West Point, a village in the town of Cornwall, Orange co., New York, on the W. bank of the Hudson river, at its passage through the Highlands, 50 m. above New York city; pop. in 1870, 942. It is the seat of the United States military academy. The point itself, including a tract of mountain land adjoining it on the west and northwest, amounting altogether to 1,795 acres, was purchased by the United States from Stephen Moore in 1790. An additional tract on the south was bought of Oliver Gridley in 1824. The entire domain contains 2,105 acres. The state of New York ceded its jurisdiction over a small portion of this area, embracing little more than the plain of West Point, in 1826. Upon this plain, which contains about 160 acres and is about one mile in circuit, are the principal buildings of the academy, so arranged along its western and southern margin as to leave a large unoccupied area for tactical instruction and parades. Its surface is 160 to 180 ft. above the level of the river, with bold and rocky cliffs on the east and northeast, commanding river views of almost unparalleled beauty, and on the north a more gentle declivity.
It is closely flanked on the west by abrupt hills and mountain spurs, with altitudes varying from 500 to 1,500 ft., the highest of which, rising precipitously from the river a little more than a mile to the northward, is Old Crow Nest. The ruins of Fort Putnam, a relic of revolutionary times, tower above the plain on Mount Independence, about three fourths of a mile S. W. of the extremity of the point. During the war of the revolution the position of West Point possessed great strategic importance, commanding the only line of water communication by which the enemy on the Atlantic coast could receive cooperation from Canada. Some weak defensive works called Fort Constitution had been erected on the E. bank of the river, upon Martelaer's rock (now Constitution island), as early as November, 1775; and in 1776 two temporary works styled Fort Montgomery and Fort Clinton were constructed 6 m. below on the W. bank of the stream, and the river was obstructed at that point by a chain. All these defences fell into the hands of the enemy on Oct. 6, 1777, but the positions were abandoned on the receipt, a few days later, of the news of Burgoyne's surrender.
In January, 1778, the work of fortifying West Point was begun by the erection of an enclosed work built of fascines, timber, and earth, called at first Fort Arnold and subsequently Fort Clinton, on the N. E. angle of the plain. The construction of Fort Putnam, of stone, was commenced. During 1779 and 1780 eight other smaller works and redoubts were erected on the summits of the principal eminences W. and S. of the plain. The river was obstructed in 1778 by a heavy chain and boom stretched across between West Point and Constitution island. Early in August, 1780, West Point, including its dependencies, was assigned to the command of Maj. Gen. Benedict Arnold, and six weeks later it became the theatre of his treason and flight, his immediate object being to deliver up the defences of the Highlands to the enemy. After the war the defences of the place were allowed to fall into decay. In 1828 a monument was erected by the cadets to the memory of Kosciuszko, who mainly superintended their construction. - The idea of establishing a military academy at West Point appears to have been first suggested in 1783 by Col. Pickering, quartermaster general of the army; but it was not until May 7,1794, that provision for any military school was made by congress.
Under that act four battalions of engineers and artillerists were organized, to each of which four cadets were attached; and in 1798 an additional regiment of artillerists was authorized and the number of cadets was increased to 56. The president was empowered to appoint four teachers for the instruction of the corps, but no provision was made for assembling the artillerists and engineers at any one point. By the act of March 16, 1802, fixing the military peace establishment, 40 cadets were attached to the artillery and 10 to the corps of engineers, and that corps was constituted a military academy and stationed at West Point, the senior officer of engineers present being the superintendent thereof. This was the beginning of the present military academy. By the act of Feb. 28, 1803, the president was authorized to appoint a teacher of the French language and a teacher of drawing, and in July following one teacher was appointed to perform the duties of both positions. The act of April 29,1812, provided that the military academy should consist of the corps of engineers and the following professors, in addition to the teachers of the French language and drawing already provided, viz.: a professor of natural and experimental philosophy, with the pay and emoluments of a lieutenant colonel, and a professor of mathematics and one of engineering, each with the pay and emoluments of a major; and it was provided that these professors might be officers of the corps of engineers or otherwise at the discretion of the appointing power, each professor to have an assistant professor to be taken from among the most capable of the officers or cadets, and to receive the pay and emoluments of a captain.
The same act fixed the number of cadets not to exceed 250, to be appointed between the ages of 14 and 21 years, and to be well versed in reading, writing, and arithmetic when appointed. The professorship of geography, history, and ethics was created April 14, 1818 (the chaplain to be professor); that of chemistry, mineralogy, and geology in 1838; those of drawing and the French language in 1846; that of the Spanish language in 1857; and that of law in 1874. For purposes of military police, discipline, and infantry drill, the oadets are organized into a battalion of four companies, the battalion staff and the company officers being cadets. Each company is in charge of an army officer styled an assistant instructor of infantry tactics, and the battalion is commanded by the commandant of cadets, also an officer of the army, who by the act of 1858 was made instructor of artillery, cavalry, and infantry tactics, with the local rank of lieutenant colonel. There are also an instructor of practical military engineering, signalling, and telegraphy, an instructor of ordnance and gunnery, and a sword master. The selection of the superintendent was confined to the corps of engineers till the act of July 13, 1866, which opened it to the entire army.
By act of June 12, 1858, the local rank of colonel was conferred upon the superintendent. The officers of the academy at the present time (1876) are the superintendent, with five officers constituting his military staff; the commandant of cadets and instructor of artillery, cavalry, and infantry tactics, with six assistants; the professor of mathematics, with eight assistants; the professor of drawing, with two assistants; the professor of chemistry, mineralogy, and geology, with two assistants; the professor of the Spanish language, with two assistants; the professor of natural and experimental philosophy, with four assistants; the professor of the French language, with four assistants; the professor of military and civil engineering, with two assistants; the professor of law; the chaplain and professor of ethics; the instructor of practical military engineering, etc, with one assistant; the instructor of ordnance and gunnery, with one assistant; and the sword master; total, 51. Cadets are admitted between the ages of 17 and 21 years. The authorized number is determined by the law that each congressional district, each territory, and the District of Columbia are respectively entitled to have one cadet at the academy, and ten are also appointed yearly at large.
The appointments at large are conferred by the president; those from the districts and territories by the secretary of war on the nomination of the representative or delegate in congress. To secure admission, candidates must be well versed in arithmetic, reading, and writing, including orthography, and must have a knowledge of the elements of English grammar, of descriptive geography, particularly of their own country, and of the history of the United States. The pay of a cadet is $500 a year and one ration, against which are charged his board, clothing, books, stationery, and other items of expense. The course of instruction occupies four years. The academic duties begin on Sept. 1, and continue till about June 20. From this time until the last days in August the cadets live in tents, and devote their time to military duties, riding, sword exercise, pyrotechny, practical military engineering, signalling, telegraphy, etc. On graduation, the cadet is commissioned in the engineers, ordnance, artillery, infantry, or cavalry, according to the duties he may be judged competent to perform.
The total number of graduates from 1802 to 1876 was 2,613, less than half of those who entered the institution during that time. - See, "Biographical Register of the Officers and Graduates of the United States Military Academy at West Point, N. Y.," by Gen. George W. Cullum (2 vols. 8vo, 2d ed., New York, 1868).