Little is known of Amiel’s early life. He was raised in Concord, Mass., taught school there in 1834, and attended Amherst College 1836-7. He applied for admission to West Point at least twice before being admitted 1 July 1837, graduating 22 June 1841 fifth in his class.
When Amiel enrolled, West Point was beginning its 36th year, having been formally opened 4 July 1802 during Thomas Jefferson’s administration. The curriculum was established by Bvt. Maj. Sylvanus Thayer when he became superintendent in 1817. The foundation for everything was mathematics. A math problem had one correct answer and it was the cadet’s duty to find it Thayer believed that math sharpened analytical powers and taught a manner of thinking transferable to other areas of life. Engineering was the other key to Thayer’s program. No deviation was permitted from these two fields of study. General Winfield Scott said the Mexican war was won because of the leadership of Academy men. West Pointers were in command of 55 of the 60 major battles of the Civil War and included such Academy graduates as Lee, Grant, Sherman, Stuart, Jackson, and Sheridan. West Point’s Honor Code: “A cadet will not lie, cheat, or steal or tolerate those who do,” built the character of most of its graduates.
Amiel was originally commissioned in the artillery corps but was transferred to the topographical engineers 28 Sept. 1841 where until 1844, he worked on harbor projects improving navigation for New Orleans and the approaches to Baltimore, Md. and Portsmouth, N.H. (more…)