The Army of the US Historical Sketches of Staff and Line with Portraits of Generals-in-Chief

The Corps of Engineers

By Gen. H. L. Abbot

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The earliest records relative to what is now known as the Corps of Engineers must be sought among the incomplete documents which have come down to us from the period of the Revolution. The Journals of the Continental Congress indicate the gradual development of this arm of service under the peculiar conditions then existing. Thus, on June 16, 1775, the day before the battle of Bunker Hill, one chief engineer and two assistants were authorized "at the grand army," and one chief engineer and two assistants "in a separate department." These officers were commissioned in the grades of colonel and captain respectively. On January 16, 1776, it was resolved "That if General Washington think proper Col. R. Gridley be continued chief engineer in the army at Cambridge."

On December 27,1776, General Washington was authorized, for a period of six months, "to raise and collect * * * a corps of engineers and to * * * establish their pay," The records are silent as to what action, if any, was taken on this resolution.

On July 8, 1777, it was resolved "That the treaty made by the Commissioners in France on the 13th day of February last, be confirmed as far as it respects the chevalier du Portail, monsieur de la Radiere, and monsieur du Gouvion; the first to be a colonel, the second a lieutenant-colonel, and the third a major of engineers." These officers were from the Royal Corps of Engineers in the French army, who with other educated, military engineers had been drawn to this country by the war. From the lack of trained engineers in the native continental establishment, their assistance was highly appreciated; and for many years this foreign influence preponderated in the service.

Although the subject had previously attracted official attention, the first formal establishment of a Corps of Engineers by resolution of Congress dates from March 11, 1779. Among other provisions are the following: "That the engineers in the service of the United States shall be formed in a corps and styled the Corps of Engineers, and shall take rank and enjoy the same rights, honors and privileges with the other troops in the Continental establishment. That a Commandant of the Corps of Engineers shall be appointed by Congress, to whom their orders or those of the Commander-in-Chief shall be addressed, and such Commandant shall render to the Commander-in-Chief, and to the Board of War, an account of every matter relative to his department." On the 11th of May following, Brigadier-General du Portail was appointed Commandant of the Corps of Engineers.


The services of this revolutionary corps, including its companies of sappers and miners to which reference will soon be made, were important and honorable; numbers of its officers were brevetted by Congress, and its chief, on November 16, 1781, was promoted to the grade of major-general, "in consideration of his meritorious services, and particularly of his distinguished conduct in the siege of York, in the State of Virginia." The names of one brigadier-general, six colonels, eight lieutenant-colonels, three majors and ten captains are preserved on the records, and unquestionably the list is incomplete. In November, 1783, the corps was disbanded.

The next need for the services of military engineers occurred at the period of threatened European complications during the administration of Washington. On March 20, 1794, Congress authorized the President to fortify certain harbors on the coast, and there being no engineers in service he appointed temporarily several foreign born gentlemen, a number of whom had served in the war, to direct the work. On May 9, 1794, Congress passed an act raising for a term of three years (subsequently extended) a corps of artillerists and engineers, to be incorporated with the Corps of Artillery then in service. The new organization was stationed at West Point, and preliminary steps were then taken for forming a military school there. By the Act of April 27, 1798, a second regiment of artillerists and engineers was authorized, on the same footing as the earlier corps. On July 16, 1798, four "teachers of the arts and sciences" were authorized for the instruction of this organization; which was only discontinued by the Act of March 16, 1802, fixing the new military establishment.

This latter act authorized the President to organize and establish a Corps of Engineers, not to exceed 1 colonel, 1 lieutenant-colonel, 2 majors, 4 captains, 4 first lieutenants, 4 second lieutenants, and 4 cadets. It was provided that the said corps "shall be stationed at West Point, in the State of New York, and shall constitute a Military Academy; and the engineers, assistant engineers, and cadets of said corps, shall be subject at all times to do duty in such places and on such service as the President of the United States shall direct." This was the germ of the present Corps of Engineers. Most of the officers were soon dispersed along the coast on various military duties, but the superintendence and the responsibility for the successful operation of the Academy remained with the Corps until July 13, 1866, when the institution passed to the army at large, having attained a standard of excellence which needs no eulogy here.

In the earlier period of its organization the duties now pertaining to the Corps of Engineers were divided between two different branches, sometimes under a common head and at other times separately commanded. Space will be saved by considering this subdivision here.

