Alden Partridge, ca. 1817
February 12, 1785|
|Died||January 17, 1854
|Allegiance||United States of America|
|Service/branch||United States Army|
|Years of service||1805–1817|
|Unit||Corps of Engineers|
|Commands held||USMA Superintendent|
|Other work||Founded Norwich University|
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, the studious and devout son of soldier Samuel Partridge, Jr., who had fought in the American Revolutionary War, including the Battles of 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. He attended Dartmouth College from 1802 to 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 professor of mathematics. In its early days, the post served both as the academy for training prospective officers and the headquarters of the United States Army Corps of Engineers, and the superintendent was also chief of engineers. In 1808 chief engineer Jonathan Williams promoted Partridge to 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" tradition at West Point originated during Partridge's tenure when he had gray uniforms made in New York City in 1814 because of a shortage of blue cloth. 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 other words, 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 he gave a series of lectures on the subjects of military science, fortifications, 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 that the national academies produced a professional officer class, and was creating a new military elite, which was at odds with examples of the country's great generals, such as 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 the Minutemen of the well-remembered American Revolution. Further, he suggested military colleges for officer instruction be established in each department.
Partridge was appointed chief of the surveying expedition to establish boundaries between the U.S. and Canada as required under the Treaty of Ghent. He mapped the natural watersheds of the Saint Lawrence River and Hudson River. Still consumed with plans for a military college based on his program, he decided to resign from the expedition in 1820, and retired to Norwich.
Private military educator
In 1819, Partridge founded the "American Literary, Scientific, and Military Academy" (now known as Norwich University and located in Northfield, Vermont). Norwich is the nation's oldest private military college, nicknamed the "Birthplace of ROTC". In its 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 Middletown, Connecticut, which undertook a financial subscription of local residents as an inducement to relocate his academy. Partridge moved the school, and in Middletown, it drew nearly 1,200 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, and 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 master's degree from Dartmouth in 1812, Partridge received the same 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).
When John Thomas Lewis Preston worked to influence public opinion in favor of creating the Virginia Military Institute in the 1830s, Partridge assisted by providing open letters of support to members of the Virginia General Assembly and letters to the editors of Virginia newspapers.
Efforts to revitalize militia
Interested in revitalizing and reforming the state militias, which had become increasingly dormant during the long period of peace following the War of 1812, Partridge and Norwich University faculty members Truman B. Ransom and Alonzo Jackman, both of whom served in the militia, worked with Franklin Pierce of New Hampshire, also a militia officer, and Frederic Williams Hopkins of the Vermont militia on efforts to increase recruiting and improve training and readiness.
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.
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.
Married to Ann Swasey in 1837, by whom he had two sons, Partridge died in Norwich January 17, 1854. His widow survived him by 48 years.
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.
Death and burial
Partridge wrote widely, mostly in local newspapers and in books, about his many travels, several mathematical and scientific subjects, and his constant, vocal opposition to the academy at West Point. The following is an incomplete list of his writings.
- "Observations Relative to the Calculation of the Altitude of Mountains, etc, by the Use of the Barometer" (1812)
- "Method of Determining the Initial Velocity of Projectiles" (1812)
- "Account of Some Experiments on Fire of Artillery and Infantry at the Military Academy in 1810 and 1814"
- "Newton's Binomial Theorem" (1814)
- "Meteorological Tables" (1810–1814)
- "A General Plan for the Establishment of Military Academies" (1815)
- "Reports of the National Academy" (1814–1817)
- "Lectures on National Defense" (1821–1827)
- "Discourse on education" 1826. The art of epistolary composition, or Models of letters, billets, bills of exchange ... with preliminary instructions and notes : to which are added, a collection of fables ... for pupils learning the French language; a series of letters between a cadet and his father, describing the system pursued at the American, literary, scientific and military academy at Middletown, Conn.: E. & H. Clark, 1826. PE1481 .P4
- The Military Academy, at West Point, unmasked: or, corruption and military despotism exposed. By Americanus [pseud.], Washington [D.C.], Sold at the bookstore of J. Elliot, 1830, , 4-28 p. 22 cm. Attributed to Alden Partridge by Sidney Forman in his West Point. A History of the United States Military Academy (New York, 1950), p. 62. USMA: U410.F7 P258 .
