1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Engineers, Military
ENGINEERS, MILITARY. From the earliest times engineers have been employed both in the field of war and on field defences. In modern times, however, the application of numerous scientific and engineering devices to warfare has resulted in the creation of many minor branches of military engineering, some of them almost rivalling in importance their primary duty of fortification and siegecraft, such as the field telegraph, the balloon service, nearly all demolitions, the building of pontoon and other bridges, and the construction and working of military roads, railways, piers, &c. All these branches requiring special knowledge, the modern tendency is to divide a corps of engineers in accordance with such requirements. The “field companies” and “fortress companies” of the R.E. represent the traditional tactical application of their arm to works of offence and defence in field and siege warfare. The balloon, telegraph, and other branches, also organized on a permanent footing, represent the modern application of scientific aids in warfare. (See Fortification and Siegecraft; Tactics; Infantry, &c.)
History.—It is difficult to distinguish between military and civil engineers in the earlier ages of modern history, for all engineers acted as builders of castles and defensible strongholds, as well as manufacturers and directors of engines of war with which to attack or defend them. The annals of fortification show professors, artists, &c., as well as soldiers and architects, as designers and builders of innumerable systems of fortification. By the middle of the 13th century there was in England an organized body of skilled workmen employed under a “chief engineer.” At the siege of Calais in 1347 this corps consisted of masons, carpenters, smiths, tentmakers, miners, armourers, gunners and artillerymen. At the siege of Harfleur in 1415 the chief engineer was designated Master of the King’s Works, Guns and Ordnance, and the corps under him numbered 500 men, including 21 foot-archers. Headquarters of engineers existed at the Tower of London before 1350, and a century later developed into the Office of Ordnance (afterwards the Board of Ordnance), whose duty was to administer all matters connected with fortifications, artillery and ordnance stores.
Henry VIII. employed many engineers (of whom Sir Richard Lee is the best known) in constructing coast defences from Penzance to the Thames and thence to Berwick-on-Tweed, and in strengthening the fortresses of Calais and Guînes in France. He also added to the organization a body of pioneers under trench-masters and a master trenchmaster. Charles II. increased the peace establishment of engineers and formed a separate one for Ireland, with a chief engineer who was also surveyor-general of the King’s Works. In both countries only a small permanent establishment was maintained, a special ordnance train being enrolled in war-time for each expedition and disbanded on its termination. The commander of an ordnance train was frequently, but not necessarily, an engineer, but there was always a chief engineer of each train. At Blenheim (1704) Marlborough’s ordnance train was commanded by Holcroft Blood, a distinguished engineer. But after the rebellion of 1715 it was decided to separate the artillery from the engineers, and the royal warrant of 26th May 1716 established two companies of artillery as a separate regiment, and an engineer corps composed of 1 chief engineer, 3 directors, 6 engineers-in-ordinary, 6 engineers extraordinary, 6 sub-engineers and 6 practitioner engineers.
Until the 14th of May 1757 officers of engineers frequently held, in addition to their military rank in the corps of engineers, commissions in foot regiments; but on and after that date all engineer officers were gazetted to army as well as engineer rank—the chief engineer as colonel of foot, directors as lieutenant-colonel, and so forth down to practitioners as ensigns. On the 18th of November 1782 engineer grades, except that of chief engineer, were abolished, and the establishment was fixed at 1 chief engineer and colonel, 6 colonels commandant, 6 lieutenant-colonels, 9 captains, 9 captain lieutenants (afterwards second captains), 22 first lieutenants, and 22 second lieutenants. Ten years later a small invalid corps was formed. In 1787 the designation “Royal” was conferred upon the engineers, and its precedence settled to be on the right of the army, with the royal artillery.
In 1802 the title of chief engineer was changed to inspector-general of fortifications. From this time to the conclusion of the Crimean War various augmentations took place, consequent on the increasing and widely extending duties thrown upon the officers. These, in addition to ordinary military duties, comprised the construction and maintenance of fortifications, barrack and ordnance store buildings, and all engineering services connected with them. The cadastral survey of the United Kingdom (called the “Ordnance Survey”) had been entrusted to the engineers as far back as 1784, and absorbed many officers in its execution.
In 1772 the formation at Gibraltar of “The Company of Soldier Artificers,” officered by Royal Engineers, was authorized, and a second company was added soon afterwards. In 1787 by royal warrant “The Corps of Royal Military Artificers” was established at home, consisting of six companies, with which the Gibraltar companies were amalgamated. In 1806 this corps was doubled, and in 1811 increased to 32 companies. In 1813 its title was changed to “The Royal Sappers and Miners.” In 1856, at the close of the Crimean War, it was incorporated with “The Corps of Royal Engineers,” by whom it had always been officered. At that date the corps numbered about 340 officers and 4000 non-commissioned officers and men, in 1 troop and 32 companies.
In 1770 the East India Company reorganized the engineer corps of the three presidencies, composed of officers only. Native corps of sappers or pioneers were formed later, and officered principally by engineers. The officers of engineers were employed in peacetime on the public works of the country, their services when required being placed at the disposal of the military authorities. The Indian Engineers have not only distinguished themselves in the operations of war, but have left monuments of engineering skill in the irrigation works, railways, surveys, roads, bridges, public buildings and defences of the country. When Indian administration was transferred to the crown (1862) the Indian Engineers became “Royal,” so that there now exists but one corps, the Royal Engineers. This is composed of about 1000 officers and 7700 warrant and non-commissioned officers and men. Of the officers some 220 are attached to units, about 400 employed either at home or in the colonies on engineering duties in military commands, on the staff, or on special duty, and about 370 on the Indian establishment. The supreme technical control of the Royal Engineers is exercised from the War Office. See also United Kingdom; Army.
The history of the French engineers shows a somewhat similar line of development. Originally selected officers of infantry were given brevets as engineers, and these men performed military and also civil duties for the king’s service by the aid of companies of workmen enlisted and discharged from time to time. Vauban (q.v.) was the founder of the famous corps de Génie (1690). Its members were selected officers and civilians, employed in all branches of military and naval services, and it soon achieved its European reputation as the first school of fortification and siegecraft. It received a special uniform in 1732. About 1755 it was for a time merged in the artillery. In 1766 the title of Génie was conferred upon the officers, and the same name (troupes de Génie) was given to the previously existing companies of sappers and miners in 1801.
In the United States the separate Corps of Engineers (since 1794 there had been a Corps of Artillerists and Engineers) was organized in 1802, starting with a small body stationed at West Point, which in 1838 and 1846 was gradually increased, and in 1861 given three additional companies. In 1866 they were formed into a battalion and stationed at Willets Point, N.Y. In 1901 they were reorganized in three battalions, with a total strength of 1282. The U.S. Engineer School, formerly at Willets Point, was transferred in 1901 to Washington. Until 1866 the military academy at West Point was under the supervision of the Corps of Engineers, but from that time its direction was thrown open; but the highest branch at West Point is still regarded as that of the engineers. The Corps of Engineers has done a great deal of highly important work in the United States, notably in building forts, and improving rivers and harbours for navigation.
See Maj.-Gen. R. W. Porter, Hist, of the Corps of Royal Engineers (Chatham, 1889); C. Lecomte, Les Ingénieurs militaires de la France (Paris, 1903); H. Frobenius, Geschichte der K. preuss. Ingenieur- und Pioneer-Korps (Berlin, 1906).