Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Guide to West Point, and the U.S. Military Academy, by Various - Full Text

Book Cover

Armstrong Gun from Fort Fisher.










Fifty-one miles above New York, on the west bank of the Hudson river, in the midst of scenery of the most picturesque and impressive character, and on a bold shelving plateau, formed by the crossing of a range of the Alleghany Mountains, which here assume almost Alpine proportions, is a name dear to every lover of his country—a name replete with memories of the struggle for Independence, and clustering with historic associations.
West Point, the property of the United States by purchase, possesses a primary interest from its military importance during the period of the American Revolution, and a secondary one from its being the seat of the National Military Academy. The creative hand of natural beauty—the romance of war—the distinguished career of those[6]who have gone forth from this locality in the defense of American Liberty, and the spectacle presented by those preparing for future public usefulness, have united to inspire the visitor with emotions unlike those excited at any place of popular resort within the limits of the United States.
Ninety years ago, when West Point possessed no attraction beyond that presented by similar adjoining wild and uncultivated woodland tracts in the Highlands, a band of Commissioners, appointed by the Provincial Congress of the Colony of New York, instituted an undertaking which first imparted a public interest to this favored spot. The war for American Independence was in progress, and then, as now, the Hudson river afforded the principal channel of communication between the theatre of the strife and the country lying northward to Canada and the west.
Nor was its importance thus limited. As a strategic line, separating the New England Colonies from the more productive region south-west[7]of them, the control of the Hudson became, early in the war, one of the principal objects toward which the attention of the military authorities directing the contending parties was attracted.
Between abrupt and lofty mountains above West Point, the gorge through which the river flows, yet bearing its ancient name of Wey Gat, or Wind Gate, is partially obstructed at its lower entrance, by a long and narrow island, once named Martelaer's Rock, but now known as Constitution Island. In pursuance of their instructions, made with singular lack of judgment, upon this island the Commissioners landed, and under the direction of an engineer, appointed by the Colony, a work named Fort Constitution was commenced in August, 1775, and completed at a heavy expense, designed to defend, with a powerful armament of artillery, the approach up the river. Thus unfortunately located, and easily destroyed by an overlooking battery at West Point, or by a land approach on the east side of the river, the fort was abandoned and fired on the first appearance of a British force, on[8]the 8th of October, 1777, immediately following the assault and capture by Sir Henry Clinton, of Forts Montgomery and Clinton, four miles below.
Notwithstanding this early recognition of the necessity for obstructing and controling the Hudson, no attempt was made to occupy West Point until after the urgent recommendations of Washington, Governor Clinton and Lord Stirling—the latter of whom had thoroughly examined and reported upon the immediate necessity for defending this most important point.
Operations were commenced by a brigade of Continental troops, under the command of General Parsons, on January 20, 1778, and before June in the same year, the work yet preserved, was thrown up on the north-east angle of the plateau, and named Fort Arnold. To cover the work, early in April, a body of Massachusetts troops, under Colonel Rufus Putnam, began to erect a fort constructed of earth and logs, on Mount Independence, overlooking the plain, which was named,[9]in honor of their commander, Fort Putnam. The old fort yet in existence, bearing the same name, is a relic built, for the most part, in 1794. Forts Webb and Wyllis, lying to the south and named after regimental commanders, were commenced at the same time with Fort Putnam, and were designed to protect West Point from an approach southward by land. All these operations were conducted under the direction of Major-General McDougall, commanding in the Highlands; and in 1779, they were further strengthened and improved, while additional works were thrown up known as redoubts Nos. 1, 2 and 3, covering the Eagle Valley road to the west; redoubt No. 4, on Rocky Hill, in rear of Fort Putnam, and redoubts Nos. 5, 6 and 7, on Constitution Island, by Kosciuszko as the engineer, acting under the general direction of Washington, whose headquarters were established at West Point during a portion of the same year.
The works known as the North and South redoubts, in rear of Garrison's Station, [10]were erected to defend the land approach on the east side of the river.
An interesting letter and accompanying map, from Kosciuszko, relating to these works, is here published for the first time:
"West Point, 25th April, 1779.
"Sir: I send you a ruff map of West Point, with indication as you desire from me, about the Public Buildings, and the Works.
"The Carpenters Compliend about the provision, that he have not enof; he beg your honor to allow them more bred.

aHouse full of Ammunition.
bThe Barracks.
cThe Carpenter's House.
dThe Commissary House.
eFor the Fourage.
fThe Huts.
gThe Read House.
hBaker's House.
iProvision House.
kSmall Commissary House.
lSmock House.
mThe Barracks.
nThe Steble,
oOf the Artellery Officer's House
pArtellery Barracks.
qGreaton's Battery.
rChain Battery begun last summer.
sRedoubt for fivety men begun last Summer.
tRedoubt for fivety men begun last Summer.
uGuard House.
wGuard House not covered.
xPoint of (Projected) Block House with Bumprove for fivety men.
Your Most Humble Servant
The Honorable
Major General McDougall,

