The United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, began as an important fortress during the American Revolution. George Washington, who kept headquarters there, considered West Point to be the most important strategic position in America. Washington and several of his contemporaries, after the Revolutionary War, conceived of a military institution to produce the leadership and military skill sets needed of officers during wartime. In 1802, Thomas Jefferson signed the legislation making the United States Military Academy a reality.

Many of the key officers on both sides of the Civil War were West Point graduates – including U.S. Grant and Robert E. Lee; and, many of those men were classmates, had served together prior to the conflict, and were friends. Moreover, these officers were all trained at West Point under the same code of discipline, the same military standards, and the same allegiance to the Constitution of the United States. During the Civil War, both the North & the South’s military leadership employed the standards, strategies, and tactics learned at West Point. In so many ways, these men knew each other well.

West Pointers at Gettysburg:

115 Union Officers including these notable General Officers (alphabetical order):

Army of the Potomac Commander, George Meade

John Buford, George Custer, Abner Doubleday, Winfield Hancock, Oliver Howard, Alfred Pleasonton, John Reynolds, & Gouveneur Warren1

40 Confederate Officers including these notable General Officers (alphabetical order):

Army of Northern Virginia Commander, Robert E. Lee

Richard Anderson, Jubal Early, Richard Ewell, Richard Garnett, Henry Heth, Ambrose Hill, John Hood, James Longstreet, Lafayette, McLaws, George Pickett, J.E.B. Stuart, & Cadmus Wilcox

A Personal Connection

My youngest brother, Mike, gained an appointment to attend West Point in 1984. Our brother Patrick, who is between Mike and me, had enlisted in the Army National Guard and been working his way through school on the GI Bill. I was already a junior in college and was about as far removed - or so I thought - from joining the military as a person could get.  I didn't feel left out in any way; in fact, I had taken a year off between high school and college to pursue a "music career."  That was a fairly short-lived adventure and my first genius idea after returning home was to join the Marine Corps.  Don't get me wrong, I have the utmost respect for the Marines and many of my friends who served as Marines. However, if you knew me at that time (when I was 19 years old), you would have laughed out loud with the thought of me becoming a Marine (let alone survive boot camp).

The Marines must have sensed it too - they didn't let me in. I had gone through a rash of kidney stones during that time, so they couldn't take me. Turned out to be a good thing; the rejection forced me to get serious about getting in school and on with that phase of life. For the first couple years of college I lived at home; during my sophomore year in school, Mike was a senior in high school. He was one of those straight A, star athlete types and, much unlike me, the colleges were looking at him hard. 

George Custer, Michael Walsh USMA Cadets

Mike became interested in the service academies in high school and began the process of trying to gain a nomination through the channels in our home State of Ohio. Meanwhile, in the fall of 1983, he began what would become a stunning senior football season for him.  He ended up make second team All-Ohio Linebacker.  For a normal sized human in a land of fleet-footed giants, this was quite a feat.  He played both offense and defense; in his biggest game he rushed for a couple hundred yards and had something like 15 unassisted tackles.  When we got home from the game, the phone was ringing.  I picked it up and it was the head coach of Army Football at West Point. Brother Mike had gotten Army's attention.

His athletic ability helped, but it was his academic prowess that positioned him to gain one of Ohio's coveted nominations into West Point. And, it just didn't happen - he worked his tail off to earn it. Truly, the best of the best get into the Military Academies.  As Mike will tell you, getting in is only the beginning of the challenge. Making it through the academy experience and gaining an Officer's Commission upon graduation is no small feat - it is the polar opposite of the typical American collegiate experience.  I would know - I was in that other world and was able to witness Mike's odyssey.  Trust me, my college journey was a walk in the park next to what Mike endured. As it turned out, after I finished school, I became an Air Force Officer in 1987 and served for nine years on active duty. By any measure, the Walsh brothers gave the Walsh family a military lineage of which we are very proud.

The unique thing about West Point is the tradition and consistency that threads through the entire history of the school.  If you read the story of how John Buford, George Patton, James Longstreet, Dwight Eisenhower, Stonewall Jackson or Ulysses Grant made their way into West Point, you'll find those stories to be a lot like Mike's.  They came from American towns of all sizes and, with the support of their communities, were raised to stand out among their peers. And, then, they were afforded the honorable opportunity to join West Point's "long gray line." One by one, these cadets (as they're called) fulfill what George Washington established as an on-going need for military leadership during the infancy of the United States. This need endures and West Point, along with the other service academies, continues to ensure we have the best possible leadership at the helm of our unparalleled military machine.

West Point is a beautiful place steeped in American history. It is the oldest, continuously occupied military post in America. Situated on the west bank of the Hudson River about 40 miles north of New York City, it is a grand edifice. I was able to visit West Point when Mike was mustered into the Cadet Corps and four years later when he graduated. George H. W. Bush, then Vice-President of the United States, gave the speech at Mike's graduation. If you ever have the opportunity to tour West Point, you should not miss the chance to do so - it is a uniquely American experience.

Here are a few links you might find interesting:

West Point Cemetery:

http://www.usma.edu/visiting/SiteAssets/SitePages/West%20Point%20Cemetery/Cemetery_MAP2012.pdf

Notable Graduates:

http://www.usma.edu/wphistory/SitePages/Notable%20Graduates.aspx

West Point History:

http://www.usma.edu/wphistory/SitePages/Home.aspx



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