Corps of Topographical Engineers

Corps of Topographical Engineers

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The U.S. Army Corps of Topographical Engineers, was separately authorized on 4 July 1838, consisted only of officers, and was used for mapping and the design and construction of federal civil works such as lighthouse
Lighthouse
A lighthouse is a tower, building, or other type of structure designed to emit light from a system of lamps and lenses or, in older times, from a fire, and used as an aid to navigation for maritime pilots at sea or on inland waterways....

s and other coastal fortifications and navigational routes. It included such officers as George Meade
George Meade
George Gordon Meade was a career United States Army officer and civil engineer involved in coastal construction, including several lighthouses. He fought with distinction in the Second Seminole War and Mexican-American War. During the American Civil War he served as a Union general, rising from...

, John C. Frémont
John C. Frémont
John Charles Frémont , was an American military officer, explorer, and the first candidate of the anti-slavery Republican Party for the office of President of the United States. During the 1840s, that era's penny press accorded Frémont the sobriquet The Pathfinder...

 and Stephen Long
Stephen Harriman Long
Stephen Harriman Long was a U.S. army explorer, topographical engineer, and railway engineer. As an inventor, he is noted for his developments in the design of steam locomotives. He was also one of the most prolific explorers of the early 1800s, although his career as an explorer was relatively...

. It was merged with the Corps of Engineers on 31 March 1863, at which point the Corps of Engineers also assumed the Lakes Survey District mission for the Great Lakes
Great Lakes
The Great Lakes are a collection of freshwater lakes located in northeastern North America, on the Canada – United States border. Consisting of Lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario, they form the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth by total surface, coming in second by volume...

. In the mid-19th century, Corps of Engineers' officers ran Lighthouse Districts
Lighthouse
A lighthouse is a tower, building, or other type of structure designed to emit light from a system of lamps and lenses or, in older times, from a fire, and used as an aid to navigation for maritime pilots at sea or on inland waterways....

 in tandem with U.S. Naval officers.

In 1841, Congress created the Lake Survey. The Survey, based in Detroit, Mich., was charged with conducting a hydrographical survey of the Northern and Northwestern Lakes and preparing and publishing nautical charts and other navigation aids. The Lake Survey published its first charts in 1852.

Significance to US History


William Goetzmann has written:

Major Expeditions


In all, there were six major expeditions into the Louisiana Purchase, the first of course being the best known Corps of Discovery led by Lewis and Clark in 1804-1806. A second expedition in 1804 included astronomer and naturalist John Dunbar and prominent Philadelphia chemist William Hunter. This expedition attempted to follow the Red River to its source in Texas, then controlled by Spain, but turned back after three months.

In April 1806 a second Red River Expedition
Red River Expedition (1806)
The Red River Expedition, also known as the Freeman-Custis Expedition, Freeman Red River Expedition, Sparks Expedition, or officially as the Exploring Expedition of Red River in 1806, was one of the first civilian scientific expeditions to explore the Southwestern United States...

 was led by Captain Richard Sparks and included astronomer and surveyor Thomas Freeman and Peter Custis, a University of Pennsylvania medical student who served as the expedition’s botanist. The group of 24 traveled 615 miles up the Red River before being turned back by Spanish authorities. President Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the United States Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom , the third President of the United States and founder of the University of Virginia...

 hoped that this expedition would be nearly as important as the one led by Lewis and Clark, but the interruption by Spanish authorities prevented this hope from being realized.

In 1805-1806, Lieutenant Zebulon Pike
Zebulon Pike
Zebulon Montgomery Pike Jr. was an American officer and explorer for whom Pikes Peak in Colorado is named. As a United States Army captain in 1806-1807, he led the Pike Expedition to explore and document the southern portion of the Louisiana Purchase and to find the headwaters of the Red River,...

 was ordered by General James Wilkinson
James Wilkinson
James Wilkinson was an American soldier and statesman, who was associated with several scandals and controversies. He served in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, but was twice compelled to resign...

, Governor of the Upper Louisiana Territory, to find the source of the Mississippi River.

In 1806-1807, President Jefferson ordered Lieutenant Pike, on another expedition, to find the headwaters of the Arkansas River and Red River. This is better known as the Pike Expedition
Pike expedition
The Pike Expedition was a military effort authorized by the United States government to explore the south and west of the recent Louisiana Purchase. Roughly contemporaneous with the Lewis and Clark Expedition, it was led by United States Army Captain Zebulon Pike, Jr...

. Spanish forces arrested Pike and confiscated his papers, but assigned a translator and cartographer to translate Pike's documents.

In 1817 Major Stephen H. Long explored the upper Mississippi River, selecting sites for Fort Smith on the Arkansas River and Fort St. Anthony at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi.

In 1819, President James Monroe
James Monroe
James Monroe was the fifth President of the United States . Monroe was the last president who was a Founding Father of the United States, and the last president from the Virginia dynasty and the Republican Generation...

 and Secretary of War John C. Calhoun
John C. Calhoun
John Caldwell Calhoun was a leading politician and political theorist from South Carolina during the first half of the 19th century. Calhoun eloquently spoke out on every issue of his day, but often changed positions. Calhoun began his political career as a nationalist, modernizer, and proponent...

 ordered General Henry Atkinson to lead what became known as the Yellowstone Expedition
Yellowstone Expedition
The Yellowstone Expedition was a frontier expedition authorized in 1818 by United States Secretary of War John C. Calhoun to establish a military fort or outpost near present-day Bismarck, North Dakota at the mouth of the Yellowstone River...

. One objective was to eliminate British influence among the Native American tribes in the region. Nearly 1,000 soldiers were transported by five steamboats up the Missouri River to the Mandan villages at the mouth of the Yellowstone, where they built a fort. This was the first known use of steam propulsion in the west.

See also


Army Geospatial Center
Army Geospatial Center
The Army Geospatial Center is a Major Subordinate Command of the United States Army Corps of Engineers. It is located in Alexandria, Virginia, within the adjacent to the Fort Belvoir military reservation...