Though Alden Partridge’s departure from the United States Military Academy at West Point was controversial, his 15-year affiliation with that institution was a crucial formative period during which he developed many of the ideas and values that would guide him upon founding Norwich University.
Partridge entered Dartmouth College in 1802, but left at the beginning of his senior year when he received appointment to West Point. At that time, in late 1805, the academy was a mere three years old, and anecdotes indicate that it was very much still in the process of coalescing as an institution.
Cadet Partridge received his commission in 1807, becoming a first lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers, and began teaching mathematics at West Point. Although the Chief of Engineers was officially the superintendent, he turned daily operations over to Partridge in 1808. Partridge earned a promotion to the rank of captain in 1811 and a professorship in engineering in 1813. He continued to serve as acting superintendent until 1815, when he became superintendent in his own right.
During his time at the helm of West Point, Partridge oversaw a major reorganization of the fledgling academy and penned several versions of the emerging rules and regulations. It was here that he developed his vision for a model of education that seamlessly combined military discipline with the academic preparation of a generation of “citizen soldiers.”
Discontent began brewing between Partridge and the other West Point faculty around 1815. There was disagreement over proper discipline of the cadets, the finances of the institution, and the appropriate balance between military and academic aspects of a West Point education. Partridge was ultimately court martialed and relieved of his duties in 1817. He began almost immediately to make plans for his own military academy—the seeds of Norwich University had been planted.
You can learn more about the Middletown move through Alden Partridge’s personal papers, housed in the Norwich University Archives and partially available online. Notably included in the collection, though not digitized, is the original transcript for Partridge’s court martial.