Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub

eralogy, and Natural Law. This course of studies is exclusive of the purely military part, which under the heads of Tactics, Practical Artillery and Gunnery, occupied several hours each day.

Thus, in July, 1816, the Academy had for the first time arrived at a course of studies, and a preparation for discipline. In the fall and winter of 1816, began an attempt to carry this course of studies into practical effect. We do not say there had been no studies and no attempt at classification before that, for there were, but that nothing had really been perfected in either, till after the “regulations" of 1816. If we could carry the reader back to the year 1815, and see the difficulties under which the professor of that day labored, the small material provided, and the undisciplined condition of the young men under their charge, we should give better views of the merits and services of its pioneer teachers. One or two reminiscences may possibly throw some light on the subject. Colonel Mansfield arrived at West Point in 1814, and immediately sought for his pupils. He was not like the professors of whom Gibbon speaks, remembering that he had a salary to receive, but forgetting he had duties to perform. On the contrary, he immediately asked for pupils to teach. What was he to teach ? Philosophy and Astronomy. But these required prior training, and it was not till the winter of 1814-'15, that he could find any pupils. Then he found

five young men who thought that they could go on in such studies. For want of any recitation rooms at the Point, he taught them in the parlor of his own house. As we shall refer specifically to the subject of text-books, we merely add, that the only work to be found at all suitable, was Enfield's Philosophy. There was no classification, and in a few months these five cadets were commissioned. They made the first class in Philosophy, taught at West Point.

Again, there are some who will recollect Professor Ellicott, sitting at his desk at the end of a long room, in the second story of what was called the Mess Hall, teaching Geometry or Algebra, looking and acting precisely like the old-fashioned schoolmaster, of whom it was written,

"And still they gazed, and still the wonder grew,
That one small head could carry all he knew."

The cadets were all“ boys” to him, and his kind face was long remembered. In the other end of this room, or in the next, was seen his acting assistant, Stephen H. Long, then a young lieutenant of engineers; since distinguished as a traveler, an engineer, and a man of science. The text-book used was “Hutton's Mathematics," and at that time the best to be had. Mr. Hutton had been a professor at Woolwich, England, and his treatises were plain, simple, easily understood, and therefore well adapted to beginners. It was, however, very deficient both in extent and analysis. It was a good text-book then, for there were no cadets trained to pursue deeper or more analytical works. With Hutton's Mathematics, Enfield's Philosophy, and plain right-lined drawing, and nothing which could be called engineering, did the cadets of the Academy get along, without roll, classification, or graduation, till the close of 1816.

In August, 1817, as we have said, Colonel Thayer became superintendent at West Point; and in the course of the next four or five years the Academy passed through the great changes which brought it from the inchoate to the crystallized state in which it now appears. The most important of these changes relate to scientific culture ; and we shall best describe them by narrating the actual work the classes then pursued, and the change of text-books. The first step was taken, as we have seen, in March, 1816, by the regulations of Mr. Crawford, which required classification, a course of studies, and annual examinations. Some steps towards these were taken in 1816, but very imperfectly. In 1817 the system of classification was first systematically begun. CLAUDE Crozet, a French officer under Napoleon, and a pupil of the Polytechnic School, was appointed professor of engineering, in March, 1817. The annual examination coming on in June, the course of studies in his department did not regularly commence till September, and the second or junior class* of 1817—'18 was the first class which commenced thoroughly the severe and complete course of studies at West Point. The labors of that class in the years 1818 and 1819 may have been equaled, but certainly have not been surpassed. It was not a brilliant class, but its labors were not the less on that account. It had not merely to pass over the plain turnpike road of science which is now made so easy to those who follow; but, like the pioneers of an army, had to cut down the obstructions, make their own bridges, and to no small extent, furnish their own munitions. Let us look into the class-room of 1817, as Professor Crozet advances to instruct those young men in studies, which were not only new to them, but entirely unheard of, and in which the language to which they were born and bred furnished not a single text-book. Professor Crozet was to teach engineering; but when he met the class, he found not one of them fit to learn engineering. These were branches of science, and its affiliations, essentially necessary to engineering, which they had never been taught. What was he to do? All he could do obviously was to supply these preliminary studies before he could commence in his own department. In other words, he must begin by becoming a teacher of mathematics, and drawing. The surprise of the French engineer instructed in the Polytechnique may well be imagined when he commenced giving his class certain problems and instructions, which not one of them could comprehend or perform. Among these preliminary studies was Descriptive Geometry, not an original and distinct science, but which by projecting geometrical figures and problems on co-ordinate planes, gave a more facile and practical mode of representing (as its name implies,) as well as solving many geometrical and practical problems. This, too, required an accurate knowledge of mathematical and perspective drawing, and its various minor but important arts. We doubt whether at that time more than a dozen or two professors of science in this country knew there was such a thing; certainly they never taught it, and equally certain, there was not a text-book in the English language. Perhaps this is not surprising, when we reflect, that this new application of geometry was scarcely thirty years old. Monge, a French savans, was, we believe, the author of this system, about the beginning of the French Revolution. Crozet meant to begin with Descriptive Geometry, but fortunately, the class was not in the last year of the course (in which engineering has recently been taught,) and could spare some time for mere mathematics. But, a new difficulty arose. There was no text-book in English, and none to be had just then in French. Geometry is not a thing to be taught orally. What is to be done! It was here at this precise time that Crozet, by aid of the carpenter and painter, introduced the blackboard and chalk. It is a very simple thing, and so is every thing which is useful; but we know of no mere adjunct of teaching, so useful as the blackboard. To professor Crozet, so far as we know, is due the introduction of this simple and useful machine. He frund it, with many other things, far superior to the English methods in the Polytechnic of France.