Although a somewhat similar organization existed in the revolutionary war, no officers with the special functions of topographical engineers were provided for our armies until the early part of the war of 1812, when congress by Act of March 3, 1813, authorized as part of the General Staff, 8 topographical engineers with the brevet rank, pay and emoluments of majors of cavalry, and 8 assistants with the brevet rank, pay and emoluments of


captains of infantry. The law authorized these officers to be appointed, or transferred from the line without prejudice to their rank and promotion therein, but the full number seems never to have been selected; and at the conclusion of peace all but two majors were mustered out of service under the requirements of the Act of March 3, 1815. By Act of April 24, 1816, however, the Corps was reestablished, three topographical engineers and two assistants (still attached to the General Staff) being provided for each division of the army. This staff assignment continued until, by general order dated July 2, 1818, the officers were "arranged to the Engineer's Department, and * * * made subject to the orders of the chief and commanding engineers." In the August following a separate topographical bureau was established in the War Department, under the immediate direction of the Secretary of War and the chief engineer. The work of this branch of the Engineer Department soon increased, calling for an average detail of about twenty-five officers of the line of the army and the employment, under the Act of April 30, 1824, of a still larger number of civil engineers. On June 21, 1831, the topographical bureau was constituted by the Secretary of War a distinct bureau of the War Department; and by Act of July 5, 1838, an independent Corps of Topographical Engineers was created by Congress.

By the Regulations of 1841, issued shortly after this separation, the engineering duties of the War Department were divided between the Corps of Engineers and the Corps of Topographical Engineers upon the following basis:

"The duties of the Engineer Corps comprise reconnoitring and surveying for military purposes, the selection of sites, and formation of plans, projects, and estimates for military defenses of every kind; the construction and repair of fortifications and defensible works of every description, whether temporary or permanent, the planning, laying out, and superintending all military works, defensive or offensive, of troops in the field, camp, or cantonment; the planning and construction of military bridges; the planning, laying out, and superintending military trenches, parallels, saps, mines, and other works of military attack and siege; the planning and executing such works of river or harbor improvement, including sea-walls, breakwaters, and light-houses, as may be assigned to it by law, or by the President of the United States; the general direction and management of disbursements for the above works, including purchases of sites and materials, hiring workmen, and making contracts for supplies of materials or workmanship; the collection, arrangement, and preservation of all reports, memoirs, estimates, plans, drawings, and models, relating to the several duties above enumerated; and the superintendence and inspection of the Military Academy.

"The duties of the [Topographical Engineer] Corps shall consist, in surveys for the defense of the frontier, inland and Atlantic, and of positions for fortifications; in reconnoissances of the country through which an army has to pass, or in which it has to operate; in the examination of all routes of communication by land or by water, both for supplies and military movements; in the construction of military roads and permanent bridges con-


nected with them, and, in the absence of an officer or officers of the Corps of Engineers, of military bridges, and of field-works, for the defense of encampments, fords, ferries, and bridges. For which purposes, officers of the Corps of Topographical Engineers shall always accompany armies in the field."

In the Regulations of 1857 and in subsequent editions, the duties of the two corps were defined jointly under a common heading, being practically a summation of those comprised in the Regulations of 1841 for both. In time of peace this modification of the Regulations introduced no change and no confusion, the Corps of Engineers retaining charge of the works for permanent defenses and of certain other public constructions, and the Corps of Topographical Engineers of the survey of the lakes, the exploration of the Western wilderness, and the demarcation of State and International boundaries,—while officers of both corps served upon works of river and harbor improvement, and upon the Coast Survey, the Light-house establishment and other special duties. At the outbreak of the Civil War however, it was soon discovered that engineer duties with armies in the field admitted of no advantageous division between different organizations. The officers were few in number, and the work was so onerous that practical consolidation on the staffs of commanding generals very soon resulted. Legal union, however, was desired by the officers themselves; and a petition to this effect, prepared by a joint committee representing both corps, was urgently favored by General McClellan, General Halleck and General Banks, and was approved by Mr. Stanton, the Secretary of War. A bill uniting the two corps was passed by the House of Representatives in 1862 and was favorably reported in the Senate, but received no action. Finally by Act of March 3, 1863, it was provided: "That the Corps of Topographical Engineers, as a distinct branch of the army, is hereby abolished, and from and after the passage of the Act, is merged into the Corps of Engineers which shall have the following organization: * * * That the general officer provided by the first section of this act shall be selected from the Corps of Engineers as therein established; and that officers of all lower grades shall take rank according to their respective dates of commission in the existing corps of engineers or corps of topographical engineers."

The Corps of Engineers, as thus established, and as at present constituted, becomes therefore the heir to the honorable record of both the original corps.

The same Act of March 3, 1863, also inaugurated the present system of examinations for promotion in the army by providing that no engineer officer below the grade of field officer shall thereafter be promoted before having passed a satisfactory examination before a board of three engineers senior to him in rank; a like provision was also inserted for the Ordnance Department.

