By Ian Clarence Hope
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Additional resources for A Scientific Way of War: Antebellum Military Science, West Point, and the Origins of American Military Thought
52 Despite the limitations in the academy’s curriculum, the beginning of the Jeffersonian era did nonetheless mark a turning point in the current of military thought in the United States, and it moved steadily away from British ways. The insistence on neutrality during the Napoleonic wars left the United States isolated, and as links with England diminished, so did English ideas regarding the preeminence of martial genius. Under Jefferson, Americans began to embrace military science instead. With its establishment, the West Point academy slowly became the formal center of American military thinking, which was becoming decidedly scientific.
Pierre Charles L’Enfant, took up Duportail’s efforts. . . . 27 L’Enfant also promoted education, describing arithmetic, geometry, mechanics, architecture, hydraulics, drawing, and natural philosophy as essential. The duties of American engineer officers would include the surveying, planning, and construction of fortifications, magazines, and arsenals for mobilization and the calculation of peacetime garrison requirements for each post. His statements were remarkably prescient. L’Enfant, like Duportail, was transplanting the notion of Vauban’s ceinture de fer to America.
These forces provided auxiliary military capability to the British regulars periodically garrisoned in the colonies during conflicts against France and Spain. The volunteer provincial regiments of the French and Indian War became indispensable and were prototypes for Washington’s Continentals during the Revolution. Volunteer companies also served as associations for transmission of knowledge, including subjects of military science such as casting cannon, storing gunpowder, building local fortifications, and mounting artillery pieces.