West Point in the Making of America

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An Army for the Nation

Between the Civil War and World War I, West Point graduates were the heart of the army’s officer corps. They became increasingly professional and effective, as they proved in the Spanish-American War.



From the late 1860s until the 1890s, the United States maintained only a small army of 25,000, its officers mostly West Pointers. With little prospect of foreign war, the army’s duties were chiefly limited to completing the conquest of the Native Americans, maintaining order in labor disputes and other so-called domestic disorders, and performing ceremonial functions.

The U.S. Army became increasingly career–oriented, technically proficient, and nonpolitical during the late 19th century. West Pointers strongly promoted schools for the advanced training of officers in their areas of specialization, which the army began to establish in the 1880s.

The Spanish-American War and the Philippine War that followed resulted in a larger regular army and further reforms. West Pointers were in the forefront of efforts to establish the War Department General Staff and Army War College. They also contributed to the organization of the National Guard.



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The Army in the West




Did You Know?

Did you know that John J. Pershing was the nation’s first five-star general and the only man since George Washington to be appointed “general of the armies”?




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 Army in the West Wars for Empire Monumental Projects