The Engineer Department.—Another organization should not be overlooked in tracing the history of the development of the service. The "Engineer Department" was established by order of the President shortly after the war of 1812, as a separate command with geographical limits coextensive with those of the United States and embracing the Corps of Engineers, and such officers of topographical engineers and other arms of service


as might be attached thereto, and the Military Academy. Thus the chief engineer in early days exercised the functions of a department commander, being allowed an aide-de-camp, convening courts-martial, assigning officers to stations, granting leave of absence, and placing officers on "waiting orders." The headquarters which bad been first established in New York, were transferred to Washington by order of the President on April 3, 1818. While this organization has nominally ceased to exist, its most essential functions are still vested in the chief of engineers as commandant of the Corps of Engineers.

The Board of Engineers.—On November 16, 1816, a "Board of Engineers for Fortifications" was constituted by the War Department to perform the following duties:

"It shall be the duties of the officers of this board to examine, in conjunction, all those positions where permanent works are or maybe proposed to be erected. They shall select the proper sites for, and form the plans of all new works. Where fortifications have been commenced or are finished, they shall report how far the sites for such fortifications have been judiciously selected, or whether or not the works are adequate to the defense of the prospective positions, and they shall propose such alterations or additions to them as may be deemed necessary. * * *

"The report and plans adopted by the board, shall be submitted with * * * accurate estimates to the chief of the corps.

"The original reports and plans agreed upon by the board, as well as those reported by any member of it, shall be submitted by the Chief of the Corps of Engineers. with such remarks as he may deem proper, to the Secretary of War, for final adoption, and they shall be deposited in the secret bureau of the Department of War."

Under the Act of April 30, 1824, inaugurating works of internal improvement, a similar "Board of Engineers for Internal Improvement " was organized and continued until about the date of the segregation of the topographical engineers into a distinct bureau of the War Department; after which these functions seem to have devolved on special boards of greater or less permanency until, by authority of the Secretary of War, in an order issued on September 2, 1879, the functions of the "Board of Engineers for Fortifications," which had continued unchanged since 1816, were extended to include such works of river and harbor improvement, and other matters as may be referred to it by the chief of engineers. This organization, now officially designated "The Board of Engineers," continues to the present date.

Engineer Troops.—In view of the persistent efforts which have been made to class the engineer arm of service with the staff of the army, it should be noted that the Continental Congress established three companies of sappers and miners before it definitely constituted the Corps of Engineers. The dates of the resolutions effecting these objects are May 27, 1778, and March 11, 1779, respectively. Each of these three companies consisted of 1 captain, 3 lieutenants, 4 sergeants, 4 corporals and 60 privates. It appears that subsequently another company was added; for by the resolution of February 7, 1780, four captains were commissioned by


name. The duties assigned were the following: "These companies to be instructed in the fabrication of field works, as far as relates to the manual and mechanical part. Their business shall be to instruct the fatigue parties to do their duty with celerity and exactness, to repair injuries done to the works by the enemy's fire, and to prosecute works in the face of it. The commissioned officers to be skilled in the necessary branches of mathematics; the non-commissioned officers to write a good hand."

These companies of sappers and miners were assigned to the command of Brigadier- General du Portail, the first commandant of the Corps of Engineers, and served throughout the war, being disbanded with that corps in November, 1783. It is interesting to note that David Bushnell, "the father of submarine mining " was appointed to this body of troops on the recommendation of Governor Trumbull of Connecticut; he signed one of the last returns (now on file in the archives of the Department of State) at West Point on June 4, 1783, as "Captain Commanding."

The two regiments of Artillerists and Engineers, formed before the reorganization of the army in 1802, each contained 992 enlisted men; of the privates 672 were designated sappers and miners and 160 artificers; the remaining 160 were non-commissioned officers and musicians.

After the reorganization of 1802 a few enlisted engineer soldiers [one artificer and eighteen privates] were authorized to be enlisted by Section 3, Act of February 28, 1803. By the Act of April 29, 1812, it was enacted that there be attached to the Corps of Engineers "either from the troops now in service or by new enlistments, as the President of the United States may direct, 4 sergeants, 4 corporals, 1 teacher of music, 4 musicians, 19 artificers, and 62 men, which non-commissioned officers, musicians, artificers, and men, together with the artificers and men already belonging to the Corps of Engineers, shall be formed into a company to be styled a company of bombardiers, sappers and miners, and be officered from the Corps of Engineers, according as the commanding officer of that corps may, with the approbation of the President of the United States, direct."

