West Point in the Making of America

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Union infantry private

Union infantry private



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Rifled musket

Rifled musket

Delafield rifled 3-inch cannon

Delafield rifled 3-inch cannon


The Antebellum Army

West Point graduates commanded forces both North and South in the Civil War. Because the training they shared had not prepared them for the new conditions of war in the 1860s, they all struggled with the consequences of rapidly changing military technology, railroad expansion, and industrial growth.



Tensions between North and South over slavery and states’ rights erupted into war in 1861. Although the Union enjoyed far greater resources, it also faced the harder and more costly task of waging offensive war to conquer the Confederacy. Secession required the South only to stand on the defensive to stave off Northern attempts at reunification.

Immense changes in military technology and industry during the middle third of the 19th century greatly affected the course of the war. Abundant rifled firearms dramatically transformed land combat, while steam power revolutionized the production and distribution of supplies. Both sides struggled to adapt to these dramatic changes.

By 1865 the United States may have been the strongest military power in the world. But the great citizen armies of the Civil War were rapidly demobilized, leaving only the small regular army to support the reconstruction of the conquered South.


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Choosing Sides




Travis Panorama

Travis Panorama

Artist William Travis was hired to memorialize the Civil War adventures of Gen. William S. Rosecrans. Travis painted a huge panorama on a roll of canvas over 500 feet long and presented his work to the public in lecture halls.




Experience Panorama



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 Choosing Sides Organizing for War Fighting the Civil War The Army in Reconstruction