West Point – Historic Landmarks

FROM the brow of the hill, near the Cadet’s Monument, is a comprehensive view of the picturesque village of Cold Spring, on the east side of the river, occupying a spacious alluvial slope, bounded by rugged heights on the north, and connected, behind a range of quite lofty mountains, with the fertile valleys of Dutchess and Putnam Counties. We shall visit it presently. Meanwhile let us turn our eyes southward, and from another point on the margin of the Cemetery, where a lovely shaded walk invites the strollers on warm afternoons, survey Camp Town at our feet, with West Point and the adjacent hills. In this view we see the Old Landing-Place, the road up to the plateau, the Laboratory buildings, the Siege Battery, the Hotel, near the remains of old Fort Clinton, upon the highest ground on the plain, the blue dome of the Chapel, the turrets of the great Mess Hall, on the extreme right, the Cove, crossed by the Hudson River Railway, and the range of hills on the eastern side of the river.

Following this walk to the entrance gate, we traverse a delightful winding road along the river-bank, picturesque at every turn, to the parting of the ways. One of these leads to the Point, the other up Mount Independence, on whose summit repose the grey old ruins of Fort Putnam. We had ascended that winding mountain road many times before, and listened to the echoes of the sweet bugle, or the deeper voices of the morning and evening gun at the Point. Now we were invited by a shady path, and a desire for novelty, from the road between Forts Webb and Putnam, into the deep rocky gorge between Mount Independence and the more lofty Redoubt Hill, to rear of the old fortress, where it wears the appearance of a ruined castle upon a mountain crag. The afternoon sun was falling full upon the mouldering ruin, and the chaotic mass of rocks beneath it; while the clear blue sky and white clouds presented the whole group, with accompanying evergreens, in the boldest relief. Making our way back by another but more difficult path, along the foot of the steep acclivity, we soon stood upon the broken walls of Fort Putnam, 500 feet above the river, with a scene before us of unsurpassed interest and beauty, viewed in the soft light of the evening sun. At our feet lay the promontory of West Point, with its Military Academy, the quarters of the officers and the cadets, and other buildings of the institution. To the left lay Constitution Island, from a point of which, where a ruined wall now stands, to the opposite shore of the main, a massive iron chain was laid upon floating timbers by the Americans, at the middle of the old war for independence. Beyond the island arose the smoke of the furnaces and forges, the spires, and the roofs of Cold Spring. Toward the left loomed up the lofty Mount Taurus, vulgarly called Bull Hill, at whose base, in the shadow of a towering wall of rock, and in the midst of grand old trees, nestles Under Cliff, then the home of Morris, whose songs have delighted thousands in both hemispheres. On the extreme left arose old Cro’ Nest; and over its right shoulder lay the rugged range of Break Neck, dipping to the river sufficiently to reveal the beautiful country beyond, on the borders of Newburgh Bay. This is one of the most attractive points of view on the Hudson.

Fort Putnam was erected by the Americans in 1778, for the purpose of defending Fort Clinton, on West Point below, and to more thoroughly secure the river against the passage of hostile fleets. It was built under the direction of Colonel Rufus Putnam, and chiefly by the men of his Massachusetts regiment. It commanded the river above and below the Point, and it was almost impregnable, owing to its position. In front, the mountain is quite steep for many yards, and then slopes gently to the plains; while on its western side, a perpendicular wall of rock, fifty feet in height, would have been presented to the enemy. Redoubts were also built upon other eminences in the vicinity. These being chiefly earth-works, have been almost obliterated by the action of storms; and Fort Putman was speedily disappearing under the hands of industrious neighbours, who were carrying off the stone for building purposes, when the work of demolition was arrested by the Government. Its remains, consisting of only broken walls and two or three arched casemates, all overgrown with vines and shrubbery, are now carefully preserved. Even the cool spring that bubbles from the rocks in its centre, is kept clear of choking leaves; and we may reasonably hope that the ruins of Fort Putnam will remain, an object of interest to the passing traveller, for more than a century to come.

The views from Roe’s Hotel, on the extreme northern verge of the summit of the plain of West Point, are very pleasing in almost every direction. The one northward, similar to that from the Siege Battery, is the finest. Westward the eye takes in the Laboratory, Lieutenant-Colonel Wood’s Monument, a part of the shaded walk along the northern margin of the plain, and Mount Independence, crowned with the ruins of Fort Putnam. Southward the view comprehends the entire Parade, and glimpses, through the trees, of the Academy, the Chapel, the Mess Hall, and other buildings of the institution, with some of the officers’ quarters and professors’ residences on the extreme right.

The earthworks of Fort Clinton have recently been restored, in their original form and general proportions exactly upon their ancient site, and present, with the beautiful trees growing within their green banks, a very pleasant object from every point of view. The old fort was constructed in the spring of 1778, under the direction of the brave Polish soldier, Thaddeus Kosciuszko, who was then a colonel in the Continental Army, and chief of the Engineers’ Corps. The fort, when completed, was 6oo yards around, within the walls. The embankments were 21 feet at the base and 14 feet in height. Barracks and huts sufficient to accommodate six hundred persons were erected within the fort. It stood upon a cliff, on the margin of the plain, 180 feet above the river.

