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

By George S. Pappas | Go to book overview

Appendix D
The 1780 Map of West Point: An Unintentional Historical Hoax

For many years, historians and history buffs alike have cited a map of West Point dated 1780 as being one of the most accurate and detailed maps of the period. This map first came to prominence in the early 1900s when Dr. Edward S. Holden, the USMA Librarian, included the map in the two-volume Centennial of the United States Military Academy at West Point, 1802-1902. Although no definite record can be cited, one can assume that Holden "discovered" this map while researching the history of the Military Academy, using primarily sources in the USMA Library. So important did Holden consider the map that he included it in a list of maps of West Point and in his chronological bibliography of important events concerning the Post and the Academy.

The map was published in France in 1816 as an illlustration for Complot d'Arnold et de Sir Henry Clinton contre Les Etats-Unis d'Amerique et contre le General George Washington by F. Barbe-Marbois. The text of the book discussed the Arnold conspiracy only; there was no description of the post conforming to the buildings shown on the map. Holden apparently accepted the map as genuine and, adding two and two together, declared in his Centennial bibliography that "at this time there was an engineering school, a library, and a laboratory lodged in three buildings at West Point." Unfortunately, the sum that Holden obtained by adding two plus two did not add up to four; today, it is all too evident that the map is not an accurate depiction of the post of West Point in 1780.

Equally unfortunate has been the tendency of later historians to accept Holden's statement as fact. For example, Aloysius A. Norton used this map in his 1989 History of the United States Military Academy as proof that there was a library at West Point in 1780. Other historians have also used the map, indicating it to be an accurate portrayal of 1780 West Point. Significantly, historians who have carefully researched the period do not cite the document or use it as an illustration. Miller, Lockey, and Visconti do not use it in their 1988 USMA History Department publication, Highland Fortress: West Point during the American Revolution, 1775-1783, nor did Dave R. Palmer cite the map in his 1969 book, The River and the Rock.

The first serious questioning of the authenticity of the map was raised by Colonel Merle G. Sheffield, USMA Class of 1948, during his assignment to the USMA Physics

-433-

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

Table of contents

  • Title Page i
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations xi
  • Foreword xiii
  • Preface xvii
  • Acknowledgments xix
  • 1775-1802 1
  • 1 - The Foundation is Laid 3
  • 1802-1817 23
  • 2 - Struggle for Survival 25
  • 3 - Existence in Name Only 45
  • 4 - Right Man at the Right Time? 61
  • 5 - Deliver Your Sword to the Bearer 75
  • 1817-1828 97
  • 6 - The Rebuilding Begins 99
  • 7 - Governed by the Rules and Articles of War 119
  • 8 - Still in a State of Progressive Development 129
  • 9 - Members of One Brotherhood 149
  • 1829-1833 183
  • II - I Have the Honor to Tender My Resignation 185
  • 12 - I Believe It the Best School in the World 205
  • 1833-1852 219
  • 13 - A Firm Hand is Needed 221
  • 14 - Preparing for the Ultimate Test 239
  • 15 - We Follow, Close Order, Behind You 261
  • 1852-1865 279
  • 16 - The Ante-Bellum Army 281
  • 17 - When Shall We Meet Again? 287
  • 18 - Adhere to Your Purpose 323
  • 1865-1902 351
  • 19 - All Institutions Are Imperfect and Subject to the Law of Change 353
  • 20 - Guard Well Your Heritage 387
  • 1902 417
  • 21 - The Corps and the Corps and the Corps 419
  • Appendix A Superintendents, U.S. Military Academy 423
  • Appendix B Commandants of Cadets 427
  • Appendix C Deans of the Academic Board 431
  • Appendix D The 1780 Map of West Point: An Unintentional Historical Hoax 433
  • Appendix E Comments on Sources 437
  • Bibliography 447
  • Index 467
  • About the Author *
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