The first part describes West Point at the onset of the Civil War. It introduces the reader to members of the Class of 1862, explains academic and cadet life, and follows the cadets through four years at the Military Academy. Significant external events bring turmoil to the institution. The superintendent and commandant changed three times, half the instructors resigned or returned to their regiments, and eleven states seceded from the Union. Crises of conscience occurred as cadets were called upon to swear allegiance to the Union or resign. Momentous choices were made, and those who remained maintained strong beliefs in duty to country. Two upper classes were graduated early after Fort Sumter was fired upon. Southern cadets resigned in increasing numbers. One of their former classmates, Henry Farley, fired the first shot at Fort Sumter. One member of the class, Tully McCrea, is introduced in the first chapter. He is a mathematics instructor serving at West Point in December 1965 after being seriously wounded in Florida during the Battle of Olustee. The chapter describes how he and others were appointed to the Military Academy in the 1858.
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