Today, it’s almost impossible to say “Army Corps of Engineers” without also saying “Hurricane Katrina” and “levee failure,” or “Yazoo Pump” and “boondoggle.” But the corps’ original mandate made no mention of hurricane and flood protection, or even of the Mississippi River.
In 1802, Congress established the Army Corps of Engineers as the nation’s design and construction crew. The country was barely a quarter-century past the Revolutionary War — where the first iteration of the corps had been assembled on the battlefield — and it needed a steady supply of engineers to map its assets and to build basic infrastructure such as forts, lighthouses, and roads.
At its inception, the corps consisted of a captain, two lieutenants, a math instructor, and 10 cadets. It was a far cry from today’s 35,000-member military and civilian organization, which has an annual operating budget nearing $38 billion.
Among the corps’ many early works are a series of forts... Read more