On March 11, 1779, the Army Corps of Engineers was established by the Continental Congress. When the Continental Army was formed on June 16, 1775, General Washington was immediately provided with a Chief Engineer and two assistants. Washington knew he needed fortifications and batteries in order to mount a successful campaign against the British. Unfortunately, few trained engineers could be found in the colonies and assistance was sought from the French. One engineer trained in France, Louis Duportail, rose to become the Chief Engineer. In May, 1778, the Continental Congress approved the creation of three companies of what were known as Sappers and Miners. Their job was to clear, dig, build, fortify, or any related task that prevented movement by the enemy or facilitated the movement or success of the Continental Army. In addition, it provided a training ground for new engineers. The Army Corps of Engineers provided critical services that led to important victories including those at Bunkerhill and Saratoga.
Although initially founded to provide support to the military, the Army Corps of Engineers has gradually expanded to include a wide range of tasks and responsibilities related to civilian life. They are builders who have participated in or completed many familiar projects including construction of the Washington Monument, a portion of NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center at the Kennedy Space Center, and completed the Panama Canal. They are not only managers of military installations at home and around the world, but they build and maintain dams and infrastructure projects as well. They are sustainers of river channels to insure safe navigation of our waterways. They provide risk management of our coastlines, as well as restore the environment after natural disasters such as Hurricanes Katrina or Sandy. They seek to reduce risks of floods and insure our water safety. They manage numerous environmental ecosystem restoration and hazardous waste cleanup programs. Although Presidents Carter, Reagan, Clinton, and George W. Bush tried to reduce the Corps involvement in projects that could be privatized, its current budget is more than 4.7 billion dollars. As is the case with many federal agencies, it seems many in Congress is reluctant to slash funds for projects in their own state or districts. Nevertheless, the Corps’ participation has been crucial in untold number of military successes.
Although they are known as the “Army” Corps of Engineers, the organization is comprised primarily of civilians. Of the more than 38,000 members, only 2% are active duty personnel. Occupations affiliated with the group are not limited to engineers, but also include biologists, architects, and a variety of specialists. The Army Corps of Engineers group’s insignia is the Corps Castle (as shown in the attached image) which is an image of the Pershing Barracks at West Point. Their motto is “Let Us Try.” I plan to provide accounts of the Army Corps of Engineers’ past and present support of our military in the future.