The Corps of Engineers

In the beginning ...

The U.S. Army was founded on June 14, 1775, when the Continental Congress authorized enlistment of riflemen to serve the United Colonies for one year.

Birth of the Corps of Engineers, June 16, 1775 Continental Congress authority for a "Chief Engineer for the Army" dates from June 16, 1775 when General George Washington appointed Colonel Richard Gridley as Chief Engineer of the Continental Army. A corps of Engineers for the United States was authorized by the Congress on March 11, 1779. Engineer soldiers, then called Sappers and Miners, played a significant role in the Revolutionary War. Most notably, Sappers were key in preparing the defense around strategic points such as Bunker Hill and leading assaults through fortified enemy positions such as Redoubt #10 at Yorktown.

The Corps of Engineers as it is known today came into being on March 16, 1802, when the President was authorized to "organize and establish a Corps of Engineers ... that the said Corps ... shall be stationed at West Point in the State of New York and shall constitute a Military Academy." The dependence on foreign trained military engineers in the Revolution is what led to the formal establishment of the Corps of Engineers and the Military Academy at West Point. The Corps was responsible for running the West Point Academy from its birth to the end of the Civil War. A Corps of Topographical Engineers, authorized on July 4, 1838, was merged with the Corps of Engineers on March 1963.

The Academy produced officers who were capable of applying their knowledge to military engineering as well as much needed nation building for the ever expanding United States.

With the enactment of the first River and Harbor Act in 1824, the Corps became the Federal Agency responsible for navigation and flood control on the nation's rivers. Participation by Army Engineers in mapping the west (Lewis and Clark were Army Engineers) and in developing rail and water transportation systems provided the infrastructure that allowed the country to grow from a weak agricultural society to the strongest industrial nation on earth. Engineers provided the expertise that enabled U.S. forces to be victorious in the Mexican War (Scott's Opinion). Military Engineers also ushered in modern warfare during the Civil War through such innovations as land mines, trench fortifications and the use of balloons for observation and mapping.

When the nation needed leaders to tackle hard problems, it invariably turned to Engineer officers. Colonel George Goethals directed construction of the Panama Canal in the early 1900's and Brigadier General Leslie Groves supervised the Manhattan Project that developed the atomic bomb.

In World War I, Army Engineers were the first U.S. soldiers sent to Europe. The 11th Engineer Regiment suffered the first U.S. casualties of the war while working to clear a passage through no-man's land in France. General Douglas MacArthur described World War II as an Engineer's War, with more engineers in the Pacific Theater than infantrymen. Engineers were first on the beach at Normandy to clear obstacles; captured the bridge at Remagen, built the 1,500 mile ALCAN highway through frozen tundra in Alaska; constructed the Ledo road through 438 miles of jungle to link Burma and India; erected camps and cantonments for 5.3 million troops, factories to produce ammunition and tanks, a huge network of ports, bomber bases, hospitals with 1/2 million beds, and even the Pentagon building to consolidate the War Department's command and control of our armed forces.

The contributions of Army Engineers were no less important in Korea and Vietnam. In Korea, Engineer soldiers frequently found themselves trapped behind enemy lines and fighting as infantry. In Vietnam, Engineer soldiers rappelled into enemy controlled jungle areas to blast landing zones for infantry assaults. The 588th Combat Engineer's role during the Viet Nam era will expanded upon with other pages.

In its peacetime role as Federal Engineer, the Corps continued to build for America's tomorrow. In the 1950's, it was instrumental the development of the St. Lawrence Seaway, the design and construction of ICBM launching sites, flood control dams and levies on the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. During the 1960's, the Corps helped build the Manned Space Center in Houston and the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. In the 1970's the Corps took on additional missions to develop hydroelectric power and new methods of flood control on the nation's rivers. Throughout the 1980's, the Corps managed construction of an entire military infrastructure for the Saudi Arabian government, built airbases in Israel and Egypt, constructed the Space Shuttle complex at Edwards Air Force Base, California.

Engineer Organizations Many types of organizations have been developed to perform the various engineer missions in a theater of operations. Engineer units range in size from small specialized teams consisting of only two individuals to large commands. Their missions include combat, combat support, combat service support, and support of civil-military operations. The basic philosophy of organization in a theater of operations is to tailor engineer units to the needs of the supported command. The wide variety of engineer organizations provides that flexible capability.

The basic TOE (Table of Organization and Equipment) unit of the engineer system is the battalion. Although engineer battalions normally have a fixed organization, they may also be tailored for specific requirements. Battalions are employed when it is desirable to assign a unit with the complete control of a task or an area. There are four basic types of engineer battalions, plus a variety of different types of separate companies:

    Combat Engineer Battalion (Divisional)
    Combat Engineer Battalion (Corps)
    Engineer Battalion (Combat Heavy)
    Engineer Topographic Battalion
    Separate Engineer Companies
Combat Engineer Battalion (Divisional) -- The U.S. Army has five types of divisions: light infantry, airborne, air assault, mechanized, and armored. Under provisions of the Engineer Restructure Initiative (ERI), each heavy division has an Engineer Brigade with three organic divisional engineer battalions organized and equipped to provide combat engineer support. These battalions will support the ground maneuver brigades of armor and/or mechanized infantry and consist of four engineer companies. The other divisions will have only one organic engineer battalion composed of four or five engineer companies. Regardless of structure, these battalions perform the primary combat engineer missions in the division's sector and forward.

Combat Engineer Battalion (Corps) -- Corps combat engineer battalions are normally assigned to a corps' engineer brigade (i.e. V Corps in Europe contains the 130TH Engineer Brigade consisting of three engineer battalions and a number of separate companies). Most corps combat engineer battalions in Europe have been converted into tracked units (i.e. squads are transported in armored personnel carriers). Somewhat larger than the divisional engineer battalions, the corps combat engineer battalions provide combat and sustainment engineering support in the corps and division sectors. They may reinforce divisional engineer battalions and execute infantry combat missions when required.

Engineer Battalion (Combat Heavy) -- The combat heavy engineer battalion is normally assigned to an engineer brigade within a corps or theater army. The combat heavy engineer battalion has equipment and personnel skilled in earthmoving and construction. The battalion primarily works in rear areas on sustainment engineering tasks. However, its earthmoving capabilities may be effectively used to provide combat support in forward areas when not under direct fire (i.e. tank ditches, etc.). Missions include the construction of roads, airfields, structures and utilities for the Army and Air Force.

Engineer Topographic Battalion -- Engineer topographic battalions are assigned to the senior engineer headquarters of a theater army. These units provide topographic engineer and terrain analysis support to all units. It does not have the capability to accomplish infantry combat missions.

Separate Engineer Companies -- Separate engineer companies in the force structure are designed to provide additional specialized support in areas such as bridging, equipment support, port construction, pipeline construction, mapping and terrain analysis.

The Corps motto is "ESSAYONS!"

Email: Click here for email
Back Button Return to History and Traditions