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

By George S. Pappas | Go to book overview
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21
The Corps and the Corps and the Corps

On March 16, 1902, the United States Military Academy entered its second century. The first fifty years of that century had been a struggle for the Academy and its graduates, a struggle to survive, a struggle to grow and mature, a struggle to overcome antagonistic governmental officials and an indifferent public. Not until the War with Mexico did the true value of the West Point education and training become apparent. Although the graduates who fought in that conflict did not have senior rank and did not command any major forces, their contribution was a major factor in the successes attained in the field. As Winfield Scott commented--in words since memorized by countless plebes--"I give it as my fixed opinion, that but for our graduated cadets, the war between the United States and Mexico might, and probably would have lasted some four or five years, with, in its first half, more defeats than victories falling to our share; whereas, in less than two campaigns, we conquered a great country and a peace, without the loss of a single battle or skirmish."

The gratitude of the nation enabled the Academy to progress further along the road so ably mapped by Sylvanus Thayer. During the next decade, West Point entered what has been termed its Golden Age. It was in the foremost ranks of scientific and engineering schools. Textbooks authored by its professors were used in most of the technical schools of the time. Graduates who had left the Army built railroads, headed colleges, mapped rivers and harbors, and supervised countless engineering projects throughout the country.

A dozen years after the Mexican War, the Academy faced its most bitter test in a war where brother fought brother and West Point classmates faced each other on the battlefield. Graduates led the armies of both sides; and, when the conflict neared its end, they showed compassion and understanding for their

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