From the 9th of June, 1814, this company served along the Niagara frontier, especially at Fort Erie and in the sortie from that work. It was disbanded by the Act of March 2, 1821, fixing the peace establishment of the United States, which retained no engineer troops.

At the outbreak of the Mexican war, Congress, by the Act of May 16, 1846, created a company of engineer soldiers which were "entitled to the same provisions, allowances and benefits in every respect as are allowed to the other troops constituting the present peace establishment." It was to "compose a part of the Corps of Engineers, and be officered by officers of that corps as at present organized." Its functions included "all the duties of sappers, miners and pontoniers"; and it was also to "aid in giving practical instructions in these branches at the Military Academy." The enlisted organization comprised 10 sergeants, 10 corporals, 2 musicians, and 78 privates.

This company joined the column of General Taylor on October 11, 1846, but was soon transferred to that of General Scott, where it took a gallant and distinguished part in all the battles from Vera Cruz to the City of Mexico.


In 1853 a detachment of 25 men assisted on the survey of the Northern Pacific railroad; in 1858 the company took part in the Utah expedition; in 1858, 1859 and 1860 a detachment of 30 men served with the troops in Oregon and Washington territory, taking part in the Wallen expedition to Salt Lake, the joint occupation of San Juan Island, and performing other important services.

In the feverish excitement preceding the Civil War the company was ordered to Washington to guard public property, and at the inauguration of President Lincoln it was selected to form his immediate body guard when proceeding to the Capitol. It formed part of the second relief expedition to Fort Pickens, sailing from New York on April 8, and after spending the summer at that fort, putting the works in a state of defense, returned to Washington in October 1861.

By the Acts of August 3 and August 6, 1861, three additional companies of engineer soldiers and 1 company of topographical engineer soldiers were added to the military establishment. They were to have "the same pay and rations, clothing, and other allowances, and to be entitled to the same benefits in every respect as the company created by the Act for the organization of a company of sappers and miners and pontoniers, approved May 15, 1846. " The old company and each of the new companies was to be composed of 10 sergeants, 10 corporals, 2 musicians, 64 privates of the first class, and 64 privates of the second class,—in all 150 men. During the war no legal battalion organization existed, although the companies were so organized in orders; but by the Act of July 28, 1866, this defect was remedied by the addition of a sergeant-major and a quartermaster-sergeant, and the recognition of the detail of officers of engineers to act as adjutant and quartermaster, the battalion thus comprising a total of 752 enlisted men, —its present legally authorized strength.

These engineer companies after the return from Fort Pickens served throughout the Civil War with the Army of the Potomac. Space is lacking to detail their important and gallant services. The battalion was attached to the headquarters of the army, under orders of the chief engineer, and besides its special duties was often placed in the line of battle. Its officers were habitually detached, as needed, to serve temporarily on the staffs of generals commanding army corps and divisions. Its colors were officially authorized to bear the names of the following engagements: Vera Cruz, Mexico, 9 and 28 March, 1847; Cerro Gordo, 17 and 18 April, 1847; Contreras and Churubusco, 19 and 20 August, 1847; Molino del Rey, 8 September, 1847; Chapultepec and City of Mexico, 13 and 14 September, 1847; Yorktown, Va., 4 May, 1862; Fair Oaks, 31 May, 1862; Mechanicsville, 26 June, 1862; Gaines's Mill, 27 June, 186:!; White Oak Swamp, 28 June, 1862; Malvern Hill, 1 July, 1862; Antietam, Md., 17 September, 1862; Fredericksburg, Va., 13 December, 1862; Chancellorsville, 4 May, 1863; Franklin Crossing, 5 June, 1863; Kelly's Ford and Rappahannock Station, 7 November, 1863; Wilderness, 5 and 6 May, 1864; Po River, 8 May, 1864; North Anna, 23 May, 1864; Cool Arbor, 3 June, 1864; Siege of Petersburg, June, 1864 to April, 1865.

Immediately after the close of the war the headquarters of the battalion


were established at Willet's Point, New York harbor, where has been gradually developed the present engineer school of application. All officers on assignment to the Corps of Engineers are attached for two or three years to one of the companies to acquire practical experience with troops, and to supplement their course of instruction in engineering received at the Military Academy. The captains commanding the companies under the supervision of the battalion commander act as instructors. The school was informally organized by General Humphreys on August 8, 1866, shortly after his appointment as Chief of Engineers; and it received the official recognition of the War Department on February 28, 1885.

One company of the battalion is usually stationed at West Point to aid in giving practical instructions in its special duties to the cadets of the Military Academy. For several years after the Civil War two companies were posted, one at San Francisco and the other at Jefferson Barracks, Mo., to be available for any military duty pertaining to their arm of service. When, under the changed conditions of the Indian problem, these detachments became unnecessary, they were discontinued.

