WEST POINTERS AND THE CIVIL WAR: The Old Army in War and Peace. By Wayne Wei-siang Hsieh. University of North Carolina Press. 285 pages. $30.
By the time of the Civil War, U.S. Military Academy graduates dominated leadership positions in the armies on both sides of the conflict, which had not been true in the wars past.
Although West Point had been established in 1802, it took almost 60 years for the U.S. Army to derive tangible benefits and results from educating and training a professional officer corps. In "West Pointers and the Civil War," Wayne Wei-siang Hsieh, an assistant history professor at the Naval Academy, contends that during the War of 1812, the fledgling academy (with its limited number of graduates) had no real impact on that conflict's outcome.
However, by the Mexican War (1846-48) West Point graduates filled vital staff positions and served as line officers, underscoring the academy's role in the American victory. These officers led the way in adapting early U.S. and European manuals to reflect changes brought on by the transition from smoothbore to rifled muskets, improvements in field artillery and the progression from dragoons to cavalry. The new manuals and methods were implemented in the Civil War.
While an interesting book, "West Pointers" has been written in a format that will appeal specifically to an academic military readership. This is not for the casual reader, but for one who is interested in and has a working knowledge of the subject.