Military history's place of honor
February 25, 2005
WHAT: West Point Museum's sesquicentennial celebration.
WHEN: 10:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. daily. Special exhibition through June 3.
WHERE: West Point Museum, 600 Thayer Road, West Point, N.Y. (845) 446-3085.
HOW MUCH: Free.
There are surprises around every corner in the West Point Museum.
Inside one glass case is a pistol owned by Gen. George Washington. Another features a gold and silver sword used by Napoleon, presented in 1945 to Gen. Dwight Eisenhower. The first flag surrendered by the British to the Americans in Virginia in 1781 is on exhibit here, as is the first cannon to launch the American attack during World War I.
A trek through the museum's four floors and more than 40,000 artifacts could easily take a few hours. Visitors can follow the development of weaponry from the Stone Age to the present in the Small Weapons Gallery and trace the evolution of military strategies in the History of Warfare Gallery. The American Wars exhibit features such gems as George Armstrong Custer's last message before falling at the Battle of Little Big Horn.
While the exact date of the founding of a museum at West Point is not known, the museum celebrates 150 years (as of 2004) of being open to the public with a special anniversary exhibit, on display through June 3, that features many artifacts believed to pre-date the museum - including the first British flag surrendered in the American Revolution.
A series of watercolors in the anniversary exhibit are by Swiss artist Peter Rindisbacher, who was recognized as one of the leading artists of the early American West. His depictions of Native Americans were considered so accurate that they were used to train cadets who might never have seen one before. Among the most striking prints on display is "The Murder of David Tully and Family by the Sissetoons Sioux, 1823." The painting features a terrified woman clutching her baby to her breast as she is stalked by axe-bearing Indian warriors. In the distance, her husband is being attacked. The painting was said to have added greatly to the fears of the early settlers.
One of the most prominent pieces of art in the exhibit is a full-length oil-on-canvas portrait of Thomas Jefferson, painted by Thomas Sully at Monticello, the president's home, in 1822.
While there are hundreds of pieces of art exhibited in the museum, this one holds special significance: Jefferson signed into law the legislation establishing the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1802.