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About Alden Partridge
Alden Partridge, (February 12, 1785 - January 17, 1854) was an American author, legislator, officer, surveyor, an early superintendent of the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York and a controversial pioneer in U.S. military education, emphasizing physical fitness training, advocating the concept of citizen soldier and establishing a series of private military academies throughout the country, including Norwich University.
Alden Partridge was born and raised on a family farm in Norwich, Vermont, studious and devout son of soldier Samuel Partridge, Jr., who had fought in the American Revolutionary War at Saratoga. Tall and hardy, the younger Partridge hiked the Green and White Mountains, worked on his father's farm, and matriculated in local district schools, later at Dartmouth College from 1802 until 1805.
Upon his graduation from the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York in 1806, Partridge received the rank of lieutenant of engineers and an appointment at the academy as an assistant instructor of mathematics. In its early days, the post served both as academy and headquarters for the United States Army Corps of Engineers and the superintendent was also chief of engineers. In 1808 chief Jonathan Williams promoted Partridge professor of mathematics and delegated to him the responsibilities of acting superintendent. Partridge set an example for physical fitness during his administration, frequently leading the cadet corps on extended marches in New York and neighboring states. Never profane or intemperate, superintendent Partridge required cadets to attend church services, occasionally preparing and delivering the sermon on Sundays. Named professor of engineers in 1813, and officially appointed as superintendent in 1814, "Old Pewt" developed a reputation among academy faculty as a martinet, often micromanaging subordinates, and occasionally demonstrating preference toward favorite cadets.
The "Long Gray Line" that West Point has become known as originated during Partridge's tenure. Partridge had gray uniforms made in New York City in 1814 because of the blue cloth shortage. Then in 1816, when the War Department decided to select a new Cadet uniform, gray was chosen because "it better suits the finance of the Cadets than one of blue." In simple terms, the gray uniforms were cheaper.
Partridge refused to relinquish his command when former student (but superior officer) Sylvanus Thayer was appointed to replace him as superintendent, but after court martial Partridge chose to resign his commission in 1818, after serving his entire Army career at the academy.
In the summer of 1818 Partridge was engaged in New York City to drill and instruct a volunteer infantry company, and gave a series of lectures on the subject of fortification, military science, and military education. In these lectures, Partridge advocated a new program of regional military instruction and began a lifelong campaign in opposition to the existing national military academy system which would shape the rest of his life. Partridge argued the national academy produced a professional officer class, and was creating a new military elite at odds with examples of the country's great generals, like George Washington and Andrew Jackson. Partridge proposed the nation be divided into state-based military departments, local citizen soldiers organized into militias and officers appointed by department, and units mustered on a regular basis for instruction and drill, much like minutemen of the well-remembered American Revolutionary War. Further, he suggested military colleges for officer instruction be established in each department.
Appointed chief of the surveying expedition establishing boundaries between the U.S. and Canada required under the Treaty of Ghent, Partridge mapped Saint Lawrence River and Hudson River natural watersheds areas, but still consumed with plans for a military college based on his program decided to resign from the expedition in 1820, and retired to his hometown, Norwich, Vermont.
Private military educator
In 1819, Partridge founded the "American Literary, Scientific, and Military Academy" (now known as Norwich University and located in Northfield, Vermont), the nation's oldest private military college, nicknamed the "Birthplace of ROTC" because it was the first school to offer the Reserve Officers Training Program. In the first four years, the nascent academy was attended by 480 students representing 21 of the 24 states, and Partridge's program seemed successful enough to attract the attention of the citizenry of Middletown, Connecticut, who subscribed to induce him to relocate his academy to that town, drawing nearly 1200 students in three years, but the academy was operating again in Norwich by 1829.
The curriculum Partridge advanced incorporated the study of liberal arts, agriculture, modern languages, engineering in addition to the sciences and various military subjects. Field exercises and drills, for which Partridge borrowed cannon and muskets from the federal and state governments, supplemented classroom instruction and added an element of realism to the college’s program of well-rounded military education.
One of America's first exercise enthusiasts, Partridge became a strong proponent of physical education as an essential part of school curriculum. As part of that program, he often led his classes on hiking expeditions in the many local mountains of New England. On one climb of Vermont's Green Mountains in 1822, Partridge led 27 pack-laden cadets on a 150-mile hike from Norwich to Manchester in just four days.
Awarded an honorary masters degree from Dartmouth in 1812, Partridge received similar honor from the University of Vermont in 1821, but he declined that institution's offer the same year to become its president.
Partridge founded six other military institutions during his quest to reform the fledgling United States military: Virginia Literary, Scientific and Military Academy at Portsmouth, Virginia (1839–1846), Pennsylvania Literary, Scientific, and Military Academy at Bristol, Pennsylvania (1842–1845), Pennsylvania Military Institute at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (1845–1848), Wilmington Literary, Scientific and Military Academy at Wilmington, Delaware (1846–1848), the Scientific and Military Collegiate Institute at Reading, Pennsylvania (1850–1854), Gymnasium and Military Institute at Pembroke, New Hampshire (1850–1853) and the National Scientific and Military Academy at Brandywine Springs, Delaware (1853).
An avid hiker, Partridge is described as "a noted pedestrian" in A History of Norwich. He had reportedly already ascended Mount Monadnock and Mount Moosilauke in New Hampshire when in 1818 he walked 76 miles from Norwich to climb both Camel's Hump and Mount Mansfield in two days. It rained the entire journey, according to his journal, and while one friend joined him climbing Mansfield, he hiked the balance of the expedition accompanied only by his "inseparable companions," his knapsack and barometer.
In 1823 Partridge adopted a young Greek boy, George Colvocoresses, whom he raised and educated at Norwich University. Colvocoresses, NU Class of 1831, was appointed to the United States Navy in 1832; from 1838-1842 he served in the United States Exploring Expedition, better known as the Wilkes Expedition of the Pacific Ocean. Three separate geographical features, two on the west coast of the U.S. and another in Antarctica, were named for Colvocoresses.
Married to Ann Swasey in 1837, by whom he had two sons, Partridge died in Norwich January 16, 1854. His widow survived him by 48 years.
A Democrat, Partridge served as Vermont's Surveyor General from 1822 to 1823. He also served four terms in the Vermont House of Representatives, (1833, 1834, 1837 and 1839). In addition, he ran unsuccessfully for the United States House of Representatives on five occasions between 1834 and 1840, losing each time to Anti-Masonic and Whig party candidate Horace Everett.
Alden Partridge, Superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point's Timeline
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