. 'Future ages will regard as one of the most brilliant of the deeds of General Clinton, his suggestion that this point should be well fortified. At present there are to be seen the remains of Forts Putnam and Clinton, (formerly Arnold.) The latter is situated at the extreme eastern point of the military position, one hundred and sixty feet above tide-water. Fort Putnam, "stern monument of a sterner age" is situated on Mount Independence, more than half a mile south-west, five hundred feet above the river. The heights in the vicinity are many of them crowned by redoubts and batteries, erected under the direction of the great Kosciusko. In August, 1780, Arnold received the command of this military station, which extended from Fishkill to Verplank's Point. On the 25th of September, he made his escape from his head-quarters, the Robinson House, two miles below West Point. His treason has had its reward. Of the three monuments which meet the eye at West Point, that at the north-eastern extremity of the works, at the projecting point forming the abrupt bend of the river, is erected to the memory of the patriot Kosciusko, who resided here. It is of white marble, consisting of a base and a short column. It was completed in 1829, by the corps of cadets at an expense of about five thousand dollars. In the vicinity of the monument is Kosciusko's garden, the place "where the Polish chieftain was accustomed to retire for study and reflection. Marks of cultivation are perceptible in the disposition of the walks and trees, and the beautiful seclusion of the spot still invites to thought and repose." Thaddeus Kosciusko, says the American Encyclopedia, was born at Lithuania, in 1756, and educated at the military school of Warsaw. After studying in France, he came to America, recommended by Franklin to Washington, to whom he was appointed an aid. In October, 1776, he was appointed an engineer, with the rank of colonel, in which capacity be fortified the camp of General Gates, in his campaign against Burgoyne, and afterwards erected the works at West Point. He was highly esteemed by both American and French officers; he was admitted a member of the Society of the Cincinnati; and he received the thanks of Congress for his services. At the close of the Revolutionary war, he returned to his native country, and was made Major-General under Poniatowski. He fought several battles with great bravery; but all his efforts were rendered useless by the follies of the Polish Diet. In April, 1794, on the breaking out of the new revolution, he was appointed to the chief command, with dictatorial powers, and he managed affairs with great address and bravery, until the 10th of October, when, overpowered and wounded, he was made prisoner and carried to St. Petersburg. On the accession of the Emperor Paul, he was released from the confinement into which Catharine had thrown him, loaded with honours, and offered employment in the Imperial service. This he declined; and when the Emperor proffered him his own sword, he said, " I no longer need a sword-I have no longer a country." In 1797, he visited the United States, and received a grant from Congress. In the latter part of his life he retired to Switzerland, where he died, October 16, 1817. His remains were taken to Cracow, and a public funeral made for him at Warsaw, where almost divine honours were paid him.

The centre monument near the flagstaff, is a cenotaph, erected by General Brown, in memory of Colonel E. D. Wood, an early and distinguished graduate of the academy, who fell in the sortie at Fort Erie in 1814. The remaining monument is the Cadets' s monument, erected in honour of deceased officers and cadets.

We cannot leave West Point without giving an account of the fortifications, subordinate to those on the west side, for the command of the river. Constitution island divides the bed of the Hudson unequally at the bend round the point, the western branch being a marshy shallow. This island, a mass of rock, was defended by batteries on a level with the water, and the glacis formed in the rock bade defiance to trenches. A heavy chain cramped into the rocks at either end, supported by buoys, stretched across the angle made by the river, and formed an effectual bar. This chain prevented the English from ascending the river in their armed ships, and the great object of the works on both sides was to protect it. Twenty pieces of heavy ordnance, discharging grape, menaced those who should attempt to cut a link, with destruction. And the roller on which the chain moved, suffered it to grow slack, thereby preventing any iron-beaked vessel from breaking it under the combined forces of wind and tide. As soon as the shock was thus broken, the chain could be immediately made tense, and the vessel must be turned aside and stranded on one or the other shore.

Painting of West Point by E.C. Coates

Painting of West Point by Victor DeGrailly

West Point Today