Archive for August, 2011

August’s Engineer Moment in History

Map of Battle of Contreras signed by “R.E. Lee.” (National Archives)

Map of Battle of Contreras signed by “R.E. Lee.” (National Archives)

FAMOUS ENGINEER HELPS WIN THE BATTLE OF CONTRERAS, 1847
Provided by the USAES Historian
After graduating second in his class at West Point in 1829, Robert E. Lee spent the next twenty-six years in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. His work as a surveyor helped establish state borders, and he supervised civil works on waterways and in harbors across the United States. Lee excelled in these duties, which also gave him expertise in terrain reconnaissance and topographical analysis. CPT Lee was well placed to become aide to MG Winfield Scott, one of the generals commanding American forces during the Mexican War (1846-1848). Lee personally scouted trails over presumably impassible terrain and allowed Scott’s forces to bypass enemy positions during Scott’s brilliant campaign from Vera Cruz to Mexico City. Lee also displayed courage and skill in several engagements, including the Battle of Contreras on 19-20 August 1847. Some 4,500 American Soldiers attacked 5,000 Mexican Soldiers at the village of Contreras near Mexico City. After skirmishing on the first day, the Americans routed the Mexicans on 20 August, and moved one step closer to victory in the war. CPT Lee was everywhere on that battlefield. He carried orders to American commanders, reconnoitered strong points, and then guided American units to those positions. In his final report on the Battle on Contreras, MG Scott commended Lee “for felicitous execution as for science and daring.” Scott also wrote that Lee was “the very best soldier I ever saw in the field.” Robert E. Lee remained in the Corps of Engineers until 1855, when he was transferred to the Cavalry. He would later command the Confederate Army in the Civil War.

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