Map of West Point

[11]While these land defenses were planned and situated to aid in controling the passage of the Hudson, a formidable obstruction was made by stretching across the river at its narrowest point, a boom of huge short logs, united at the ends by chains so as to resemble a rope ladder, and a few yards higher up, an immense chain was buoyed up on logs, extending across from one shore to the other. This chain was made by Noble, Townsend & Company, at the Stirling Iron Works, yet in operation near the Sloatsburg Station, on the Erie Railroad, about twenty-five miles from West Point. It was carried in pieces to New Windsor on wagons, put together there, and floated down the river into its position, in April, 1778. A portion of the chain is preserved, and is to be seen lying in a grove on the north side of the Plain. The links are made of two-inch bar iron, and each weighs about 120 pounds. The entire chain weighed 186 tons.
Thus it will be seen, from its natural advantages, its defenses, and its [12]obstructions, West Point was the key to the passage of the Hudson, and as matters stood in 1780, it was in fact an American Gibraltar. The British, then in possession of the city of New York, and thus prevented from the employment of vessels to maintain communication with the Northern Provinces, and unable to penetrate the country amid the desolate wildernesses which covered its face, found themselves restricted to surprising detached points, or raids, from which the patriots speedily recovered, and no northern campaign, save that of Burgoyne, which ended in defeat and surrender, was attempted, chiefly from their inability to control the passage of the Hudson.
The winter of 1779 and 1780 was one of unexampled severity for the patriot army in the North, while in the South the surrender of Charleston and the disaster at Camden, had inspired universal gloom. A cloud of witnesses of the best authority bear testimony that at that period the majority of the American people manifested a [13]willingness to cease further resistance, and return to their allegiance under the British King.
In the midst of these forebodings there burst upon the nation the knowledge of a plot so comprehensive and momentous in all the circumstances attending it, and in the results designed to be accomplished, that even in its failure it struck terror and dismay to the hearts of all true lovers of American independence. This mighty plot comprehended not only the surrender of West Point, with all its garrison and armament, but had also for its object the betrayal of Washington and his staff into the hands of Sir Henry Clinton, the British Commander of the King's forces in America.
Major General Benedict Arnold, an officer of the patriot army, who had risen from the grade of Captain for gallant and perilous services in the contest, sought and received an assignment to command at West Point and its dependencies in August, 1780. Embittered by a few real, and many [14]imaginary grievances, this officer had long but secretly become disaffected towards the American cause. After evidence has established the fact, that he deliberately bargained with the British Commander to become a traitor to the land of his birth—to sell for a stipulated price the trust confided to him, and to betray his command into the hands of the enemy. To accomplish this object he entered into negotiations secretly with Sir Henry Clinton, by which it was agreed that he should make such a disposition of his forces as would enable the British Commander effectually to surprise West Point.
John Anderson and Colonel Beverly Robinson were the agents on the part of the British, and with them Arnold opened "a regular channel of communication." The correspondence becoming protracted, a personal interview was demanded by Arnold to bring the matter to a final settlement, at which he was to furnish plans of West Point, and returns of its armament and garrison. With this object in view, [15]John Anderson left New York on horseback, and proceeded up the river with the intention of holding the proposed interview on board the British sloop-of-war "Vulture," anchored off Teller's, now called Croton Point. Difficulties having been thrown in the way of this arrangement, Anderson was induced to leave the vessel and go ashore at midnight, in a boat sent by Arnold, and meet the latter on the west bank of the Hudson, a little below the village of Haverstraw. He had been directed by Sir Henry Clinton not to enter the American lines, and not to assume any disguise, but under a pressure of circumstances, he did both, and thus became exposed to the character of a spy, violating the laws of war. The meeting between Anderson and Arnold, while discussing their infamous plans, was prolonged until the dawn of day, when the state of the tide and the risk of being discovered by the American pickets, so alarmed the boatmen, that neither the threats nor entreaties of [16]the two principals could induce them to return to the "Vulture."
