June’s Engineer Moment in History

Provided by the USAES Historian
George Washington

Portrait of Washington in 1772 wearing his colonel’s uniform of the Virginia Regiment from his service in the French and Indian War (1754-1763). He built and assaulted fortifications during this conflict, and thus he learned what engineers could do in battle.

The Corps of Engineers was born 236 years ago this month. Although he was not a trained engineer himself, General George Washington recognized that Engineers played critical roles in warfare. He knew from his early career that his fledgling Continental Army needed officers and soldiers with engineering skills. Constructing roads and fortifications and besieging and breaching enemy positions stand as timeless engineer missions. Washington asked the Continental Congress to add a senior engineer officer to his staff. On 16 June 1775, Congress agreed and authorized the position of Chief Engineer with two assistants. This date can rightfully be celebrated as the birthday of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Later in the Revolutionary War, Louis Duportail became Chief Engineer and helped integrate the engineers – called miners and sappers – into the Continental Army. At Yorktown, miners and sappers helped capture Redoubt 10 and achieve victory at Yorktown. But, all this started in 1775 because of George Washington’s foresight and conviction that his Army needed engineers to be an effective fighting force.

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