West Point Cadets
George Washington first proposed a military academy in 1783, but critics opposed this relatively new idea of a special school to train army officers as too European. They deemed it incompatible with democratic institutions, fearing the creation of a military aristocracy. Finally, two decades after Washington’s first proposal, on 16 March 1802, the United States Military Academy officially opened. It stood on a commanding bluff overlooking the Hudson River at West Point, New York, 50 miles north of Manhattan.
West Point became an important American institution in the years before the Civil War, establishing itself as the country’s finest school of engineering and science. Its graduates held key roles in virtually every aspect of American life. They also began to distinguish themselves as junior officers, many later rising to command armies on both sides of the Civil War. But the academy’s reputation suffered because so many graduates joined the Confederacy. It had also become only one among many other fine engineering schools.
During the later years of the 19th century, West Point focused on a more narrowly military curriculum and its graduates formed the heart of the army’s officer corps. When the United States entered World War I, West Pointers had charge of almost every major staff bureau and field command. Army and nation combined to make the United States a world power.