To the Point: The United States Military Academy, 1802-1902

By George S. Pappas | Go to book overview

1
The Foundation Is Laid

Although West Point today is known to almost every American, such has not always been true. Nearly two hundred years ago, a group of farsighted men struggled to establish a military academy. Opposing them were individuals who believed that state militias could handle any military emergency; after all, state forces had defeated the well-trained British regulars. Other opponents felt that such an institution would develop a military elite that could some day take over the government. Only after two disastrous defeats by the Indians, an internal insurrection, and a threat of war with France was there support for establishing an academy to prepare young Americans as professional military leaders.

The idea of a military academy can be traced almost to the very beginning of the Revolutionary War. The occupation of Boston by British army units in July 1774 resulted in the convening of the first Continental Congress in Philadelphia in September. In April 1775, colonists fired on British forces at Lexington and Concord. Massachusetts, realizing that it alone could not cope with the British forces, asked other colonies for help. In May, Ethan Allen captured the British fortress at Ticonderoga; in June, colonial forces severely mauled the British at Bunker Hill. When militia from several colonies gathered in Boston, Congress faced the serious problem of selecting a qualified officer to command these forces. After much discussion, George Washington was chosen.

Upon assuming command of the Continental Army in June 1775, Washington encountered the same problems he would face throughout the conflict with Great Britain: insufficient troops, inadequate military supplies, a shortage of funds, and a lack of trained, professional soldiers, especially officers. Despite congressional pressure, Washington could not take the offensive. He was forced to reorganize--actually, to organize--his forces.

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