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

By George S. Pappas | Go to book overview

20
Guard Well Your Heritage

The turmoil caused by problems at West Point was not unnoticed by graduates. The obvious mishandling of the black cadet problem, hazing incidents, and the cadet attempted punishment of honor code violations caused much concern. Near the end of his second term, President Grant and General in Chief William T. Sherman, both graduates of the Academy, realized that strong and effective action had to be taken immediately. Their first step was to persuade Major General John M. Schofield, Class of 1853, to be superintendent. This was unusual. Schofield was the third ranking general officer in the Army; although brevet general officers had served as both commandant of cadets and superintendent, this was the first time a general of regular rank was named superintendent. Schofield had little to gain from this appointment and realized that without major support in Washington he would be unable to improve the Academy operations and academic activities.

Schofield realized that his efforts would be hampered by three different groups: Congress, the Academic Board, and the War Department, specifically the Secretary of War. Difficulties with individual Congressmen and Senators had plagued superintendents since Thayer's time. Congressmen too often appointed cadets who did not have the educational background to pass even the simple entrance exams, let alone maintain proficiency in Academy studies. Efforts by superintendents, including Thayer, to have Congress enact legislation making entrance examinations more difficult were fruitless. As a result, only a small percentage of each class graduated four years later. Congressmen insisted that simple examinations were necessary if every young man was to have equal opportunity to enter the Academy. They also pressured the Secretary of War and the President to reinstate cadets dismissed for academic deficiencies or

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