Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Darcy on the Hudson - Background and Research #5 - West Point

In Darcy on the Hudson, West Point cadet, Joshua Lucas (Charlotte’s brother) invites Georgiana Darcy to a formal ball at the academy. Of course, she must be accompanied by her brother. Originally, Jane and Elizabeth Bennet, as well as Charles Bingley, were to have made the journey thirty-five miles up the river from Tarryton. Instead, Darcy finds himself in the company of Caroline Bingley:

Darcy stood on the deck as the sloop John Jay made its way through the Tappan Zee, the widest part of the Hudson, where wise sailors shorten sail. Small fishing boats shared the inland sea with schooners and barges carrying poultry, grain, and vegetables for the markets in New York while, nearby, dozens of sloops, with their single masts and retractable keels, negotiated around the shoals in the river.

As the hours passed, the sloop approached the Hudson Highlands, passing Anthony’s Nose and Breakneck Ridge. Farther up the Hudson, vast woodlands appeared with their leaves showing hints of the fall colors that would soon burst into a cornucopia of reds, yellows, and oranges that would ignite the hills from the Hudson to Appalachia in a blaze of color.

With the fortification now in view, Darcy immediately understood its importance to the British during the War of Rebellion. With its capture, the British would have control of the Hudson as New England would have been cut off from the rest of the colonies. But Darcy knew his history. In 1780, there were so few British troops in New York that capturing West Point by force of arms was impossible. It required intrigue and betrayal. If the gambit of having Benedict Arnold hand over West Point to the British had succeeded, the rebels would very likely have sued for peace. As he pondered the possibilities of what might have been, an enormous ridge came into view.

“If you are Dutch, the ridge is referred to as Boterberg,” Caroline explained as she came and stood beside Darcy, “but if you are English, it is Butter Hill, as it is supposed to look like a lump of butter.” Caroline had been watching Darcy as he wrote his notes and made detailed sketches in his journal. “Butter Hill is one of the wonders of the Hudson Highlands. However, I think it deserves a more dignified name, especially considering its proximity to West Point.”

“Yes, I agree. It merits a statelier name, and there are the stars and stripes of the American flag indicating we have arrived at West Point.”

After disembarking, the passengers were greeted by Joshua Lucas, who had assigned a junior cadet to be on the lookout for the John Jay. When he caught sight of Caroline, his eyes widened. Two years earlier, she had declared that she had attended her last military ball, and, yet, here she was. There could be only one reason: Caroline was on the prowl, and her prey was Fitzwilliam Darcy.

From Wikipedia: Although West Point cadets underwent training in artillery and engineering studies at the garrison since 1794, Congress did not formally authorized the establishment and funding of the United States Military Academy until 16 March 1802. In its tumultuous early years, the academy featured few standards for admission or length of study. Cadets ranged in age from 10 years to 37 years and attended between six months to six years. The impending War of 1812 caused the United States Congress to authorize a more formal system of education at the academy and increased the size of the Corps of Cadets to 250. The basis for the “Long Gray Line” expression originated in 1814 with the introduction of gray uniforms.

In 1817, Colonel Sylvanus Thayer became the Superintendent and established the curriculum still in use as of 2011. Thayer instilled strict disciplinary standards, set a standard course of academic study, and emphasized honorable conduct. Founded as a school of engineering, for the first half of the 19th century, USMA produced graduates who gained recognition for engineering the bulk of the nation's initial railway lines, bridges, harbors and roads. It was so successful in its engineering curriculum that it significantly influenced every American engineering school founded prior to the Civil War.

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