United States Army Corps of Engineers logo

United States Army Corps of Engineers logo

On June 16, 1775, the same day that George Washington was appointed commander and chief of the Continental Army, the Second Continental Congress also formed the Army Corps of Engineers.

Resolved…That there be a chief Engineer for the army, in a separate department, and two assistants under him; that the pay of the chief engineer be sixty dollars per month, and the pay of the assistants each, twenty dollars per month.

June 16m 1775, Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789.
A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation, 1774-1875

The engineers’ work building fortifications, surveying terrain, and clearing roads during the war proved so valuable to the Revolutionary forces that the Congress resolved, four years later, based on a recommendation from the Board of War:

That the engineers in the service of the United States shall be formed into a corps, and styled the “corps of engineers;” and shall take rank and enjoy the same rights, honours, and privileges, with the other troops…

March 11, 1779, Journals of Continental Congress, 1774-1789

A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation, 1774-1875

  • In 1802, President Thomas Jefferson established the U.S. Military Academy at West Point which was the first U.S. school of engineering.  One of West Point’s missions was to train generations of military engineers for both military and civilian engineering projects.
  • The Army Corps of Engineers played an active role in the development and/or completion of many sites in the nation’s capital, including the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, Rock Creek Park, and the Library of Congress. Pierre Charles L’Enfant, a Frenchman who had served as an engineer during the American Revolutionary War, designed the basic plan for the city of Washington, D.C., and supervised the design of its earliest public buildings.
Pierre Charles L'Enfant

Pierre Charles L’Enfant

  • The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has engaged in various civil construction projects and has long maintained a national role in the development of coastal fortifications, lighthouses, and waterway; in the improvement of rivers and harbors; and in the design, building, and maintenance of structures such as bridges, canals, levees, locks, and hydroelectric dams and roads.
Wolf Creek Dam in Kentucky

Wolf Creek Dam in Kentucky

  • To relieve unemployment during the Great Depression, the U.S. Government engaged the Corps of Engineers in planning, constructing, and maintaining a vast flood control network of levees along the Mississippi River and its tributaries. The dams and locks of the related Upper Mississippi Nine-Foot Channel Project mitigated economic problems and brought a fully navigable interior river system to the Midwest.
With conditions ranging from bedrock to sand, the Upper Mississippi riverbed provided a challenge for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. At Lock and Dam No. 3, the Corps entirely replaced the original substrata with a more stable type of river sand, which provided better support for the pilings. Timber piles being delivered to the Lock No. 3 work site, May 1936. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Paul District)

With conditions ranging from bedrock to sand, the Upper Mississippi riverbed provided a challenge for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. At Lock and Dam No. 3, the Corps entirely replaced the original substrata with a more stable type of river sand, which provided better support for the pilings. Timber piles being delivered to the Lock No. 3 work site, May 1936. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Paul District)

  • During World War II, corpsmen worked on military engineering projects in the European and Asian-Pacific theaters—building bases, landing strips, storage depots, and hospitals. The corps both facilitated the mobility of allied troops and countered the mobility of enemy troops. In 1942, they eked out a 1,500-mile trail through the Pacific Northwest, creating a military supply route that became known as the Alcan (Alaska-Canadian) or Alaska Highway. The corps helped to build the nuclear research facilities in the U.S. that were used by participants in the Manhattan Project to develop the Atomic Bomb.

 

 

A caterpillar tractor with grader widens the roadway of the Alaska Highway, 1942

A caterpillar tractor with grader widens the roadway of the Alaska Highway, 1942

Map of Alaska Highway (in red) showing surrounding main highways and towns

Map of Alaska Highway (in red) showing surrounding main highways and towns

  • Today, the corps continues its work in the management of water resources, the development of civil and military infrastructure, and the response to natural and man-made disasters, and works with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to clean up contaminated sites.
Although the Army Corps of Engineers were charged with negligence on the Hurricane Katrina disaster, they were also instrumental in the rebuilding.

Although the Army Corps of Engineers were charged with negligence on the Hurricane Katrina disaster, they were also instrumental in the rebuilding.

Source: The Library of Congress, American Memory

Photo Source: Google Images

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2 responses

  1. They do our country a great service. I never realized they were formed so early on. Those first salaries had to be some fairly nice wages back then.

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