The Civil War Connections Blog

Black Knight vs. Black Knight

Founded during the Revolutionary War at the urging of General George Washington, the fortress at West Point, NY, has stood guard over the Hudson River since its construction in 1778. The fort officially became the United States Military Academy in 1802, and has since been producing officers well versed in military leadership and a variety of subjects. [1]

 

West Point Chapel, accessed through Library of Congress online.

West Point Chapel, accessed through Library of Congress online.

 

With the sucession crisis starting almost immediately following Abraham Lincoln’s election in 1860, cadets and faculty whose home states were withdrawing from the Union often left West Point to return to their homes. One of the most notable examples of this was P.T. Beauregard, who had graduated from West Point second in his class in 1838, and had just begin his term as superintendent in January 1861. By February however, he had resigned his position at West Point and had joined the Confederate Army as a brigadier general, and was put in charge at Charleston Harbor where he won the battle for Fort Sumter. Awkwardly enough, the Union officer in charge who surrendered to Beauregard, was Major Robert Anderson, who had been one of Beauregard’s instructors at West Point.

 

West Pointers were hugely important in the war, especially in key command positions. I found some interesting statistics that I think are notable enough share but please forgive me if I make a mistake in my calculations – there is a reason I’m a history major and haven’t taken math since sophomore year. According to an extremely cool History Channel Civil War graphic I found (to see it click HERE), there were 895 West Point graduates who served in the Civil War. Specifically, there were also 294 Union generals, along with 151 Confederate generals, who had gone to West Point. Of the 895 serving in the war, 445 West Point alumni served as generals, and out of all of the graduates present only 95 died.[2]

 

West Point Cadets Marching to Dinner, accessed through Library of Congress online

West Point Cadets Marching to Dinner, accessed through Library of Congress online

 

Some of the most notable West Point Confederate leaders were:  Robert E. Lee (1829), P.T. Beauregard (1838), Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson (1846), A.P. Hill (1847), John Bell Hood (1853) and George E. Pickett (1846). Similarly, there was a significant amount of West Point alum in charge of the Union Army as well. Some of the more well known Union leaders were Ulysses S. Grant (1843), William Tecumseh Sherman (1840), George B. McClellan (1846), George Armstrong Custer (1861), and Ambrose Burnside (1847). Montgomery C. Meigs (1836), whom you might remember from my last blog about Arlington Cemetery, was also a graduate of the USMA.

 

The dates following each man’s name are the year in which they graduated from West Point. As you can see, many of the men were in the same graduating class, or were at least at the academy at the same time. This has been a fact that never fails to intrigue me. The Civil War is well known for its ability to turn brothers against one another and tear families apart. Looking at it from the point of view of classmate against classmate, only serves to make it more real. Think about your college or high school days, regardless of if you went to a service academy or not. Would you be able to wage war against someone you ate every meal with or lived in the room next to you?

US Military Academy Cadets, est. 1861-1865. Accessed through Library of Congress online.

US Military Academy Cadets, est. 1861-1865. Accessed through Library of Congress online.


[1] “A Brief History of West Point,” United States Military Academy: West Point, Accessed January 29, 2013. http://www.usma.edu/wphistory/SitePages/Home.aspx

[2] “Civil War 150,” The History Channel, Accessed January 29, 2013. http://www.history.com/interactives/civil-war-150#/west-point-warriors