As America's War for Independence grew more contentious, it became apparent that there was an obvious need for trained Engineers. Only a few days after the Army itself was organized, the Continental Congress, on June 16, 1775, resolved that there should be a Chief Engineer for the Army in a separate department and two assistants under him.
Finally, on 11 March 1779, Congress resolved that "the Engineers in the service of the United States shall be formed into a Corps and styled the Corps of Engineers." The Revolution began in earnest with untrained Engineers throwing up hasty defenses on the forward slopes of Breeds Hill near Boston. The site was to become famous as the location of the Battle of Bunker Hill. The culminating decisive battle in the War for Independence occurred in October 1781, as our tried and tested Engineers overcame the British defenses at Yorktown, Virginia.
Following the Revolutionary War, the Army Corps of Engineers was mustered out of service. But on 09 May 1794, Congress authorized a new branch, to be known as "the Corps of Artillerists and Engineers". The Army Corps of Engineers, as it is known today, was created on 16 March 1802, when the President was authorized by Congress 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". With the re-establishment of the Army Corps of Engineers in 1802, the mission of educating the officers of our Army became an added requirement. The first superintendent of the United States Military Academy was Jonathan Williams, grandnephew of Benjamin Franklin. Under Williams, the growing Corps of Cadets and the Corps of Engineers became a professional, disciplined and elite corps.
The first enlisted men of the present-day Corps were authorized on 28 February 1803, but until 1846 the organization consisted primarily of commissioned officers. In 1846, Company "A" Engineers was organized for the Mexican War. The company operated as Sappers and Miners during the arduous march to Mexico City. In 1847, at the Battle of Contraries, the Engineers led the assault. (Company "A", now "A" Company, 1st Engineer Battalion has been in continuous service since its foundation in 1846, the oldest such unit in the Corps of Engineers.) A total of 44 Engineer officers, including a young Robert E. Lee, served in the Mexican War. Into the 1850s, Engineers continued to map, build, explore and develop the young nation.
On 05 July 1838, Congress divided the Army Corps of Engineers when it authorized a separate Corps of Topographical Engineers. The foundation of this specialized Corps dated back to the Revolutionary War under General Robert Erskine, "Geographer of the Army". This new organization exerted significant influence on the early development of the United States. The Corps of Topographical Engineers virtually dominated the era of official exploration that began about 1840 and continued throughout the 19th century. The versatile officers of the Corps of Topographical Engineers, known as "Topogs", were among the first to accurately and systematically describe and record the diversity of the West.
Their thorough reports encouraged settlers to move West by describing in detail what could be expected from what was previously a mysterious and undocumented region. The Topogs were expected to act as soldiers by offering protection against hostile attack. They also served as a department of public works by opening up the frontier to western settlement. The Corps of Topographical Engineers merged back into the Army Corps of Engineers on 03 March 1863. This reuniting of the "Corps" gave the heritage as Engineers and Surveyors.
Just prior to the outbreak of the Civil War, the Army had two organizations of Engineers with a total authorized strength of 79 commissioned officers and a lone company of 100 enlisted Engineers. In early August 1861, three companies were added to the Army Corps of Engineers and one to the Corps of Topographical Engineers. The commissioned officer strength was raised to 103. Thus, at the beginning of the Civil War, the total strength of the Army Engineers numbered some 750 men. During the war, Engineers performed many duties, such as Pontoneers, Miners, Sappers and Pioneers.
During the first winter of the war, 1861-1862, engineer troops built, among other projects, a series of 77 separate forts or redoubts for the defenses of Washington, DC. In 1863, the two separate Engineer Corps were reunited and continued to clear obstacles and to construct roads, bridges, palisades, stockades, canals, blockhouses and signal towers. They laid down hundreds of pontoon bridges, built fixed bridges and railroad trestles, repaired railroad lines and erected field fortifications in addition to their mission as Combat Engineers, Topographic Engineers and Facility Engineers.
In the summer of 1898, America entered into a war with Spain. The Spanish American War led us into a new position in world politics. The United States now wore the mantle of a world power. As the development of the new empire, the first priority was to enhance the infrastructure of the islands of Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. The thrust into the eastern Pacific came as Japan achieved world power status with victory over Russia in the Russo Japanese War, which ended in 1904. As such, the vulnerable Pacific coast was threatened and an enhanced effort was began to develop sea coast defense fortifications.
These new forts were not only a reaction to changing international political developments, but they were also a result of rapidly improving technologies of war. New breach-loading, high-powered naval guns necessitated the reciprocal development of better defensive fortifications. As this arms race transitioned into the 20th century, one of our most ambitious engineering projects was begun, the construction of the Panama Canal. The canal was to serve two functions: to improve merchant marine transportation between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans; and more importantly, to allow our new modern Navy to project American interests quickly in both hemispheres.
Within months of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand at Sarajevo in the Balkans, in 1914, the Great Powers of Europe were locked in a war of unprecedented proportions. Spanning more than four years, the "Great War" would see battles in France, Russia, Italy, the Middle East, and Africa.
When German submarine warfare forced America into the war in 1917, the United States was unprepared for the conflict. The country struggled to mobilize its vast human and industrial resources before Germany could win the ground war against France and the British Commonwealth. The small trickle of soldiers which began in the summer of 1917 ultimately became a flood of combat power which would be essential to the ultimate victory.
The Great War would not only change the map of Europe but alter the course of world history.
