Thayer Era by Thomas Fleming.
Fleming - Duel, Alexander Hamilton,
Aaron Burr and the Future of America is Mr. Fleming's
latest book and has won astonishing praise from fellow historians.
He is the author of more than 40 works of fiction and nonfiction,
including biographies of Jefferson and Franklin, and the revisionist
"1776: Year of Illusions." Liberty! The American Revolution told the story of the
nation's founding in conjunction with a six part series on the Revolution
that appeared on PBS in 1997.
The History Book Club named it one of the eight best books
of the year. It was
named the best book of the year by the American Revolution Round
Table, and was a main selection of both the Book of the Month Club
and the History Book Club. Mr. Fleming is a frequent guest and commentator
on NPR, PBS, A&E, and the History Channel.
Point's Golden Age, by Cecelia
James McNeill Whistler
was not among their number.
The future artist flunked out in 1853, his most dismal subject
being chemistry. Later
in life, he loved to startle ladies at London dinner parties by
remarking "if silicon were a gas, I would be a major general
Point in the Civil War, by Stephen
At the beginning of the war, so many of the unsuccessful Union generals were West Point graduates that the old Congressional call to do away with the Academy resurfaced with a vengence. Washington also resented the number of West Pointers who had resigned from the Academy or the Army and headed south. Orators called it "a nursery of treason."
But Stephen Sears recalls a touching side to the story and one that had to do with the extraordinary bonds of brotherhood established at the Academy. Before the war, Southern and Northern cadets brawled; but as state after Southern state seceded in 1861, and wholesale resignations began, Northern cadets would carry their departing Southern opposites on their backs to the steamboat landing. (The first official shot of the war, which also opened the bombardment of Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, was fired by Henry S. Farley of South Carolina, the first cadet to resign.) Friends met friends on the battlefield. There is a memorable 1862 photograph, which the book will reproduce, of George Armstrong Custer seated with James B. Washington, a West Point classmate whom Custer's men had captured just hours earlier.
But in the saga of West
Point, no close encounter quite matches that of the Confederate
Brigadier-General Lewis Armistead and the Union Major General Winfield
Scott Hancock, both West Pointers and friends from Army outpost
days in the West. Armistead
led Pickett's charge on the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg
and had vaulted over the famous stonewall on Cemetary Ridge, when
he was cut down. Moments
before, Hancock had been struck in the testicles by a minié
ball, apparently mortally wounded.
(He survived and later became the Democratic candidate for
President in 1880.) As
a dying Armistead was being carried back, he asked about his friend
Hancock. Some time
later, Hancock's wife opened a locked suitcase that Armistead had
left behind for the Hancocks.
In it she found a prayer book inscribed with the motto: "Trust
in God and fear nothing."
Ungilded Age, 1865-1914, by
Carlo W. D'Este.
As early as 1870, young men from the South began to rejoin the Corps of Cadets. Former West Pointers from opposite sides like U.S. Grant and James Longstreet resumed old friendships. But if the Civil War had been largely fought over the slavery issue, West Point's treatment of the thirteen Black cadets who matriculated between 1865 and 1915 was shameful. They were not so much hazed as ostracized. The first flunked out; of the only three who graduated, one, Henry O. Flipper, was dismissed from the Army on trumped-up charges- and was only granted a Presidential pardon in 1999.
As Carlo D'Este notes, West Point during the Gilded Age was not a pleasant place for anyone. The Academy was described as a "military monastery." No less a personage than Douglas MacArthur '03 called it "a provincial reformatory based on fear." He spoke from the experience of extreme hazing. ("Boys will be boys" Sherman commented about the "Bracing" problem -as hazing was called- that too often made headlines in those years.) Cadets even marched in formation to take baths. Rules were draconian. A cadet once received a demerit for touching a young lady's arm- and another cadet for helping a woman across the street. The woman was his mother.
The wars cadets graduated
to fight were small and not always splendid: bloody skirmishes with
Indians on the frontier (which officially closed in 1890); the Spanish-American
War (one of the five West Pointers killed was Dennis Michie, the
first football captain, for whom West Point stadium was named);
the Philippine Insurrection (sixteen graduates killed); or the Mexican
goose chase of John J. Pershing '83 after Pancho Villa.
But as the new century began, West Point was at last undergoing
changes- changes that events in Europe would accelerate.
