West Point and The Civil War

In response to the prevailing issues of systemic racism in America, the USMA Library collaborated with the West Point Museum to develop this exhibit, “West Point and The Civil War.” Using material in our Archives and Special Collections and from the West Point Museum collections, the exhibit provides a West Point perspective on the year leading up to the outbreak of the war, selected elements of the war itself, and the first year of reconstruction.

In some ways the Civil War was West Point's war, with graduates of the Academy so prominent among the senior commanders of both sides, including those loyal to the Union and country and those who rose in arms against the Union. The War sometimes pitted brother against brother, with the cost of slavery and the morality of human bondage in the balance.

The exhibit spans the years 1860 through 1865 and is presented in sections, beginning with a Prelude to War - 1860-1861: Division at West Point. We hope that the exhibit will serve to educate, and that the material we have selected will encourage discussion and engagement for West Point cadets, faculty and staff, and the general public. The treatment of the Civil War presented here via items from the West Point collections is deliberately selective. This exhibit does not seek to recount the entire war, nor does it treat every major event of the conflict. Rather, it seeks to represent the range of documentary and artifactual evidence within West Point's collections to cast light upon the institution's connection to this expansive conflict.

West Point provides a unique perspective on the Civil War as most of the senior commanding officers on both sides were U.S. Military Academy graduates. Although scholarly judgement is overwhelming that slavery was the cause of the war, many in society today still wish to believe it is a matter for debate. The perspectives on slavery evident in the letters, diary entries, and memoirs of West Point graduates certainly indicate that the continued bondage or freedom of the slaves was at the root cause of the war.