Movable Monuments Part 1: Wood's Monument
This is the first of an occasional series on the moving of West Point monuments. Today, Wood's Monument, one of the Academy's earliest memorials, is the focus.
Eleazar Derby Wood was born in Massachusetts in 1783, entered West Point in May of 1805, and graduated in October of 1806. He then aided in the construction of fortifications in New York Harbor on Governor's Island and what is now Liberty Island (Bedloe's Island at the time). The star-shaped fort on Liberty Island became known as Fort Wood in his honor and is now the base of the Statue of Liberty. He also worked for several years on fortifications in Virginia. During the War of 1812, Wood was sent to the frontier to build forts along Lake Erie under the command of future President William Henry Harrison. Wood successfully held Fort Erie in August of 1814 but was killed in action on September 17 of the same year while leading a sortie to capture nearby British batteries.
Major General Jacob Brown, a hero of the War of 1812, admired Wood and a few years after the war ordered a monument constructed in the fallen grad's honor at West Point, paying for its construction with his own money. Wood's Monument was erected in October of 1818 and was located in the middle of the Plain in front of the 1815 Academy building, which was located about where Eisenhower Barracks now stand. Just a month after its completion, Sylvanus Thayer asked that a railing be put around the obelisk. An 1820 engraving shows the memorial on the Plain.
Wood's Monument stayed in front of the Academy on the Plain for about three years before being moved (in 1821 according to Academy sources) to a small hill that stood just west of the site of the current Firstie Club. This hill, known as Bunker's Hill on early maps, would eventually be called Monument Hill because of Wood's Monument. The obelisk stood on top of the small hill, surrounded by a fence and evergreen trees.
By the late 19th century, a plan developed to level the small hill that the Monument stood on and to use the earth to fill in Execution Hollow. This meant that the Monument had to be moved. While some sources say this happened in the 1870s, the monument is clearly visible on an 1883 map of the Academy. Contemporary accounts generally say 1885 and this seems correct because an 1891 shows that the Monument had been moved and the hill it stood upon leveled.
Today, you can see Wood's Monument in the West Point Cemetery even though Wood is not buried there.
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