Full Guide on How to Join The US Military Academy in 2024
The United States Military Academy, also known as West Point Academy, is a higher education institution that trains commissioned officers for the United States Army. On March 16, 1802, it was established as a school for the United States Corps of Engineers with a class of 5 officers and ten cadets.
It is one of the world’s oldest service academies. The academy is located in Orange County, New York, north of New York City, framed by the Hudson Highlands and poised above the Hudson River. In this piece, we’d dive into one of America’s leading military academies’ history, establishment, and exciting facts.
History of The United States Military Academy
The United States Military Academy (USMA), also known as West Point or simply the Army, is a service academy in West Point, New York. It was initially built as a fort because it sits on strategic high ground overlooking the Hudson River with a scenic view north of New York City. It is the oldest of the five American service academies, and it prepares students for commissioning into the United States Army.
The academy was established in 1802, one year after President Thomas Jefferson directed that plans for its establishment be initiated. It was built on the site of Fort Clinton on West Point, which overlooked the Hudson and was besieged by the British during the Revolutionary War by Colonial General Benedict Arnold.
During the Revolution, the United States would have to rely on foreign military experts like Baron von Steuben, and it was clear that the young country needed to develop its officer corps. Washington, an engineer, believed that mastery of military technology required extensive study and could not be obtained solely through practice. However, it was not until March 16, 1802, that Congress passed legislation establishing the United States Military Academy at West Point.
The academy first opened its doors on July 4, 1802. Before 1812, it served as an apprentice school for military engineers and was the first engineering school in the United States. However, the institution needed more proper organization in its early years.
An act of Congress reorganized the academy on April 29, 1812, which increased the authorized strength of the corps of cadets to 250, expanded the academy’s staff, and established a four-year curriculum. However, this legislative goal was not realized until the administration of Col. Sylvanus Thayer (1817-33), who became known as the “Father of the Military Academy” due to his lasting influence on the West Point physical plant, library, curriculum, and pedagogical method.
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The central campus is a National Historic Landmark containing many historic sites, buildings, and monuments. The majority of the Norman-style buildings on campus are made of gray and black granite. In addition, the campus is a popular tourist destination with a visitor center and the United States Army’s oldest museum.
Admission and Educational Status Quo Of The USMA
The academy is subject to the Department of the Army’s immediate supervision and control, exercised through the superintendent, who has prompt military command of the academy and the military post. The educational program’s goal is to instruct and train the corps of cadets so that each graduate has the qualities and attributes necessary for continued development as an officer in the army over a lifetime.
The four-year college-level education and training program results in a bachelor of science degree and an army commission as a second lieutenant. Mathematics, basic and engineering sciences, humanities and social sciences, military science, and physical education are all included in the curriculum.
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Cadets must be at least 17 years old but still need to be 23 when they are appointed to the USMA. Furthermore, they must be unmarried and have no legal obligation to support children, and females are not permitted to be pregnant.
They must have a high school diploma or equivalent and pass scholastic aptitude tests and a medical examination before being admitted.
U.S. senators and representatives make the vast majority of academy appointments. Approximately 15,000 young men and women apply for admission to West Point each year. About one-fourth of applicants are nominated, and half are deemed qualified for admission.
Less than 10% of applicants—roughly 1,200 prospective cadets each year are accepted.
Since the first half of the nineteenth century, West Point has trained most of America’s great military commanders. As a United States Military Academy graduate, Dwight D. Eisenhower introduced most great American military commanders in the first half of the nineteenth century. Robert E. Lee (class of 1829), William T. Sherman (1840), James Longstreet (1842), and Ulysses S. Grant are among its graduates (1843).
The outstanding 1846 class included Thomas (“Stonewall”) Jackson, George H. Gordon, George McClellan, and George Pickett. In addition, two of the most gifted cavalry commanders of the American Civil War, Philip Sheridan (1853) and Jeb Stuart (1854), graduated within two years of each other, and George Armstrong Custer (1861) graduated last in his class just a month before the Battle of Bull Run.
5 Interesting Facts about the United States Military Academy
Did You Know?
West Point engineers oversee some of America’s most vital infrastructure.
West Point graduates designed nearly all early American railways, roads, and bridges because it was the country’s only engineering college until 1824. Even after 1824, West Point engineers were in high demand. For example, the Panama Canal’s chief executive, George Washington Goethals, was a West Point graduate.
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The first superintendent of West Point had no military experience.
President Thomas Jefferson established the academy to establish a national university based on science. He appointed Jonathan Adams, a prominent scientist and Ben Franklin’s cousin, university president. Adams had no previous military experience. Despite this, he accepted the rank of colonel and reported to West Point.
If a cadet is concerned about a test, John Sedgwick was “The Man.”
While most people remember John Sedgwick for his infamous last words at the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, where he allegedly said, “Why are you dodging like this? They couldn’t possibly hit an elephant from this distance.” Sedgwick was hit by enemy fire moments later, in cruel irony. Sedgwick is an ironic symbol of good luck for current West Point cadets. If a cadet is nervous about finals, they go to Sedgwick’s monument on campus at midnight in full regalia. According to legend, they will pass their final exams if they spin the statue’s spurs.
Ironically, Sedgwick was discouraged from taking the West Point entrance exam after being told he would fail. In 1837, Sedgwick graduated from West Point.
Benedict Arnold’s infamous betrayal took place at West Point.
A little bit more history. When Arnold realized that the colonial forces would give him command of West Point, he began negotiating deals to hand over the fort to the British. He even sent detailed drawings to his British contacts during his first visit to West Point. Finally, Arnold and the British agreed that if Arnold were given command of West Point, he would give up the fort and the American position in exchange for 20,000 pounds and British command.
Arnold was given command at West Point on August 3, 1780. After establishing himself, he began to weaken its defenses and plot the demise of West Point. On September 21, 1780, he met with British Major John Andre to discuss Arnold’s resignation plans. However, American forces fired on the ship Andre intended to take back to the British position in New York, forcing it to return downstream. Andre was compelled to return by land. Despite Arnold’s provision of documents to allow him to pass through American lines, Andre was apprehended, and the plot was revealed. Arnold escaped and was hanged by British and American forces.
Robert E. Lee was a student at West Point and the Academy’s superintendent.
Many Civil War generals on both sides attended West Point, but few can claim to have been the school’s superintendents. Because the school was a “snake pit,” Robert E. Lee hesitated to accept the superintendent position. Finally, he had no choice but to become superintendent of the War Department in 1852.
Lee, as superintendent, improved the building’s quality, spent time with cadets, and expanded the course curriculum from four to five years. Lee was promoted to second-in-command of the 2nd U.S. Cavalry, stationed in Texas then, and left the institution.
He would later use this experience as president of Washington College, now Washington and Lee, after the war.