A Brief History of the Corps

Washington Post, Sunday, September 10, 2000; Page A28


1775: Gen. George Washington appoints a chief engineer to direct the fortification of Bunker Hill early in the Revolutionary War. The nation's engineers would participate in every American war that followed.

1802: President Thomas Jefferson establishes the Corps to run the nation's only engineering school, at West Point. The Corps also builds forts and coastal batteries, and leads early surveying expeditions of the West.

1824: Congress establishes a civil works program for the Corps, beginning with snagging and clearing the Ohio and Mississippi rivers for year-round navigation.

1861: The Civil War begins, featuring an all-star team of Corps alumni on both sides: Lee, McClellan, Meade, Johnston, Beauregard, Pope, Fremont. The end of the war ushers in a new era of civil works: river navigation, flood control levees, harbor improvements and surveys. The Corps also takes over public works for the wartorn District of Columbia, and completes the Washington Monument and Library of Congress.

1914: The Corps finishes digging the Panama Canal, a project abandoned by the French in 1889.

1928: Congress gives the Corps full power over the Mississippi River after the disastrous '27 flood. The New Deal launches another civil works frenzy, including giant dams on the Missouri, Illinois and Columbia rivers.

1941: The Corps helps lead America's mass mobilization for World War II, and supervises the Manhattan project, which produced the atomic bomb. After the war, the Corps returns to civil works, building the St. Lawrence Seaway, Cape Canaveral and the canal system that drained the Everglades to supply South Florida's water, while designing and building Cold War missile sites and radar networks.

1972: Congress passes the Clean Water Act, requiring developers who want to dredge to fill America's wetlands to seek permits from the Corps. The agency continues to build huge dams on the Snake and Red rivers and the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, but it also begins a few environmental restoration programs.

2000: The Pentagon investigates allegations that Corps officials rigged a $58 million study of Mississippi River improvements. The Clinton administration tries to reassert executive branch control of the Corps but retreats after furious opposition from Congress. The Corps prepares to lead a $7.8 billion project to undo some of the damage it did to the Everglades, the biggest environmental restoration plan in history.