Three times since the Civil War the Battalion of Engineers has been called upon, by order of the President, to join its comrades of the line of the army in aiding the civil authority to enforce the law. The first occasion was the suppression of illicit distilleries near the Brooklyn Navy Yard in December, 1869. The second was on similar duty in Brooklyn, in November, 1870, together with the occupation of the Army building to be in readiness to suppress anticipated rioting in New York City at the election of that month. The third was to aid in putting down the railroad riots in the summer of 1877; and it so happened that the only regular soldier who was wounded in this service was a private of Company A, Battalion of Engineers. Small detachments have repeatedly been made to assist officers of the Corps in reconnaissances, surveys, and other professional duties; and the battalion has frequently paraded with other troops on National occasions.

One important duty of the engineer troops in times of peace has always been to aid in perfecting the matériel pertaining to their arm of service in war. This has been. done with marked success. The bridge equipage hastily organized for the Mexican war had proved unsatisfactory, and in 1858 experiments were begun to determine the best composition of trains for our service. These studies included trials with and the improvement of samples of those used in the European armies most experienced in the art of military bridge making. The matériel, except a few iron boats, was all fabricated by Company A at West Point, and the investigation was conducted in so thorough and systematic a manner by Lieut. Duane (since Chief of the Corps) that at the outbreak of war in 1861 every need of our armies operating in a theatre much obstructed by great rivers was perfectly met. After the Civil War similar duties were devolved upon the Battalion of Engineers in the development of a system of submarine mines for the defense of our harbors and rivers; and the matériel and methods now officially determined and established by the Chief of Engineers with the approval of the Secretary of War, have resulted from these studies. The duty of employing these weapons in war was on July 1, 1871, added to the


other military duties of engineer troops by Congress. The school of submarine mining forms a branch of the Engineer School of Application at Willet's Point; all officers of the Corps of Engineers are required, and officers of other arms of the service are allowed upon application to take this special course.

War Record of the Corps of Engineers.—Beside the military duties assigned to engineer troops, there are important professional functions which devolve upon engineer officers serving on the staff of generals commanding armies in the field; and in our service the command of volunteer troops, as well, has often devolved on officers of the Corps. In every war with a civilized power since the earliest history of our country these duties have been performed by them in a manner to merit and receive distinguished commendation; and in all these wars their blood has been shed on the field of honor. That this is no exaggeration is shown by the following list of officers who have been killed or mortally wounded in battle since the organization of the present Corps in 1802. All were graduates of the Military Academy:

Capt. and Bvt. Lieut.-Col. E. D. Wood, Sept. 17, 1814, Sortie from Fort Erie, U. C.
Capt. W. G. Williams, Sept. 21, 1846, Monterey, Mexico.
1st. Lieut. and Bvt. Captain W. H. Warner, Sept. 26, 1849, by Indians near Pitt River, Cal.
Captain J. W. Gunnison, Oct. 26, 1853, by Indians near Sevier Lake, Utah.
Maj.-Gen. I. I. Stevens, U. S. V., Sept. 1, 1862, Chantilly, Va.
Brig.-Gen. J. K. F. Mansfield, U. S. A., Sept. 18, 1862, Antietam, Md.
1st. Lieut. and Bvt. Col. J. L. K. Smith, Oct. 12, 1862, Corinth, Miss.
1st. Lieut. and Bvt. Major O. G. Wagner, April 21, 1863, Siege of Yorktown, Va.
Major and Bvt. Major-Gen. A. W. Whipple, May 7, 1863, Chancellorsville, Va.
Captain and Bvt. Col. C. E. Cross, June 5, 1863, Franklin's Crossing of Rappahannock River, Va.
1st Lieut. and Bvt. Col. P. H. O'Rorke, July 2, 1863, Gettysburg, Pa.
Captain and Bvt. Col. H. S. Putnam, July 18, 1863, Assault of Fort Wagner, S. C.
Captain and Bvt. Col. A. H. Dutton, June 5, 1864, Bermuda Hundred, Va.
Major and Bvt. Brig.-Gen. J. St. C. Morton, June 17, 1864, Petersburg, Va.
Brig.-Gen. U. S. A., J. B. McPherson, July 22, 1864, Atlanta, Ga.
1st Lieut. and Bvt. Maj. J. R. Meigs, Oct. 3, 1864, Harrisonburg, Va.

1st Lieut. Jacob E. Blake, Topographical Engineers, deserves to be mentioned in this list, although his death resulted from the accidental discharge of his own pistol on the field of Palo Alto after an act of the most conspicuous gallantry performed in the sight of both armies.

