Wilmington District History / Overview


The forming of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began on June 14, 1775, more than a year before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The Second Continental Congress established a regular army, naming George Washington the Commander-in-Chief. One of Washington’s first acts was to ask Congress to authorize a Chief Engineer and two assistants for the new Continental Army.

On June 16, 1775, a day now recognized as the founding date of the U.S. Army’s Corps of Engineers, Congress agreed and Washington appointed ex-British Colonel Richard Gridley as the first Chief of Engineers.

 By midnight, Gridley and his men were at work, and a well designed earthwork fortification was built by dawn of the next day to protect American Minutemen in the historic Battle of Bunker Hill. The engineers were instrumental in some of the hard fought battles of the Revolutionary War including Saratoga and the final victory at Yorktown.

 Since then the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has responded to changing defense requirements and played an integral part in the development of the country. Throughout the 19th century, the Corps built coastal fortifications, surveyed roads and canals, eliminated navigational hazards, explored and mapped the Western frontier, and constructed buildings and monuments in the Nation’s capital.

 Born in the shadow of the Revolutionary War, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has served our country since 1775. During the early 19th century, Congress and presidents assigned military engineers to such duties as surveying, mapping, locating routes for superintending the construction of roads, canals, and coastal defensive works. Thus it was early in the history of the Corps that the dual role of military and civil works was established. This dual role – which the Corps maintains today – is totally unique to this organization.

  As the nation grew and its public works function expanded, the Chief of Engineers established division and district offices across the nation to perform the work. Thus in 1884, the Wilmington  District was formally established.

 Wilmington District was initially charged with navigation channel improvements to rivers and harbors and fortifications (Fort Caswell).  With more than 400 employees in North Carolina and Virginia, the Wilmington District team provides expertise across a wide range of disciplines-from engineering, architecture, design, construction, hydropower, recreation management, hydrology and environmental stewardship.  Wilmington District supports and serves the federal interests of our nation by developing and facilitating innovative and effective solutions that meet engineering, environmental and emergency management needs for North Carolina, the U.S. Army and the Nation.