* The Class here spoken of graduated in 1819. of its living members, are HENRY BREW. ERTON, late Superintendent at West Point; EDWARD D. MANSFIELD, Commissioner of Sta. tistics for the State of Ohio; JUSTIN DIMMICK, late Commander of Fortress Monroe ; DANIEL TYLER, a distinguished Engineer and General in the Army of the Potomac; Wm. H. Swift, a distinguished Engineer, and President of the Illinois Canal Company; JOSHUA BAKER, a Civil Engineer, Judge, and Planter, in Louisiana ; and Major TURNBULL, distinguished as a Topo. graphical Engineer in the War with Mexico.

Among the dead was GEORGE H. WHISTLER, the most distinguished Civil Engineer our country has produced.

We now see Crozet with his blackboard before him, chalk in hand, and animated, intellectual face, about to teach his class a new sci. ence, without a text-book. Again he meets a new difficulty. He does not more than half understand the American language. This difficulty is only to be overcome by practice. With extreme difficulty he makes himself understood. With extreme difficulty his class comprehend that two planes at right-angles with one another are to be understood on the same surface of the blackboard on which are represented two different projections of the same object. But, at last it is done. The Professor labors with inexhaustible patience, and the pupils are pleased to receive into their minds entirely new ideas. The first problems are drawn and demonstrated on the blackboard, by the Professor; then drawn and demonstrated by the pupils, and then accurately copied into permanent drawings; and thus this class were taught in the most important and valuable method of imparting true knowledge, which has been given to mankind since the days of Socrates. Fortunately, professor Crozet had brought with him the complete drawings of the French Polytechnique, so that he was not, in this particular, obliged to depend upon himself. The path of his instruction soon became easier, and then this class completed their course in drawing, mathematics, and Engineering.

In the study of Natural Philosophy and Mechanics, the way was scarcely less difficult. We have already said, that Enfield's Philosophy was the first book on that subject. But this was not enough. Professor Mansfield looked around in vain for any suitable book on Mechanics. At last, Gregory's Mechanics was adopted. It was a book without any analysis, and probably written only for scientific men. Yet, it was the best to be had. For several years after, this work still remained the best book on Mechanics. Whether the class who first studied its mysterious pages acquired as clear and extensive ideas of the subject as those who have since passed over smoother roads, may be doubtful. It is certain they had more arduous labors. We have said there was no text-book on engineering, as a science. When the class which had commenced Descriptive Geometry, with professor Crozet, (then the second or the junior class,) had become the first class, they were instructed in engineering by drawings from oral teaching, on the blackboard. The various modes of laying out fortifications, of bridging, of defiling, of materials, ordnance, &c., were taught by professor Crozet. For several years no text-book in engineering was found. It was not till 1823 that a French treatise, entitled the Science of War and Fortication, was translated by Major O'Connor, and for several years used as a text-book. It will be seen that the class which, in 1817, 1818, and 1819, commenced the new culture and discipline of West Point, had an arduous and difficult task. It is, notwithstanding, quite probable, that this severe exercise of the mind, in making paths for itself, where there are no guide-posts on the way, no regal road, is a better discipline than that furnished by the more easy and systematic methods.

Perhaps no one step taken at West Point, has contributed so much to intellectual culture as the Merit-Roll. The effect at the Military Academy is totally different from what it would be at any civil institution. For there it determines rank, which is the great object of military men. Forty young men may be commissioned on the same day to the same grade, but through all their after life, even when they return to civil life, the distinctions of the meritroll will follow them, and be counted for or against them. In the very first day of their commissioned service, the distinction is a practical one, for there are great and practical advantages in certain arms of the service over others. Thus the engineer officer, without any actual care of men, or responsibility for any movements, and almost always stationed at comfortable posts, has great advantages over other arms. The Artillery has advantages over the Infantry. Thus the cadet, commissioned from West Point, has determined for bimself, by his position on the merit-roll, not only his rank in the army, but almost his position in human life. The merit-roll, as it now exists, graduated in all departments, and summed up at the close of the course, was not adopted at once, but was the work of several years.

In February, 1818, the superintendent of the Academy was directed by the Secretary at War to publish in the Army Register the “ names of cadets who are distinguished for attainments, and meritorious conduct, not exceeding five in each class, specifying the studies in which they may excel.”

We well recollect with what excitement and interest this communication was received by the cadets of that day, especially by those who thought themselves within the probabilities of that distinction. It unquestionably stimulated most of the young men to much greater exertions than they would otherwise have made. In a few months after, the merit-roll was fully established in the classes, and the rank of the graduating cadets determined by it.

There has been much discussion, and no small doubt, as to the real effects of emulation. There is undoubtedly a bad sense, and a bad effect attached to that term. But is that a necessary consequence of the merit-roll? Is not the merit-roll adopted, so far as it

« НазадПродовжити »