"Toiling uphill is not what it is cracked up to be!" (Cadet George B. McClellan)
West Point has long been America's most famous military academy, but in the early 19th century it was a highly unimpressive school consisting of a few ugly buildings facing a desolate, barren parade ground. Established with just five officers and 10 cadets of the Corps of Engineers on March 16, 1802, the academy was built on a spot just 50 miles north of New York City, which had been a key Hudson River military fortress during the Revolutionary War. Cadets attending during the Point's first several decades were obliged to maintain their daily regimen knowing the school might shut down at any moment, as the US government frequently questioned why it should provide free education.
As it turned out, West Point would become the foremost military academy in the nation, and it would churn out the cadets who became the most important generals in the Civil War.
The future generals' years at West Point became a source of both camaraderie and colorful stories. A clerical error by West Point administrators ensured that Hiram Ulysses Grant forever became known as Ulysses S. Grant; and years after Robert E. Lee met Albert Sidney Johnston and Jefferson Davis at West Point, George H. Thomas and William Tecumseh Sherman met each other - and Richard S. Ewell. During the 1850s classes included men like John Bell Hood, Union general Phil Sheridan, and James Birdseye McPherson, who would become the only commanding general of a Union army to die in a Civil War battle.
©2012 Charles River Editors (P)2015 Charles River Editors
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