They knew the cadets were waffling. Some were pulling south, others north. They knew that the only hope they had to unite them was to appeal to their sense of patriotism and duty. So on that February day they marched them into the chapel to celebrate what they designed to be a unifying event. They thought that just maybe the words of the father of the country would serve to unite these rebels and yankees.
The year was 1861. In far off South Carolina, Fort Sumter was about to become the birthplace of the bloodiest war in America’s history. All of this turmoil was a real problem at West Point. Since the military academy included men from all the states in the union, there was, of course, a great division. What had once been a place of great unity began to stress under the same controversy that divided the country. That’s why they had the celebration. Surely a little meditation on the farewell address of George Washington would remind them of where their real loyalties lay.
After the service was over the cadets returned to their quarters and the West Point band marched across the campus playing the Star Spangled Banner. When the cadets heard it, they ran to their windows. Those from the south began to shout “Dixie,” while those from the north shouted out the words to the National Anthem. So much for unity.
What was wrong? Both groups respected Washington’s memory and both groups surely appreciated his birthday, but the event that was supposed to have unified them only caused more division. Why was that? It was because both groups perceived the event differently. Those from the North honored the celebration as an attempt to emphasize the importance of remaining one country. Those from the south saw the celebration as a vain attempt to prevent them from leaving. You see, their perceptions brought them to different and quite divisive conclusions.