As Alfred stood in line to register for the academy on his first day, he found himself reflecting on the rich history of West Point. From its beginnings as a crucial strategic location during the American Revolution to its establishment as the United States Military Academy in 1802, West Point had always been at the heart of the nation’s military affairs. As he glanced around at the various monuments and historical markers, he understood the sense of awe the Plebs all felt at the accomplishments of those who had come before them.
Alfred knew of General George Washington’s role in recognizing the importance of West Point and how it was the site of many engineering feats in the construction of the nation’s earliest infrastructure. Alfred considered the long list of distinguished graduates who had walked these same halls, leaders in business, science, and government.
As he stepped forward in line, he was keenly aware of the privileges he had been granted, but he was also determined to prove that he could stand on his own merits. Alfred wanted to be a soldier and a leader in his own right. He knew that he was following in the footsteps of countless great leaders, and he was eager to prove that he belonged among their ranks.
In the weeks leading up to Alfred Gibbs’ entrance to West Point in June of 1842, he decided to visit his brother George in New York City. George, a well-established ethnologist, naturalist, and geologist, was working as a librarian at New York’s Historical Society. Alfred hoped that his brother’s professional background research and personal experience in not gaining an appointment to West Point would provide valuable insight and support in preparing for the academy.
Upon Alfred’s arrival, the brothers spent their days exploring the bustling city and their evenings poring over books and articles about West Point. They discussed the academy’s history and its new superintendent, Alexander Hamilton Bowman. Bowman had an impressive background, including his time as a student at the academy, his work on engineering improvements for various Gulf Coast harbors, and his involvement in the construction of defenses at Charleston Harbor, including Fort Sumter.
George had been closely following the developments at the academy through the newspapers. There had been a period of turmoil and uncertainty regarding its leadership, which had captured their attention. One morning in George’s house in New York, looking over a few papers they had collected over the summer, they discovered an intriguing article in an issue of the New York Times. As the two brothers sat in the living room, George unfolded the paper and read aloud the headline:
“Alexander H. Bowman Appointed as New Superintendent of West Point Military Academy.”
The article detailed the recent turmoil at West Point and the concerns regarding its leadership. Richard Delafield, the former superintendent, had been replaced by Bvt. Maj. Pierre G. T. Beauregard in January 1861, only to be relieved almost immediately by the secretary of war due to suspicions of disloyalty. Delafield was then ordered to resume his post temporarily. In March 1861, Maj. Alexander H. Bowman was appointed as the new superintendent, bringing hope of stability to the institution.
The reporter highlighted Delafield’s comments on a plan to reorganize the United States Military Academy back in 1844. According to Delafield, the academy’s purpose was to provide capable and well-instructed officers for all arms of the army, introduce military science and tactics into the country, and serve as a nursery for the professional development of officers. This comprehensive vision for West Point indicated the institution’s commitment to evolving and adapting to the changing needs of the military.
While Alfred and George discussed these developments, they couldn’t help but feel concerned about the stability of the institution that Alfred was about to join. The constant shifts in leadership had the potential to impact the quality of education and training that the young cadets would receive.
During their conversations, George reassured Alfred that despite the challenges faced by West Point, the academy had a long history of producing exceptional officers and leaders. He encouraged Alfred to focus on his studies and take advantage of the opportunities presented to him.
Alfred, taking his brother’s advice to heart, remained optimistic about the situation, and hoped that the new superintendent, Maj. Bowman would bring much-needed stability and direction to the academy. The anticipation surrounding Bowman’s appointment had generated a sense of excitement among the incoming plebes, who were eager to see what his leadership would bring to West Point.
As Alfred prepared to embark on his journey to West Point, he was filled with determination and curiosity about the future that lay ahead of him. He knew that his time at the academy would be filled with challenges and opportunities, and he was eager to embrace them, no matter the turmoil that had gripped the academy in the previous years.
During his time with George, Alfred also learned about his brother’s own experiences and career. George had attended the prestigious Round Hill School until the age of seventeen, but when he failed to gain an appointment to West Point, he took an extended tour of Europe before returning to the United States. George eventually graduated from Harvard in 1838 with a law degree and practiced law in New York City. These experiences allowed George to offer valuable advice and guidance to his younger brother as he prepared for his journey at West Point. Alfred was captivated by his brother’s stories of adventure and as the days went by, Alfred felt more prepared and eager to begin his time at the academy, thanks in large part to the time he spent with George.
As Gibbs was reflecting on his future at the academy, a voice rang out, “Gibbs, Alfred! Any chance you can get your head out of your ass and take your schedule and move onto the next table?” Grabbing the paper and walking to get in line at the next table, Gibbs looked down at the document.” It was his schedule for the next four years.
Alfred Gibbs (Class of 1846)
First Year (Fifth Class)
- Mathematics: 8am-11am (Daily)
- English studies: 12pm-1pm, 2pm-4pm (Daily, except Saturday)
- Fencing: 12pm-1pm, 3pm-4pm (Every other day, except Saturday)
Second Year (Fourth Class)
- Mathematics: 8am-11am (Daily)
- French: 2pm-4pm (Daily)
- English studies: 11am-1pm (Every other day)
- Fencing: 11am-1pm (Every other day)
Third Year (Third Class)
- Philosophy, natural & experimental: 8am-11am (Daily)
- French & Spanish alternating until January: 11am-1pm
- Spanish: Sept., Oct., Nov., & Dec. (Daily); Jan., Feb., Mar., Apr., & May (recitation in Spanish after Jan., time may vary from 11am-4pm)
- Drawing (alternating): 2pm-4pm (Five times in two weeks)
- Riding: 2pm-5pm
Fourth Year (Second Class)
- Moral science, history of philosophy, logic & conduct: 8am-11am (Every other weekday)
- Cavalry tactics, equitation, & outposts; infantry tactics & strategy; artillery & grand tactics, & organization of armies: 8am-11am (Every other weekday, alternating with moral science & conduct)
- Chemistry: 11am-1pm (Every other weekday)
- Riding: 11am-1pm (Every other weekday, alternating with Chemistry)
- Drawing: 2pm-4pm (Every weekday except Saturday)
Fifth Year (Additional First Class)
- Civil & military engineering: 8am-11am (Every weekday)
- Law, history, & conduct: 2pm-4pm (Every other weekday except Saturday, five recitations in two weeks)
- Mineralogy & geology: 11am-1pm, 2pm-4pm (Every other weekday except Saturday, specific dates apply)
- Ordnance & gunnery: 11am-1pm or 2pm-4pm (Every other weekday, specific dates apply)
- Riding: 11am-1pm and 2pm-4pm (Every other weekday, specific dates apply)
- Practical engineering: 11am-1pm and 2pm-4pm (Every other weekday, specific dates apply)