EM 1110-2-1100 (Part I)
30 Apr 02
increased port facilities were necessary. Ports of the world experienced growing pains for the first time since
the Roman era, and, except for the interruption caused by two world wars, port needs continue to grow
I-3-6. United States Army Corps of Engineers
Since the formation of the United States, Army engineers and the Corps of Engineers have been responsible
for or intimately associated with a wide variety of civil projects and improvements to waterways, ports, and
navigation systems. The following paragraphs summarize the history of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
(USACE) and outline some of the Corps' early efforts in coastal and navigation improvements.
The origins of the USACE date to June of 1775, at the beginning of the American War of Independence,
when the Second Continental Congress authorized General Washington to assign a "chief engineer" for the
"grand army" (Parkman 1978). General Washington selected Colonel Richard Gridley, a seasoned
artilleryman, who had been preparing a line of fortifications around Boston during the early weeks of the war.
Military operations during the war underscored the need for an efficient body of engineers, and in March of
1779, the Continental Congress finally authorized a separate and distinct "corps of engineers," to be
commanded by Louis LeBgue Du Portail, an officer recruited by the American mission in France. The corps
was a vital unit of the Continental Army until disbanded in November 1783 with the arrival of peace.
When war between France and England broke out in the 1790s Congress authorized President Washington
to begin construction of a system of fortifications along the coast. In 1802, in anticipation of the European
belligerents signing a treaty of peace, Congress cut back and reorganized the army and created a separate
corps of engineers, limited at that time to sixteen officers (Parkman 1978). The Act of March 16, 1802 had
other far-reaching consequences, as it provided further that the Corps was to constitute the personnel of a
military academy at West Point. Congress had recognized the almost complete absence of trained military
and civil engineers in the United States, and, in effect, established a national college of engineering. West
Point was the only school in the country to graduate engineers until 1824, when Rensselaer Polytechnic
Institute was formed. Quickly becoming the growing nation's primary source of engineering expertise, the
Corps first concentrated on constructing and maintaining strategically-placed coastal fortifications to repel
naval attacks. But soon it became concerned with civil functions as it planned and executed the national
internal improvement program initiated in the 1820s (Maass 1951).
Until the early 1800s, little maintenance or improvement was done to harbors or rivers, and maintaining
navigability of waterways was considered the responsibility of the states or private interests. What little the
Federal government had done was carried out by the Treasury Department, which had assisted navigation by
erecting lighthouses, beacons, buoys, and public piers. In 1818, John C. Calhoun, then Secretary of War,
recommended that the Corps of Engineers be directed to improve waterways navigation and other
transportation systems because these civil works would facilitate the movement of the Army and its materials
while contributing to national economic development (USACE 1978). Congress accepted Calhoun's
recommendations and passed the landmark General Survey Act, which President James Monroe signed into
law on April 30, 1824. It directed the President to use Army engineers to survey roads and canals. By the
mid-1820s Corps of Engineers officers were busy surveying the Ohio and lower Mississippi Rivers and the
Great Lakes, identifying navigation impediments, and proposing improvements and new routes.
Only a month later, on May 24, 1824, President Monroe signed the first Rivers and Harbors Act, which
authorized the President to appropriate Federal monies to improve navigation on the Ohio and Mississippi
Rivers. By 1829, Army engineers were using steam-powered snagboats to remove snags and floating trees
and to dig out sandbars that impeded river traffic. Subsequent acts authorized a wide variety of internal
improvements and assigned Army engineers to direct and manage these projects. Work soon began on a
number of challenging locations that were deemed critical for the growth of a growing nation.
History of Coastal Engineering