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This Day In History: The U.S. Military Academy Was Established

March 16, 2017

This day in history, March 16, 1802, The United States Military Academy was established by Congress for the purpose of educating and training young men in the theory and practice of military science. Located at West Point, New York, 50 miles north of New York City, the U.S. Military Academy is often known as West Point.

West Point was the site of a Revolutionary-era fort built to protect the Hudson River Valley from British attack. Due to its narrow “S” curve in the river, it prevented the British from sailing upriver and dividing the colonies. In 1780, Patriot General Benedict Arnold, the commander of the fort, agreed to surrender West Point to the British in exchange for 6,000 pounds. The plot was uncovered before it reached British hands, and Arnold fled to the British for protection.

Ten years after the establishment of the U.S. Military Academy in 1802, the growing threat of another war with Great Britain resulted the need for expansion of  the academy’s facilities and increase the West Point corps. Beginning in 1817, the U.S. Military Academy was reorganized by superintendent Sylvanus Thayer–later known as the “father of West Point”–and the school became one of the nation’s finest sources of civil engineers.

In 1870, the first African-American cadet was admitted into the U.S. Military Academy, and in 1976, the first female cadets. The academy is now under the general direction and supervision of the department of the U.S. Army and has an enrollment of more than 4,000 students.

Its students and alumni ranks include two Presidents of the United States, presidents of other countries, multiple generals and 75 Medal of Honor recipients.