Guide to West Point, and the U.S. Military Academyby Various
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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 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 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 the 8th of October, 1777, immediately following the assault and capture by Sir Henry Clinton, of Forts Montgomery and Clinton, four miles below.
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