In the hope of making a successful return to the vessel on the next night, both parties sought refuge in the house of a noted Tory, living in Haverstraw, named Joshua Hett Smith. They had scarcely found themselves safe within the house, when an event occurred which seriously threatened the whole object of the interview. The proximity of the "Vulture" to the American lines was such, that a fire was opened upon her by a battery on shore, and she was compelled to drop down the river, thus preventing Anderson from returning to New York by that opportunity. In the afternoon Arnold returned in his barge to his headquarters, while Anderson, filled with thoughts of the great advantage the arrangement must confer upon his King and country, and with the glory and promotion awaiting himself, could not avoid reflecting upon the great personal danger to which he was exposed, surrounded by enemies, and having concealed about his [17]person the proofs of his character as a spy. He had been furnished by Arnold with two passports, one to return by water in case that method again became practicable, and the other by a land route on the east side of the river, authorized him "to go to the lines at White Plains, or lower if he thought proper, being on public business." Choosing the latter mode, in the evening Anderson, accompanied by Smith, crossed the Hudson at Stony Point, and commenced his hazardous journey.
The party proceeded with little or no interruption, and once beyond the sight of patroling parties, Anderson's naturally buoyant spirit resumed its wonted cheerfulness, and he astonished his companion by the sudden change from taciturn despondency to unusual hilarity. Poetry, art and literature, formed alternate themes of discourse, and already he seemed to behold the reduction of the Colonies and the end of the war—a consummation to which his own sagacity and personal daring would so largely have contributed. Near Pine's [18]Bridge, a few miles above Tarrytown, Smith parted from him to return to Fishkill, while Anderson pursued his way onward, until three armed militia-men, lying in wait for suspicious men and cattle going to New York, brought him to a stand. Under the impression that they were adherents of the British from their replies to his inquiries, he announced himself a British officer, and exhibited his passport, but it was too late, the fatal admission was made. The men took him into the bushes and searched him, when six papers, mostly in Arnold's handwriting, were found inside of his stockings and beneath his feet, filled with details of the state of the forces, ordnance, and defenses at West Point. Patriotically disdaining the proffered bribe of a purse of gold and permanent support and promotion on condition of suffering him to proceed, the captors conveyed him to Colonel Jameson, who commanded the nearest American outpost at North Castle. This officer, unaccountably bewildered, resolved to dispatch the captive to Arnold, to [19]whose command he belonged, in spite of the damning proof of the former's treachery. Major Tallmadge, the second officer in command at the post, was absent when Anderson was brought in, and did not return until evening. When Jameson told him what had occurred, he was filled with amazement, and openly declared that Arnold was a traitor, offering to take upon himself the responsibility of acting on that conviction. To this Jameson would not listen, but he finally yielded to the entreaties of Tallmadge to recall Anderson, while he persisted in sending a note to Arnold, informing him of the suspicious arrest of the prisoner. The six papers he had already dispatched to be delivered to Washington. The messenger sent to recall Anderson overtook the party and returned with them to North Castle. Conscious that his fate was sealed, exposure inevitable, and proofs of his own and Arnold's crime more than ample, Anderson paced up and down the apartment with measured step, pondering on the gloomy prospect which awaited him,[20]while Tallmadge sat watching him, more and more convinced that the indifferently dressed prisoner before him had been bred to the profession of arms. On the next morning the captive wrote a letter to Washington, describing the manner in which he came within the American lines, and announced himself to be Major John Andre, the Adjutant-General of the British army.
The state of inactivity of the patriot forces had impelled Count Rochambeau, the Commander of the Allied French army, to request an interview with Washington at Hartford, Conn. Two days before the conference between Arnold and Andre, Washington wrote Arnold to meet him at Peekskill with a guard of fifty men, and forage for forty horses. Arnold came down from West Point in his barge, and crossed over with Washington at King's Ferry, plying between Verplank's and Stony Point. The "Vulture" was then anchored off in full view, and Washington observed her through a telescope for a long time, conversing with his staff in a low tone. Arnold [21]witnessed the scene with more than ordinary feelings of alarm, and was startled by a playful remark of Lafayette, who said, "General, as you have secret correspondence with the enemy, you must tell us what has become of Guichen." Thrown off his guard, Arnold sharply demanded what the Marquis alluded to, but almost immediately the boat arrived at the landing, and the retort passed unnoticed. The night was passed at Peekskill, and when next morning Washington proceeded on his way, Arnold returned to his headquarters at the Robinson House, opposite West Point. In returning, after the meeting with Rochambeau, Washington pursued the upper route to the Hudson, arriving at Fishkill, so as to enable him to visit West Point before returning to his camp in New Jersey. This change in his route caused him to miss the papers sent after him by Jameson, which had been found on the person of Andre, and during his brief visit the plot had matured, ripened, and Andre had been captured.
[22]Two days after the latter occurrence, Washington left Fishkill and pushed on down to the Robinson House, only some ten miles distant, intending to breakfast with Arnold. On arriving opposite West Point, instead of continuing on to Arnold's quarters, he rode toward the North and South redoubts. "General," said Lafayette, "you are going in the wrong direction, and you know Mrs. Arnold is waiting breakfast for us." "Ah!" said Washington, "you young men are all in love with Mrs. Arnold, and wish to get where she is as soon as possible; go, and take your breakfast with her, and tell her not to wait for me; I must first examine the redoubts on this side of the river."