Very many of the officers of the Corps have been wounded in battle, some several times, but the list is too long for the space allotted to this paper.


During the war with Mexico 19 officers of the Corps of Engineers and 24 officers of the Corps of Topographical Engineers served actively in the field. One of them, Captain Williams, was killed, and sixteen wounds were divided among the others. Among those of this little band who subsequently, in the Civil War, reached high rank and distinction may be, mentioned in order of seniority in their respective corps: Generals Mansfield, Robert E. Lee, Barnard, Beauregard, Isaac I. Stevens, Halleck, Tower, G. W. Smith, McClellan, Foster, Joseph E. Johnston, Emory, Fremont, Meade, Pope, Franklin, and T. J. Wood.

During the Civil War the officers of both Corps with few exceptions served with the armies in the field. Some were attached to the battalion, others were on the staffs of army and division commanders, and many held volunteer commissions in command of troops. This latter list would have been much larger at the beginning of the war had not the ground been taken at the War Department that their services in their own arm were too important to be spared in volunteer grades lower than that of brigadier-general.

It is a matter of record that 33 officers who either held or had held commissions in the Corps of Engineers, were appointed during this war general officers in command of troops. Of these, 3 became major-generals, and 3 brigadier-generals in the regular army; 15 were major-generals, and 12 were brigadier-generals of volunteers; 8 of the 33 commanded armies; and 10, army corps. At least 8 general officers in the Confederate armies had been officers of our Corps of Engineers, and among them were General Robert E. Lee and General Joseph E. Johnston.

Peace Record of the Corps of Engineers.—The limits of this paper forbid any attempt at details. The subject can hardly be covered more concisely than by the following extract from a letter of General Humphreys when Chief of Engineers, addressed to the Secretary of War in response to a circular of September 4, 1876, inviting suggestions upon the subjects before a commission for the reform and reorganization of the army. This paper, which is reproduced nearly verbatim in Hamersly's Army Register for 100 years, contains historical sketches of the two Corps compiled by Lieutenant-Colonel Casey, now Chief of Engineers. It involved much research and has been freely used in preparing the foregoing pages. General Humphreys writes:

"From the earliest period, the several organizations of engineers which we have had in our service, have invariably and exclusively made the surveys for, and the plans of, our sea-coast defenses, whether of a temporary character which were built up to 1818, or of the permanent character which have been since that time projected, and have superintended their construction and the disbursement of the funds appropriated by Congress for the same.

"Up to about 1831, its officers were to a great degree the repositors in this country, of that knowledge which was requisite for the purpose of making accurate surveys. The location and construction of the roads, canals, and bridges built for the development of the resources of the country, and the accurate methods of surveying, geodetic, topographic, and hydro-


graphic, now in use, are in a great measure due to the talents and labors of its officers.

Almost all the great routes of internal communication in the interests of commerce and speedy transit, now in existence in the country, were first explored, located, and projected by officers of this Corps. The files of the bureau of the Corps in Washington, and the Congressional documents, are rich in reports upon the works of this character, that have been examined into under authority of law, by the Corps of Engineers.

"In the matter of the improvement of rivers and harbors, in the interest of commerce, the Corps of Engineers has had almost the exclusive control, and the information on this subject contained in reports of its officers, from the early years of this century to the present time, now filed in the Bureau of the Corps, is a monument to its labors and a most valuable collection of precedents to be used in the future prosecution of such works.

"The surveys, examinations, and constructions which have been made by officers of the Corps, have not been confined to such matters as are solely in charge of the War Department. From time to time the State Department, the Navy Department, the Treasury Department, and the Interior Department have employed its officers in the running of boundary lines, and the surveys for the maps necessary to be used in delicate diplomatic negotiations ; in the surveys for, and the constructions of, dock-yards; the surveys for canal routes across the Isthmus of Panama; upon astronomical observations in the interest of science ; in the surveys of the coasts, the planning and construction of light-houses and other fixed aids to navigation; the planning and construction of public buildings, of custom houses, post-offices, marine hospitals, etc.; and especially in the construction of the Capitol, the General Post Office, and the Washington Aqueduct in this city.

"Scarcely a branch of engineering, whether military or civil can be mentioned, that has not been improved and expanded by the study and labors of the officers of this Corps.

"It is difficult to enumerate all the duties which may have been, or which can be devolved on the Corps of Engineers in time of peace. As the duties generally are such as require familiarity with the sciences and arts, any duty which the Government needs performed which involves the application of this character of learning and comes within the professional training of the several members of the Corps, may be devolved by the President upon them."