Kosciuszko was much beloved by the Revolutionary Army, and his memory is held in reverence by the American people. He was only twenty years of age when he joined that army. He had been educated at the Military School of Warsaw. He had not completed his studies, when he eloped with a beautiful girl of high rank. They were overtaken by the maiden’s father, who made a violent at-tempt to seize his daughter. The young Pole was compelled either to slay the father or abandon the daughter. He choose the latter, and obtaining the permission of his sovereign, he went to France, and there became a student in drawing and military science. In Paris he was introduced to Dr. Franklin, and, fired with a desire to aid a people fighting for independence, he sailed for America, bearing letters from that minister. He applied to Washington for employment. ” What do you seek here? ” asked the leader of the armies of the revolted colonies. ” I come to fight as a volunteer for American independence,” the young Pole replied. ” What can you do? ” Washington asked. ” Try me,” was Kosciuszko’s prompt reply. Pleased with the young man, Washington took him into his military family. The Congress soon afterwards appointed him engineer, with the rank of colonel. He returned to Poland at the close of the Revolution, and was made a major-general under Poniatowski. He was at the head of the military movements of the Revolution in Poland in 1794, and was made a prisoner, and carried to St. Petersburg. This event caused Campbell to write:

“Hope for a season bade the earth farewell, And freedom shrieked when Kosciuszko fell.”

After the Empress Catherine died, the Emperor Paul liberated him, offered him command in the Russian service, and presented him with his own sword. He declined it, saying, ” I no longer need a sword, since I have no longer a country to defend.” He revisited the United States in 1797, when the Congress granted him land in consideration of his services. He afterwards lived in Switzerland, and there he died in 1817. A public funeral was made for him at Warsaw. Twelve years afterwards, the cadets at West Point, actuated by love for the man and reverence for his deeds, erected a beautiful marble monument to his memory, within the ruins of old Fort Clinton, at a cost of about $5000. It bears upon one side the name of ” Kosciuszko,” and on another, the simple inscription. ” Erected by the Corps of Cadets, 1828.” It is a conspicuous and pleasing object to voyagers upon the river.

Passing along the verge of the cliffs, southward from Kosciuszko’s monument, the visitor soon reaches another memorial stone. It is of white marble, the chief member being a fluted column, entwined by a laurel wreath, held in the beak of an eagle, perched upon its top. The pedestal is of temple form, square, with a row of encircling stars upon its entablature, and a cannon, like a supporting column, at each corner. It was erected to commemorate a battle fought between a detachment of United States troops under Major Frances L. Dade, and a party of Seminole Indians, in the Everglades of Florida, on the 28th of December, 1835.

A few feet from Dade’s Command’s Monument, a narrow path, through a rocky passage, overhung with boughs and shrubbery, leads down to a pleasant terrace in the steep bank of the river, which is called Kosciuszko’s Garden. At the back of the terrace the rock rises perpendicularly, and from its outer edge descends as perpendicularly to the river. This is said to have been Kosciuszko’s favourite place of re-sort for reading and meditation, while he was at West Point. He found a living spring bubbling from the rocks, in the middle of the terrace, and there he constructed a pretty little fountain. Its ruins were discovered in 1802, and re-paired. The water now rises into a marble basin. Seats have been provided for visitors, ornamental shrubs have been planted, and the whole place wears an aspect of mingled romance and beauty. A deep circular indention in the rock back of the fountain was made, tradition affirms, by a cannon-ball sent from a British ship, while the Polish soldier was occupying his accustomed loitering-place, reading Vauban, and regaled by the perfume of roses. From this quiet, solitary retreat, a pathway, appropriately called Flirtation Walk, leads up to the plain.

A short distance from Kosciuszko’s Garden, upon a higher terrace, is Battery Knox, constructed by the cadets. It commands a fine view of the eastern shore of the Hudson, in the Highlands, and down the river to Anthony’s Nose. Near by are seen the Cavalry Stables and the Cavalry Exercise Hall, belonging to the Military School; and below there is seen the modern West Point Landing. A little higher up, on the plain, are the groups of spacious edifices used for the purposes of the institution.

West Point was indicated by Washington, as early as 1783, as an eligible place for a military academy. In his message to Congress in 1793, he recommended the establishment of one at West Point. The subject rested until 1802, when Congress made provision by law for such an institution there. Very little progress was made in the matter until the year 1812, when, by another act of Congress, a corps of engineers and professors were organized, and the school was endowed with the most attractive features of a literary institution, mingled with that of a military character. From that time until the present, the academy has been increasing in importance, as the nursery of army officers and skilful practical engineers.

