HomeNewsOn This Day: March 16, 1803, United States Military Academy Established at West Point

On This Day: March 16, 1803, United States Military Academy Established at West Point

by TK Sanders

On this day March 16, 1802, the US Congress established by legislative decree the United States Military Academy at West Point. The prestigious military academy has trained thousands of the nation’s most revered battle commanders and leaders.

Officially, the Military Peace Establishment Act, introduced by Massachusetts Congressman Joseph Varnum, and signed into law by President Thomas Jefferson, established the academy, now known simply by the shorthand, ARMY.

“Congress established a separate Corps of Engineers at West Point, New York, and constituted it as a military academy with the Chief Engineer serving as superintendent,” writes the website of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“This action, taken at a time when the overall size of the Army was small, placed the Corps on permanent footing and capped a quarter-century of efforts to provide professional training for officers.”

Fittingly, West Point officially opened for ‘business’ on July 4 of the same year. Massachusetts native Joseph Gardner Swift graduated first.

West Point not only serves as the world’s premiere military academy, but it also trains some of the world’s most capable engineers. To even apply for admission into the school, hopefuls must attain a series of milestones and recommendations in their teenaged years, including commendation from their state representatives.

“West Point grads designed almost all early American railways, roads, and bridges. It was the only engineering college in the country until 1824,” writes the American Battlefield Trust.

West Point has produced 83 Medal of Honor recipients, and two U.S. presidents: Ulysses S. Grant (1843) and Dwight D. Eisenhower (1915)

West Point grads trickle into many other fields besides engineering or Army careers, as well. Two of the three astronauts on Apollo 11, the first mission to put men on the lunar surface, were West Point graduates: command module pilot Michael Collins (Class of 1952) and moon walker Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin (1951).

Unsurprisingly, West Point occupies a strategic physical location on a west-bank bluff overlooking the Hudson River, about 60 miles north of New York City. The river runs all the way to Albany, about 100 miles further north, which made it a strategic landmark during Lady Liberty’s fight for independence. 

The British knew the Hudson could drive a wedge between New England and the rest of the colonies if help properly. Yes, the colonies had “won” the war for Independence a quarter century earlier, but the new country still existed on very shaky grounds as a new nation. West Point stood in the way of any foreign ambitions to retake the northern colonies. 

“West Point had a major role in our nation’s history during the American Revolution,” the United States Military Academy writes in its online history. “American Continental Line soldiers constructed forts, gun batteries, redoubts and installed a 65-ton iron chain across the Hudson to block British invasions along the river.”

Now in its third century of service, West Point still remains dedicated to its founding principles.

“From the day of its founding on March 16, 1802, West Point has grown in its size and stature, but it remains committed to the task of producing commissioned leaders of character for America’s Army,” the United States Military Academy proclaims online. “Guided by its timeless motto, ‘Duty, Honor, Country,’ the Academy is poised confidently to provide the Army and the nation with its third century of service.”