- Goddard, Merritt Elton; Partridge, Henry Villiers (1905). "Capt. Alden Partridge". A History of Norwich, Vermont. Hanover, New Hampshire: Dartmouth Press. Retrieved January 15, 2010.
- Henry Barnard, ed. (1872). "Alden Partridge". The American Journal of Education 23. F.C. Brownell. p. 833. Retrieved January 15, 2010.
- Stier, Maggie and McAdow, Ron, Into the Mountains: Stories of New England's Most Celebrated Peaks
- Mathematics Department faculty (1989). "Alden Partridge" (PDF). USMA Office of the Dean website. USMA. Retrieved January 15, 2010.
- Barnard, Alden Partridge, p. 51
- Guidotti, John A., The Legacy of Alden Partridge, p. 8
- Forman, Sidney (1950). West Point: A History of the United States Military Academy. New York City, New York: Columbia University. p. 38.
- Depuy, R. Ernest (December 1955). "Mutiny at West Point". American Heritage (Rockville, Maryland: American Heritage Publishing) 7 (1). Retrieved January 15, 2010.
- U.S.M.A. Corps of Cadets, The Military Images, Sep/Oct 2000 by McAfee, Michael J
- "Cadets, U.S. Military Academy, 1816-1817," Military Uniforms in America, Vol II, Years of Growth 1796-1851, Company of Military Historians, 1977
- Barnard, Alden Partridge, p. 52
- Barnard, Alden Partridge, p. 54
- Tucker, Spencer and Arnold, James R. (2012). The Encyclopedia of the War of 1812: A Political, Social, and Military History, Volume 1. ABC-CLIO. p. 560. Retrieved 3 July 2014.
- Lord, Gary Thomas (1995), History of Norwich University—Images of Its Past, archived from the original on 3 November 2010, retrieved 2010-10-08
- Andrew, Jr., Rod (2001). Long Gray Lines: The Southern Military School Tradition, 1839-1915. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press. p. 20. ISBN 978-0-8078-2610-2.
- Betros, Lance (2004). West Point: Two Centuries and Beyond. McWhiney Foundation Press. p. 155. ISBN 978-1-893114-47-0. Retrieved August 30, 2014.
- Ellis, William Arba (1911). Norwich University, 1819–1911; Her History, Her Graduates, Her Roll of Honor, Volume 1. Capital City Press. pp. 87, 99. Retrieved August 30, 2014.
- Goddard and Partridge, A History of Norwich, p. 233
- Stier, Maggie and McAdow, Ron, Into the Mountains: Stories of New England's Most Celebrated Peaks, p.
- Index to the Papers of the Surveyors General, published by Vermont Secretary of State, 1918, page 141
- A History of Norwich, Vermont, by Henry Villiers Partridge, 1905, pages 270 to 271
- History of Windsor County, Vermont, edited by Lewis Cass Aldrich and Frank R. Holmes, 1891, page 484
- General Election Results, U.S. House of Representatives from Vermont, 1833 to 1840, by Vermont Secretary of State, Archives and Records Administration, 2006, pages 4 to 6
- Goddard, M.E. and Partridge, Henry V., A History of Norwich, Vermont, 1905, p. 233
- Norwich University
- Goddard, M. E.; Partridge, Henry V. (1905). A History of Norwich, Vermont. Hanover, NH: Dartmouth University Press. p. 94.
- Alden Partridge at Find a Grave
- Guidotti, John A., The Legacy of Alden Partridge, December 5, 1991, pdf available at USMA digital collection.
- Lord, Gary Thomas, History of Norwich University: Images of Its Past at Norwich University website
- Stier, Maggie and McAdow, Ron, Into the Mountains: Stories of New England's Most Celebrated Peaks, 1995, ISBN 1-878239-30-9
Joseph Gardner Swift
|Superintendents of the United States Military Academy