Great War and After, by Robert
In 1919, a thirty-nine-year-old
Douglas MacArthur was appointed superintendent of the Academy, the
youngest ever. The
former commander of the 42nd Division had a won a Distinguished
Service Cross for bravery in the late war.
He immediately set about instituting reforms- which included
allowing cadets to have spending money.
He added 170 course hours in math and dropped 188 in "drawing."
"How long are we going on preparing for the War of 1812?"
he asked. MacArthur
lasted just three years. Old
grads and the Academy's faculty ganged up on him.
Their behind-the-scenes manipulations led to a convenient
"promotion": MacArthur was sent packing across the Pacific,
to command US troops in the Philippines.
For the next two decades West Point supplied officers to
an army without a mission.
By 1940 the American Army had become so unimportant that
in size it ranked seventeenth in the world, just behind Bulgaria.
Point during World War II, by
But already big, and lasting, changes were in the works, and that is the story Wicker tells. Motorized vehicles were substituted for horses. "Horsemanship" however was not altogether eliminated until 1947, when the last horses were "withdrawn from the post." Army regulars were imported to teach tactics; the theoretical had no place in this war. Khaki drill uniforms were introduced to make the cadets look more like draftees. Many cadets trained at the nearby Stewart Airbase to be pilots in the Army Air Force: more West Point graduates won the Distinguished Flying Cross than any other award (except the Purple Heart), but there were months when the pilot training accidents claimed almost as many lives as combat. Some 9000 West Pointers were on active duty in World War II of whom 700 died.
Even in wartime, cadet
life was as rigorous as ever.
Hazing by upperclassmen was still a ritual that all incoming
cadets had to endure, though it little resembled the ordeal of MacArthur's
day. Dates- known as
"drags"- came up by train, and if a cadet and his date
wanted to eat lunch at the Hotel Thayer, the girl had to pay.
MacArthur's reform about pocket money had been rescinded.
A goodnight kiss, if detected, was worth twenty-two demerits.
West Point life was dominated by football.
These were the years of Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis, and
three consecutive national championships: 1944, 1945, 1946.
Korean War Years, by Dennis
The curriculum at West Point may have become less rigid at this time, but it was hardly liberal. As one official Army report noted, "skepticism frequently breeds indecision and to turn on a man beset by doubts is hardly the proper objective of service academy training." That was perhaps an answer to another problem brought on by what was essentially an unpopular war. Increasingly, instruction at West Point turned to producing men who would immediately be better leaders in active combat.
The other event in these
years that produced a radical change at West Point was the cheating
scandal of 1951, which turned the Academy away from the football
culture that had brought it so much prominence.
Academic departments, fed up with seeing football players
get special privileges, played a large role in exposing cheating,
which saw the expulsion of 90 cadets.
Changes were in the air- and ones that many of the old grads
would predictably resist, as would a number of the cadets. Who in the 1950s, for example, could foresee the coming of
women? In 1955 the
cadet magazine The Pointer ran a mocking feature titled "The
Day West Point Went Co-Ed"
The article, which jeered at the prospect of "Cadettes",
appeared on April Fool's Day.
at West Point, by Geoffrey Norman.
Army football would never be the same after the cheating scandal of 1951, which saw 37 players expelled from the Academy, including Blaik's son. Blaik, under pressure from Douglas MacArthur, stayed on and rebuilt his shattered team. In 1958, Army led by Heisman award winner, Pete Dawkins, was undefeated. Dawkins would go on to become a national hero in Vietnam, as would another West Point football hero, Bill Carpenter, the so-called "lonely end."
Athletics have always been
important at West Point. Every
cadet is required to participate in a team sport- the operative
word being "team" (This was another of MacArthur's reforms.
He felt that too many officers in World War I, West Pointers
included, had been in wretched physical condition).
One of the first great West Point athletes must have been
U.S. Grant, Class of 1843, who established a high jump record on
horseback that lasted until after the Civil War. George Patton announced that he would make the football team
and be the first in his class to make general; he did neither.
Injuries prevented him from making a varsity football "A"
but he gained the letter anyway when he broke the Academy record
in the 220-yard hurdles. An
expert horseman, he would place fifth in the Penthalon in the 1912
Olympics in Stockholm. Omar
Bradley '15 was a fine baseball player; his classmate Dwight Eisenhower
was a star halfback, but a fall from a horse ruined his knee and
his football career. There
are many more such stories that Geoffrey Norman will cite.
the Modern Era, by Brian Haig.