At Ease: "Build Courage When Courage Seems to Fail"
West Point Graduates & The Civil War
" 'Duty, Honor, Country' - those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying point to build courage when courage seems to fail, to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith, to create hope when hope becomes forlorn." ~ Douglas MacArthur Though he spoke those words decades after the Civil War, MacArthur captured an essence that has been a bedrock of the military academy's history and usually found in the lives of the cadets who went on to military fame. Hundreds of West Point graduates lined up on both sides of Civil War battlefields as commanding or junior officers. Today, we're highlighting your answers, sharing a new video, and looking back at officers' cadet years before they were famous.
There was high voter turnout and lots of answers for the survey about West Point graduates and the Civil War. It's pretty straightforward with a variety of officers from blue and gray. (We did decide to put John Pelham in the results even though he technically didn't graduate; he was just a few weeks short of graduating after a 5-year course of study when he left in spring 1861 to return to Alabama.)
Established in 1802, the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, received appointed young men from all states into cadetship and military training. The cadet course was typically four years (though just prior to the Civil War a five-year course was briefly instituted) and graduates were commissioned as second lieutenants. During the Civil War, about 977 West Point graduates divided their loyalties with 359 joining the Confederacy and 638 staying with the Federal armies.
West Point, c. 1820 (Library of Congress)
John Sedgwick - "The highest qualities of a commander and a soldier"
Just months after General Sedgwick's death at the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, General George McClellan memorialized this West Point graduation during the dedication of a memorial site near the military academy. More details in our newest video!
Cadet James Ewell Brown Stuart was better known by his nickname "Beauty" during his West Point days. He studied hard, made many friends with his popular personality, and graduated 13th out of 46 in the Class of 1854. Here are a few excerpts of correspondence from his cadet years. Shortly after his arrival in 1850, he wrote: "I am pleased with my new situation. So far I know of no profession more desirable than that of a soldier; indeed every thing connected with the Academy has far surpassed my most sanguine expectations." He explained the examinations and class standings: "There is one respect in which West Point differs from all other Institutions of learning, which is this; Here every man's grade, or 'standing,' as it it is here called, is definitely established at every Examination, it is not made out in decimals or by any complicated process of calculation, but simply his relative standing in his class and this is published everywhere in a Register to the world. So that if a man is a fool every body knows it, and if he is head every body who wants to can know it." Stuart also "escaped" any serious flirtations during his West Point years: "I must say that amid all the array of love-seekers and heart-breakers by whom we have been surrounded, I have escaped unscathed." Finally, deciding to make the army his career, Cadet Stuart declared: "There is something in the 'pride and pomp and circumstances of glorious war.'" Seven years after his graduation, Stuart would decide to follow his homestate into the Confederacy where his cavalry skills and legendary stories created a successful and complicated series of battles, raids, and rides that became part of military history and southern memory.
Kicked out of West Point?
Yes, Justin Dimick got kicked out of West Point twice. But, thanks to his father's influence, he managed to graduate in June 1861. The Civil War allowed Dimick to re-evaluate his actions and leadership, and he became a respected junior artillery commander. After the Battle of Chancellorsville, his commanding officer wrote this report: “At 5 o’clock in the morning [May 3, 1863], the enemy attacked us in force, and, after a very severe fight by our men, the Federal line began to fall back. From the first moment I learned the position of the enemy, I played upon him with artillery, the section in the road using very short fuse and canister as the enemy moved to and fro. In the movement of this section, securing and defending the front of our line from the persistent attacks of the enemy, notwithstanding its own exposed condition, and under almost galling fire from the rebel sharpshooters and line of battle, Lieutenant Dimick showed the skill and judgment of an accomplished artillery officer and the intrepid bravery the truest soldier.” – Thomas W. Osborn, Captain and Chief of Artillery, 2nd Division, III Corps Later that morning, Dimick was mortally wounded and he died two days later. In the end, young Dimick was not remembered for his lackluster story at West Point, but for his dedication and leadership on the battlefields of the Civil War.
Central Virginia Battlefields Trust's mission is to preserve, protect, and educate about Civil War hallowed ground at Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, The Wilderness, and Spotsylvania.