As most of the staff officers proposed to accompany him, only two went forward to tell the Arnolds not to wait, and finding breakfast ready, they sat down with the family at the table. During the repast a note was brought to Arnold, who opened it and read it; the note was from Jameson, as before mentioned, and [23]announced the capture of Anderson, conveying, of course, to Arnold, the failure of the whole conspiracy. Betraying but slight outward emotion, although his life was in imminent peril, he merely remarked that his presence was required across the river at West Point, and with a slight apology, he left the room followed by his wife. In the privacy of their own chamber he told her they must part—possibly forever—and that his life depended on his reaching the British lines; then pressing a kiss upon his sleeping infant boy,[A] he passed down stairs, mounted a horse, and dashed down a narrow rocky path leading to the landing, where his barge was lying, just on the south side of the point through which the Hudson River Railroad now cuts its way. Pretending that he was going with a flag of truce, he excited the boatmen to powerful efforts by promised[24]rewards, and the boat sped through the water, carrying the panting renegade to the "Vulture" below, passing Verplank's Point batteries under cover of a white handkerchief raised upon a stick.
Meanwhile, Washington having completed his inspection, arrived at the Robinson House, where he was informed that Arnold had been called across the river. After a hasty breakfast, he concluded not to await Arnold's return, but to follow him to West Point. As the barge swept over the water, amid the majestic scenery of the Hudson, Washington remarked, "Well, gentlemen, I am glad General Arnold has gone before us, for we shall now receive a salute, and the roaring of the guns will have a fine effect among these mountains." But no salute boomed upon their expectant ears, and no preparations were visible for tendering one. As the boat drew near the shore, an officer was seen coming down the hill, who proved to be Colonel Lamb, the temporary commander. Astounded at seeing the Commander-in-Chief, he commenced[25]an apology, which was interrupted by Washington. "How is this, sir, is not General Arnold here?" "No, sir," replied the Colonel, "he has not been here these two days, nor have I heard from him in that time." "This is extraordinary," replied Washington, "he left word that he had crossed over here; however, the object of our visit must not be defeated, and since we are here we will look around and see in what state things are with you." He then ascended to Fort Putnam, examined it and the various redoubts, and returned to Arnold's house, where Hamilton gave him the dispatch, which had arrived during his absence from Jameson, containing the papers found on Andre, and the letter from the latter to himself. The treason of Arnold was now fully exposed, but as some hours had elapsed he was already beyond pursuit. Calling in Generals Knox and Lafayette, Washington explained what had occurred, showing the proofs of the treachery, and, pathetically appealing to them, he exclaimed, "Whom can we trust now?"
[26]Standing on a mine which might explode at any instant, he was outwardly as calm as ever; he even sought Mrs. Arnold, and kindly attempted to soothe her frenzied excitement which found vent in alternate wailings and reproaches that would have pierced insensibility itself. Although Washington seemed unchanged, he was fully alive to his danger. He rapidly wrote his commands, and hastily dispatched couriers in every direction to arouse the camps, till at length, having done all in his power to avert the threatened evil, he retired to rest late at night, fully expecting to be aroused before daylight by the roar of British artillery.
We now know the happy result, and that, under the providence of God, much of it was due to the promptitude and foresight of Washington. We now see the momentous consequences which would have followed the consummation of Arnold's baseness; how, and by what a singular change of events, Washington's visit was delayed, and Arnold's escape effected, while even [27]now, we recoil as we learn how a single expression dropped by Andre, prevented the springing of a mine which would have inevitably insured a failure to achieve our independence, and have left us colonial dependents upon the British Government. Andre was conveyed to the Robinson House, and thence to West Point, from which place he was removed to the village of Tappan, opposite Irvington, on the Hudson River Railroad, where a Board of General Officers, presided over by Major General Greene, was assembled to inquire into the facts of his case, and report their opinion. The Board found him acting in the character of a spy, and were of the opinion that, agreeably to the laws and usages of war, he ought to suffer death. In spite of every possible exertion of Sir Henry Clinton, the universal sympathy of the American officers, and the grief of Washington, whose heart was wrung with anguish when he gave the death-warrant, Andre was executed at Tappan, on the 2d [28]of October, 1780, and died, in truth, "lamented even by his foes."
The miserable and unhappy career of Arnold need not be pursued. Rewarded by the British Government with a Brigadier-General's commission and a grant of £10,000, he died in London in 1801.[B]

Constitution Island

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