The labors of the Corps of Engineers have been largely increased by the Act of August 11, 1888, which imposes upon the Secretary of War the duty of establishing harbor lines when in his judgment they are essential for the preservation and protection of harbors; also by the Acts of September 19, 1890, and of July 13, 1892, which contain important provisions relative to bridges, dumping, wrecks, and other obstructions to navigation.

Present Organization of the Corps of Engineers.—The headquarters of the Corps are now in Washington, where under the direction of the Secretary of War the engineer department, including its bureau, is commanded by its chief. His office is subdivided into five divisions. In general terms, the first includes fortification ; the second, engineer troops and depots, with Corps orders, returns and personnel; the third. civil works of improve-


ment; the fourth, appropriations and disbursements; the fifth, surveys, maps and claims. Officers of the Corps, usually three in number, are detailed to take charge of these divisions.

A permanent board of engineers of not less than three members, usually high in rank, plans and revises projects of permanent fortification and works of river and harbor improvement, and considers such other matters as may be referred to it by the Chief. The latter submits all important reports, with his views thereon, to the Secretary of War without whose sanction no important work is undertaken.

The geographical limits of the United States are divided into districts usually about fifty in number, the military and civil engineerings works in each of which are in charge of an officer of experience in the corps. These officers execute the works, disburse the funds, and submit such projects and estimates as may be ordered.

Such of these districts as are in charge of officers below the grade of lieut.-colonel are grouped in divisions, the number and extent of which are determined by the Chief of Engineers. At present there are five, each in charge of a Colonel of the Corps. Division engineers exercise care and oversight over the works in progress, inspect them at least once a year, and counsel, advise, and in case of emergency direct the district officers in matters pertaining to the engineering features of their works, reporting such action promptly to the Chief of the Corps. All papers connected with engineering project, plan and construction within his division pass through the office of the division engineer.

The engineering works of all districts are inspected annually by the chief of engineers or by the division engineers.

Officers of the Corps are detached under the Treasury Department to act as light-house engineers in each of the sixteen districts into which the country is divided; and others are detailed to serve as members and as engineer secretary of the Light-house Board.

Under the Act of June 11, 1878, an officer of the Corps, with two Engineer officers as assistants, is detailed as one of the three commissioners for the Government of the District of Columbia. Other officers are detached for service in connection with the Military Academy, and on special duties such, for example, as the demarcation of State and International boundaries.

The battalion is officered by details from the Corps, and other officers may be detached to serve on the staffs of generals commanding departments.

From the above it will be seen that the duties of our Corps of Engineers combine the functions of the Corps du Génie, and of the Ponts et Chaussées in the French service; and in time of war include many of the functions of the Etat Major. That these duties are performed by an aggregate of 109 officers, not including the additional 2d lieutenants authorized by Act of May 17, 1386, sufficiently demonstrates the onerous nature of the services exacted from the Corps.

It may be added in conclusion that the term "staff corps" sometimes erroneously applied has always been repudiated by officers of the Corps of Engineers as a designation not in accordance with our statute law or


with the practice of other armies. The Corps forms no part of the staff of the army, for it in no case furnishes the means necessary for its subsistence, comfort, mobility, and action to any greater degree than does the artillery or cavalry. Inmost services it is termed a special arm, and in all services it is assigned a place in the line of battle. With us the honor of the right of the line is conceded by the regulations. This fact from the very derivation of the term is sufficient to justify the claim that the Corps belongs to "the line" of the army and that its officers are properly so classed except when specially detailed for staff duty.

In view of the general misapprehension prevailing as to the old 63d Article of War, now expunged from the list, some reference to its history and true import seems appropriate. The article was enacted by the Act of April 10, 1806, and read as follows:

"The functions of the engineers being generally confined to the most elevated branch of military science, they are not to assume, nor are they subject to be ordered on, any duty beyond the line of their immediate profession, except by the special order of the President of the United States ; but they are to receive every mark of respect to which their rank in the army may entitle them respectively, and are liable to be transferred, at the discretion of the President, from one corps to another, regard being paid to rank."

This enactment was the outcome of a dispute which in 1803 arose between Colonel Williams, Commandant of the Corps of Engineers, and Captain Izard of the Artillery, whose company was stationed at West Point, upon a question connected with the command of the post.

The matter was referred to the Secretary of War, then Hon. H. Dearborn, who decided "that no officer, cadet, or soldier of the Corps of Engineers was subject to the orders of any officer of any other corps, but to the orders of the President only, or when in actual service to the orders of the commanding general, and that no officer of engineers should, under any circumstances, command any officer or troops, of any other corps, except by the special orders of the President."