The buildings of the West Point Military Academy consisted, at the time we are considering, of cadets’ barracks, cadets’ guard-house, academy, mess-hall, hospital for cadets, chapel, observatory, and library, artillery laboratory, hospital for troops, equipment shed, engineers’ troops barracks, post guard-house, dragoons’ barracks, cavalry exercise hall, cavalry stables, powder magazine, the quarters of the officers and professors of the academy, workshops, commissary of the cadets’ and sutler’s store, shops and cottages for the accommodation of non-commissioned officers and their families, laundresses of the cadets, etc. The principal edifices are built of granite.

The post is under the general command of a superintendent, who bears the rank of brevet-colonel. The average number of cadets was about two hundred and fifty. Candidates for admission are selected by the War Department at Washington City, and they are required to report themselves for examination to the superintendent of the academy between the first and twentieth day of June. None are admitted who are less than sixteen or more than twenty-one years of age, who are less than five feet in height, or who are deformed or otherwise unfit for military duty. Each cadet, on a mission, is obliged to subscribe his name to an agreement to serve in the army of the United States four years, in addition to his four years of instruction, unless sooner discharged by competent authority.

The course of instruction consists of infantry tactics and military policy, mathematics, the French language, natural philosophy, drawing, chemistry, mineralogy, artillery tactics, the science of gunnery, and the duties of a military laboratory, engineering and the science of war, geography, history and ethics, the use of the sword, and cavalry exercise and tactics. The rules and regulations of the academy are very strict and salutary, and the instruction in all departments is thorough and complete.

The road from the plain to the landing at West Point was cut from the steep, rocky bank of the river, at a heavy expense to the government.

A steam ferry-boat connects West Point with the Garrison Station of the Hudson River Railway opposite. Near the latter is the old ferry-place of the Revolution, where troops crossed to and from West Point. Here Washington crossed on the morning when General Arnold’s treason was discovered, and here he held a most anxious consultation with Colonel Hamilton when the event was suspected.

We crossed the ferry to Garrison’s and from the road near the station obtained a pleasant view of West Point, glimpses of the principal buildings there, and the range of lofty hills beyond, which form the group of the Cro’ Nest and the Storm King. Following a winding road up the east bank of the river from this point, we came to a mill, almost hidden among the trees at the head of a dark ravine, through which flows a clear mountain stream called Kedron Brook, wherefore I could not learn, for there is no resemblance to Jerusalem or the Valley of Jehoshaphat near. It is a portion of the beautiful estate of Ardinia, the property of Richard Arden, Esq. His son, Lieutenant Thomas Arden, a graduate of the West Point Military Academy, owns and occupies Beverly, near by, the former residence of Colonel Beverly Robinson (an eminent American loyalist during the war for independence), and the headquarters of General Benedict Arnold at the time of his treason. It is situated upon a broad and fertile terrace, at the foot of Sugar-Loaf Mountain, one of the eastern ranges of the Highlands, which rises eight hundred feet above the plain.

General Arnold was at the Mansion of Colonel Robin-son (Beverly House) on the morning of the 24th of September, 1780, fully persuaded that his treasonable plans for surrendering West Point and its dependencies into the hands of Sir Henry Clinton, the British commander-in-chief,–then in possession of New York,—for the consideration of a brigadier’s commission in the British army, and £I0,000 in gold, were working prosperously.

Major André, Arnold’s immediate accomplice in treasonable designs, had, in a personal interview, arranged the details of the wicked bargain, and left for New York. Arnold believed he had arrived there in safety, with all requisite information for Sir Henry; and that before Washington’s return from Connecticut, whither he had gone to hold a conference with Rochambeau and other French officers, Clinton would have sailed up the Hudson and taken possession of the Highland fortresses. But André did not reach New York. He was captured on his way, by militia-men, as a suspicious-looking traveller. Evidences of his character as a spy were found upon his person, and he was detained. Washington returned sooner than Arnold expected him. To the surprise of the traitor, Hamilton and Lafayette reached the Beverly House early on the morning of the 24th, and announced that Washington had turned down to the West Point Ferry, and would be with them soon. At breakfast Arnold received a letter from an officer below, saying, “Major André, of the British Army, is a prisoner in my custody.” The traitor had reason to expect that evidences of his own guilt might arrive at any moment. He concealed his emotions. With perfect coolness he ordered a horse to be made ready, alleging that his presence was needed ” over the river ” immediately. He then left the table, went into the great passage, and hurried up the broad staircase to his wife’s chamber. In brief and hurried words he told her that they must instantly part, perhaps forever, for his life depended on his reaching the enemy’s lines without detection. Horror stricken, the poor young creature, but one year a mother, and not two a wife, swooned and sank senseless upon the floor. Arnold dare not call for assistance, but kissing, with lips blasted by words of guilt and treason, his boy, then sleeping in angel innocence and purity, he rushed from the room, mounted a horse, hastened to the river, flung himself into his barge, and directing the six oarsmen to row swiftly down the Hudson, escaped to the Vulture, a British sloop-of-war, lying far below.