During the 1830s, a new generation of American military theorists began to elevate the role of entrenchment, as opposed to open frontal assault, to a more prominent place in military tactics. As the only official military academy in the US, West Point was a college of engineering modeled on the École Polytechnique established in France in 1794. The graduates of West Point might not have been particularly well versed in the art of commanding infantry or cavalry, but they had a solid grounding in mathematics and military engineering. Professor of Military and Civil Engineering, and of the Science of War, since 1832, Dennis Hart Mahan believed in the pre-eminence of the spade in combat, and drew inspiration from the 17th-century French military engineer Sebastien Le Prestre, Seigneur de Vauban (1633-1707). Best remembered as Le Maréchal de Vauban, he improved existing French fortresses and designed a new system of fortifications that stabilized and strengthened the borders of France. Another major influence on Mahan was the 19th-century Swiss military theorist General Baron Antoine Henri de Jomini (1779-1869). Based on experience in Napoleon's Grand Armée and as a military adviser to the Tsar of Imperial Russia during the Crimean War of 1854-56, Jomini wrote numerous treatises including the Art of War (1838), which explained the Napoleonic method of warfare and became the premier military textbook of the 19th century.
After graduation from West Point, a variety of US Regular Army officers and men, and some volunteers, fought in wars during the 1830s and 1840s, and were involved in the construction of fortifications in the field. Joseph G. Totten served as US Chief of Engineers during the Mexican War. Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, and Thomas J. Jackson witnessed a classic siege at Vera Cruz in 1847. As army engineers, both Lee and George McClellan had laboured side-by-side overseeing the building of batteries during the remainder of the campaign in central Mexico. Numerous other US Army officers, including McClellan, John G. Barnard, Joseph G. Totten, and Philip St. George Cooke, observed methods of fortification abroad between 1815 and 1861, and some even witnessed fighting. An official observer with the British Army, McClellan saw-firsthand the Crimean War siege operations at Sebastopol in 1854-55; this experience would later influence his decisions during the 1862 Peninsula Campaign in Virginia.
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