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Ketchum, Paul M. (ed.) / The Wisconsin engineer
Volume 42, Number 6 (March 1938)

Naylor, R. H.
Army engineer's peace time work,   pp. 106-107

Page 106

Armj Engineer's Peace
I HAVE resigned myself, from sad experience, to ex-
    pect, whenever I am on a River and Harbor detail and
    am introduced to a stranger, that at least two times
out of five the conversation will open like this: "Are you
a Reserve Officer?" "No." "National Guard?" "No,
Regular Army." "With a CCC camp?" "No, I am with
the Engineer District." "Are you just visiting here?" "No,
I am stationed here." "Well, there aren't any soldiers any-
where near here. What do you do?" Following which I
will attempt to explain about the Corps of Engineers and
its civil work to a listener who never had realized that any
work had ever been done on the country's river and har-
bors, much less known who did it.
  So few people are aware of the curious anomaly existing
in our governmental system, wherein the Corps of Engi-
neers, a part of the Army, performs a task which would
logically seem to be a function of some civilian govern-
mental bureau as in other nations and amongst even these
few, so little is understood of the reasons for the existence
of this condition that an explanation appears worthwhile.
  For over a century the Corps of Engineers has been in
charge of the improvement and maintenance of all coastal
harbors and all interstate waterways; running a business
totally unconnected with anything military which has ex-
panded gradually until the annual cost has recently aver-
aged $200,000,000. In order to understand why such a
juicy political plum has been so long in the hands of a
non-political agency and why it remains there despite re-
peated attempts to place it in the hands of a separate cabi-
net officer and an organization of thirsty political ap-
pointees, it is necessary to review coincidentally the early
history of the nation and the Corps.
  In colonial times engineering work was almost non-
existent and, conversely, so were engineers. Thus, when
Launching asphalt mattress in Mississippi River for bank
         protection near Reserve, Louisiana.
       Partial view of main spillway of Bonneville Dam,
                     Columbia River
the Continental Army's need for engineers became appar-
ent shortly after the start of the Revolutionary War, Gen-
eral Washington was somewhat hard pressed to find them.
  The Continental Congress in June of 1775 authorized a
Chief Engineer of the Grand Army with two assistants and
a Chief Engineer, also with two assistants, in a separate
department. This arrangement was apparently unsatis-
factory, for a year later the Congress authorized General
Washington to "raise, officer, and equip a Corps of Engi-
neers" whose strength was set at three companies. An in-
flux of volunteer officers from the Royal Engineer Corps
of the French army enabled Washington to comply with
the authorization.
  This organization served with distinction until 1783,
when the Continental Army was disbanded.
  Six years later the Constitution was adopted, the colo-
nies became a nation, and a standing army of 700 men was
established. After five more years, in 1794, Congress au-
thorized a Corps of Engineers and Artillerists, to be sta-
tioned at West Point, N. Y., and to form a school to give
instruction in engineering and the technical sciences.
  The school had hard sledding at first. A fire in 1796
destroyed all the textbooks and apparatus, and the school
had to be suspended until 1802. Then a new congressional
act established a separate Corps of Engineers with head-
quarters at West Point where they were to constitute a
Military Academy with the Chief of Engineers as superin-
  The Military Academy constituted a training school for
Engineer officers with the existing officers of the Corps as
faculty. Thus the first engineering school was established
in the United States. It remained the only one for the
next twenty-two years, for Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
The Wisconsin Engineer7
Page 106)

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