July’s Engineer Moment in History

(Signal Corps Photo 141.11.64, Engineer Schools History Archives)JULY – AN IMPORTANT MONTH FOR TOPOGRAPHICAL ENGINEERS
Provided by the USAES Historian

Terrain reconnaissance, map making, and surveying have always been important activities of Engineers. Keeping maneuver commanders apprised of routes, rivers, natural obstacles, or other geographical features gives them the input to make their best decisions. Today, we call this “geospatial” engineering. But in the past, these activities were called “topographical” engineering, “geographical” engineering, or “geographer.” Congress authorized General George Washington to appoint the Continental Army’s first geographer on 22 July 1777. Terrain reconnaissance and map making played important roles during the American Revolution. Soldiers served in these capacities in the Corps of Engineers until 5 July 1838. This date marks Congress’ decision to make a separate U.S. Army Corps of Topographical Engineers. For the next twenty-five years, topographical engineer officers like George Meade, John Frémont, and Gouverneur K. Warren supported civil works in harbors on the Great Lakes or directed improvements in rivers across the nation. In 1863 during the American Civil War, the Corps of Topographical Engineers was abolished, and its functions reverted to the Corps of Engineers. Regardless of name or time period, specialized Engineers have worked to ensure that maneuver commanders and public works managers received the best possible data about terrain. In the photograph, General George Patton (left) and General George Marshall (right) examining a three-dimensional model of a German fortification in World War II. This scale model was built by topographical engineers.

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