A native of New York City, Wesley Merritt graduated from West Point in 1860. Ranked twenty-second of forty-one graduates, he was assigned to the cavalry and posted to the 2nd US Dragoons at Fort Crittenden, UT. Arriving as a brevet second lieutenant, Merritt was promoted to second lieutenant on January 28, 1861, and to first lieutenant on May 13, 1861. After serving as the assistant adjutant for US forces in Utah, he was named adjutant for the newly renamed 2nd Cavalry. With the outbreak of theCivil War, Merritt was recalled to Washington, DC.