This decision limiting command of engineer officers being in contravention of the then Articles of War, published by order of Congress on September 2, 1776, was received with great mortification and dissatisfaction by the officers of the Corps of Engineers, who felt themselves justly aggrieved thereby. No reply being received to a memorial on the subject addressed to the President, Mr. Jefferson, the whole Corps determined to resign their commissions; and Colonel Williams and Major Wadsworth, the only field officers then in the Corps, did actually resign.

As it was apparent that the military pride and sense of justice of the officers was severely wounded, the Secretary of War sanctioned a correspondence between General Wilkinson, the commanding general of the army, and Colonel Williams, inviting him to return to the command of the Corps, accompanied with a project of a General Order containing the principles, and substantially the expressions, subsequently embodied in the 63d article above quoted. Upon this basis the difficulty was settled. The article was in truth a compromise, accepted but never favored by the Corps of Engineers.


This article did, however, contrary to the usage of other nations, deprive engineer officers of the right of succession in command by virtue of seniority of commission, when different corps of the army joined to do duty together. Foreseeing the trouble which might arise in consequence, Congress wisely enacted in the organic acts raising the engineer troops now in service, the provision that these organizations "shall be entitled to the same provisions, allowances and benefits in every respect as are allowed to other troops constituting the present military peace establishment."

This legislation has settled the old standing controversy as to right of command in actual service with troops. The Battalion of Engineers has often served with other troops both of the army and navy, and always upon the basis thus laid down; which, moreover, was officially recognized by General Sheridan when commanding the army. In an indorsement dated July 7, 1885, he wrote: "When engineers are on duty with organized bodies of troops of their own corps, they are or should be considered, as line officers, and when a command of engineer troops happens to join or do duty with the troops of other corps, the engineer officers should be entitled to command, or to be commanded, according to seniority of rank.

"Paragraph 9 of the present Army Regulations, fixes the position in lines, of the different corps, including engineers on all occasions of parade and ceremony, and I believe it to be for the interest of the service, generally, that the engineer troops should in our service, as in that of other nations, be considered as of the line of the army,—an arm of service. * * *

"In 1861, a battalion of engineer troops was formed, and with a strength varying from 200 to 750 enlisted men, has been continued in the permanent establishment. The Battalion of Engineers, comprising the companies stationed at Willet's Point and one company of engineer soldiers stationed at West Point, having an aggregate strength of 466 officers and men, is one of the most efficient bodies of troops in our service."

In the early part of its history the Chief of the Corps took an active part in the operation of armies in the field. The latest example was in the case of General Totten, who personally directed the duties of his arm of service in the siege of Vera Cruz. In one instance, that of General Alexander Macomb, the Chief of the Corps was promoted to the command of the army with the rank of Major-General.

The limited space allotted to this paper has precluded, for the most part, the mention of individual members of the Corps, although many of them have played an important part in the history of the country. The list on the following page of the successive commanders, however, should find a place.



Name. Rank. Title. Date of Appointment. Where Appointed From.
Richard Gridley Colonel Chief Engineer June, 1775 Mass.
Rufus Putnam " " Aug. 5, 1776 "
Lewis du Portail " " July 22, 1777 France
Lewis du Portail Brig. Gen. " Nov. 17, 1777 "
Lewis du Portail Maj. Gen. " Nov. 16, 1781 "
Stephen Rochefontaine Lt.-Col. Comdr. Corps of Artillerists and Engineers Feb. 26, 1795 ——
Henry Burbeck " Comdr. 1st Regt. Corps Artillerists and Engineers May 7, 1798 Mass.
Jonathan Williams " Principal Engineer July 8, 1802 Penn.
Jonathan Williams " Chief Engineer April 19, 1805 "
Jonathan Williams Colonel " Feb. 23, 1808 "
Joseph G. Swift " " July 31, 1812 Mass.
Walker K. Armistead " " Nov. 12, 1818 Va.
Alexander Macomb " " June 1, 1821 New York
Charles Gratiot " " May 28, 1828 Mo. Ter.
Joseph G. Totten " " Dec. 7, 1838 Conn.
J. J. Abert " Chief Top. Engineer July 7, 1838 D. C.
Stephen H. Long " " Sept. 9, 1861 New Hamp.
Joseph G. Totten Brig. Gen. Chief Engineer Mar. 3, 1863 Conn.
Richard Delafield " " April 22, 1864 New York
Richard Delafield " Chief of Engineers July 13, 1866 "
Andrew A. Humphreys " " Aug. 8, 1866 Penn.
Horatio G. Wright " " June 30, 1879 Conn.
John Newton " " Mar. 6, 1884 Va.
James C. Duane " " Oct. 11, 1886 New York
Thomas L. Casey " " July 6, 1888 R. I.

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