Friday, July 3, 2015

July 2, 1861 - W. H. Russell on West Point and "military aristocracy"

The great British war correspondent William Howard Russell, a key contact for Our Man in Charleston, is on his way back to New York City and Washington after touring the South. 

July 2d - At early dawn this morning, looking out of the sleeping car, I saw through the mist a broad, placid river on the right, and on the left high wooded banks running sharply into the stream, against the base of which the rails were laid. West Point, which is celebrated for its picturesque scenery, as much as for its military school, could not be seen through the fog, and I regretted time did not allow me to stop and pay a visit to the academy. I was obliged to content myself with the handiwork of some of the ex-pupils. The only camaraderie I have witnessed in America exists among the 
West Point men. It is to Americans what our great public schools are to young Englishmen. To take a high place at West Point is to be a first-class man, or wrangler. The academy turns out a kind of military aristocracy, and I have heard complaints that the Irish and Germans are almost completely excluded, because the nominations to West Point are obtained by political influence ; and the foreign element, though powerful at the ballot-box, has no enduring strength. The Murphies and Schmidts seldom succeed in shoving their sons into the American institution. North and South, I have
observed, the old pupils refer everything military to West Point. "I was with Beauregard at West Point. He was three above me." Or, "McDowell and I were in the same class." An officer is measured by what he did there, and if professional jealousies date from the state of common pupilage, so do lasting friendships. I heard Beauregard, Lawton, Hardee, Bragg, and others, speak of McDowell, Lyon, McClellan, and other men of the academy, as their names turned up in the Northern papers, evidently judging of them by the old school standard. The number of men who have been educated there greatly exceeds the modest requirements of the army. But there is likelihood of their being all in full work very soon.

Illustration of Union forces in Cairo, Illinois, on Arlington Heights and at Fairfax Court House from Harper's Weekly, courtesy of the American Library in Paris.

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