When Shall We Meet Again?
The Academy to which Lee returned in September 1852 had observed the fiftieth anniversary of its founding earlier that year. Much of those fifty years had been filled with conflict and crisis after crisis. The inborn distrust of the military coupled with a belief that a citizen army composed primarily of state militia would meet all military requirements, both legacies of the Revolutionary War, brought initial objection to its establishment and then a constant effort to have the Academy abolished. By 1852, however, criticism about the Academy and attempts to abolish it had almost disappeared. The military services of graduates, both those who had remained in uniform and those who had returned from civil life during the War with Mexico, had earned the gratitude of the nation. Their contributions in other fields--education, engineering, exploration, surveying, and science--had aided the growth of the United States from a small, East Coast nation to a sprawling giant extending from ocean to ocean.
Lee inherited an Academic Board whose members were known and respected throughout the country. The curriculum still followed the mold established by Thayer with emphasis upon mathematical and engineering studies. Most of the professors were Thayer men whom Lee remembered from his cadet days. Dennis H. Mahan had been a mathematics instructor from 1824, Assistant Professor of Civil and Military Engineering from 1825, and Professor and head of that Department since 1830. Albert E. Church had served as Assistant Professor of Mathematics from 1828 to 1831 and from 1833 until he was appointed Professor in 1837. William H. C. Bartlett, Professor of Natural and Experimental Philosophy since 1834, had also served as an Assistant Professor of Civil and Military Engineering from 1826 to 1829. Robert W. Weir had been Professor of Drawing since 1834; and Hyacinthe R. Agnel, Professor of French since 1848. Professor