Ever since the time I was a small boy, I could never get enough of the West Point Museum. I would be overwhelmed with awe with the thought that George Washington had used “this sword”, or that U.S. Grant and Robert E. Lee both went to school there, as did many of the famous figures of the Civil War – both North and South. Then there was the replica of the Atomic Bomb or the tanks that fought in the Battle of the Bulge.
Based upon captured British materials brought to West Point after the British defeat at Saratoga in 1777, the Museum collections actually predate the founding of the United States Military Academy. When the Academy opened in 1802 (the year the Caldwell House was being built), many Revolutionary War trophies remained to be used for cadet instruction.
By the 1820s, a teaching collection of artifacts existed at the Military Academy and after the Mexican War (1846 – 1848) West Point was designated by Executive Order as the permanent depository of war trophies. In 1854 the first public museum was opened and in 1989 the West Point Museum in Olmsted Hall opened at Pershing Center. Today it represents the culmination of more than two centuries of preserving our military heritage.
The museum is comprised of four levels:
“Large Weapons” Gallery
At the lowest level of the Museum are several over-sized displays ranging from artillery pieces to a First World War tank. Highlighted are two murals by a D-Day veteran depicting the Allied Invasion of Europe in 1944, an atomic bomb of the type dropped on Nagasaki, and the cannon which fired the first American shot of World War I.
“Small Weapons” Gallery
In this balcony gallery, the history of hand-held weaponry is traced from the Stone Age club to modern automatic firearms. Specimens chosen for their rarity, history, or condition show the evolution of axes and clubs, swords, polearms, shoulder arms, light machine guns, and pistols through the ages.
“West Point” Gallery
Beginning with the garrisoning of West Point during the Revolutionary War, the displays chronicle West Point and the United States Military Academy. Exhibited artifacts range from the sword of Polish patriot Thaddeus Kosciuszko, who engineered some of West Point’s early fortifications, to the modern cadet uniform. Famous graduates such as Sylvanus Thayer, Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, John J. Pershing, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Omar Bradley are featured in the exhibits.