On the 27 July 1921, the 8th Engineer Battalion (Mounted) was preassigned as an integral element of the 1st Cavalry Division before it was organized on 13 September 1921, at Fort Bliss, Texas, This move gave immediate recognition of the changing ways of combat engagement. The advent of new technology to warfare and the size of the American Army presented the Engineers with unprecedented challenges. Engineers not only supported the other combat arms -- often fighting as infantry -- but also built the camps, supply facilities, and transportation systems needed to sustain the fighting organization.
Within the continental United States, the total value of construction related to the war effort exceeded $15 billion (1940s dollars). Of this, more than $3 billion went to the construction of the war industries. Military facilities accounted for another $7.5 billion. On the home front, the Engineers were builders. Overseas, the Engineers were builders and fighters. Combat and general service Engineers built thousands of miles of roads and railroads, hundreds of bridges and airfields, and countless square feet of storage and troop support facilities. Combat Engineers fought along side the maneuver arms, and in some instances, in advance of infantry and armored forces. They became experts in expedient roads and bridges as well as mine warfare. Often, they laid aside the tools of the Engineer and shouldered the weapons of combat soldier, fighting as Infantry.
The rugged, mountainous terrain of Korea and the lack of developed transportation and communications systems, created significant challenges to American forces and the Corps of Engineers. Most of the initial Engineer work involved demolition of bridges and important facilities in an attempt to delay the North Korean advance to the south. In the Pusan Perimeter, the invasion point of the 1st Cavalry Division, the 8th Engineering Battalion not only worked on standard defensive and construction projects, but also manned the front lines when the enemy threatened to penetrate the perimeter.
The "Cold War" turned hot in the mid-1960s, but not on the northern German plain as many analysts had predicted. Communist insurgency in Southeast Asia threatened nations struggling to develop economically, politically and socially following a history of colonial rule. This was a continuation of the "wars of national liberation" which had threatened Greece and the Philippines in the late 1940s.
For the Engineers, Vietnam was another conflict fought in a distant
underdeveloped region. With the commitment of ground troops in 1965, Engineers
had the dual responsibilities of supporting combat operations and of
constructing support facilities for the Army, its sister services, and allied
During 1969, the 8th Engineers were innovative in the development of new concepts of combat support. Most of the work performed by the battalions was carried out in remote areas unaccessible by normal wheeled vehicles. The men, equipment and supplies were airlifted over impassable terrain. In one day, the engineers could establish a fire support base which could operate independently by the use of aerial resupply, enabling the division to operate in areas previously enemy sanctuaries.
In August 1990, the 1st Cavalry Division was put on the alert for deployment
to Southwest Asia as a result of the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq. Two months
later the Division was dispatched to the Arabian desert. In anticipation of
an Iraqi invasion, defenses were established along the Iraqi and Kuwaiti
borders. The Engineer Battalions were key to operations in preparation of the
ground war. These operations allowed the Allies to pass West and into Iraqi
commencing the ground war.
In a battle against time and weather, the engineers, operating their own equipment as well as abandoned civilian bulldozers and backhoes, dug along side the infantry. In 48 hours, an anti-tank ditch ringed the defenders of El Qaysumah Airport for 13 Kilometersw. Bright yellow caterpillar tractors on the battlefield were a jarring sight, but none complained.
The efforts of the Engineer Battalion were key to operations in preparation of the ground war. These operations allowed the Allies to pass West and into Iraqi commencing the ground war. The battalion held in place, then moved deep into Iraq aiding in the swift defeat of the Iraqi armed forces. In April 1991, the battalion brought all its soldiers safely home to Fort Hood, Texas.
In July 1992, the Engineer Brigade was formed by reorganizing the 8th Engineer Battalion, moving the 20th Engineer Battalion from Fort Campbell, Kentucky, reorganizing it from a wheeled corps to a mechanized divisional battalion in June 1992 and by activating the 91st Engineer Battalion from a zero balance in October 1992. The Engineering Brigade was formally organized on 16 October 1992. Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment provided command and control for its three battalions and also provided staff support to the Division.
Throughout the operational periods of "Desert Peacekeepers", 1992 - 2000 , the Engineering Brigade and the subordinate battalions trained and worked with the other manuevuring units of the Division. In each of the deployments, individually - each battalion trained and practiced he tactical fusion of the each arriving unit into the Kuwait defensive plan. Training - at the individual and unit level - took place at the multi-service and multi-national level. Tese training exercises had four main purposes:
As early as July 2003, engineering deployments began to become more closely organized with Combat Brigades with each Brigade having the personnel and assets of each specialization type included with and under control of the Brigade commands. As such, each engineering battalion became fragimated with each specialized element being assigned at the Brigade level.
On 24 May 2005, following six months of extensive planning, officers of the 1st Cavalry Division began executing the monumental task of reorganizing and realigning its manpower and equipment resources into the Army Matrix of Modular Forces. As each Brigade changed command, they changed their colors and become a Brigade Unit of Action (BUA). Under the reorganization, the Division will have six Brigades. While undertaking the transformation changes, the Division will experience nearly a fifty percent turnover in personnel while performing the coordination of arrival and reallocation of critical new equipment required to support their new missions.
On 24 May 2005, as a part of the reorganization of the Division, the Engineer Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division was inactivated at Ft. Hood, TX. and the personnel of the 8th, 20th and 91st Engineer Battalions were distributed and placed under the direct control of each Units of Action.
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