West Point in the Making of America

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A day’s march

A day’s march



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Zenith telescope

Zenith telescope

Beaded lizard

Beaded lizard

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Pueblo ruins


The Western Reconnaissance

The U.S. Army played a key role in exploring the nation’s vast new lands acquired through purchase and conquest during the first half of the 19th century. Military-scientific expeditions crisscrossed the West, mapping the country, gathering scientific data, identifying potential resources for exploitation, and surveying routes for roads and railroads.



Through the 1850s, this western reconnaissance was led by the army’s topographical engineers, or topogs, as they were often called, most of them graduates of West Point. Unlike the regular army engineers who worked mainly on construction and fortification, the topogs specialized in mapping and surveying. Their skills and hard work opened lands formerly known only to native inhabitants and a relatively small number of fur trappers and traders to economic exploitation and a growing influx of settlers from the eastern United States and from Europe.


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Gouverneur Kemble Warren




Key Figures






G. K. Warren
G. K. Warren
1830–1882
Class of 1850



Dennis Hart Mahan
John James Abert
1788–1863
Class of 1811





Smithsonian National Museum of American History


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West Point in History Introduction 1802–1860 1861–1870 1866–1914 1914–1918 Epilogue Introduction 1802–1860 1861–1870 1866–1914 1914–1918 Epilogue The Western Reconnaissance Engineering for a New Nation Wars of Expansion