One of the Navy’s eight Staff Corps, the Civil Engineer Corps is under the command of the Naval Facilities Engineering Command, or NAVFAC. Originally established as the Bureau of Yards and Docks in 1842, its designation was changed to NAVAC in 1966. It is responsible for all aspects of the Navy’s shore installations: acquisition, design, planning, construction, and maintenance.

The U.S. Navy, of course, had been existence before 1842, and had planned and paid for the construction of docks and building yards for some time. Spurred on by the sixth President of the United States, John Quincy Adams, Congress authorized two major dry dock projects—the first of their kind in the nation—at the location of two existing shipyards: One at Gosport Shipyard in Portsmouth, Virginia, and another at Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston.

To head up these projects, the Navy selected a civilian engineer (the Navy did not commission officers for civil engineering jobs until 1867) named Loammi Baldwin, Jr., who had earned an excellent reputation for work on various project around Boston and in Massachusetts and Virginia. Baldwin was given the title “Superintendent of Dry Docks and Inspector of Navy Yards,” and work began on the two dry docks in 1827.

Because Baldwin spent much time traveling between the two construction sites, he hired a local engineer to oversee the work at each location. For the Gosport Shipyard, he selected William P. S. Sanger, who managed to complete construction three weeks before the Boston dry dock was finished. Dubbed Dry Dock One because it was the first such facility in the Americas, it is now called Norfolk Naval Yard and is still operational, while the Charlestown Navy Yard was renamed the Boston Navy Yard and then Boston Naval Yard; it was shuttered in 1974.

The Board of Navy Commissioners, which was established in 1815 to assist the Secretary of the Navy on technical issues, appointed Sanger as its civil engineer. When the Board was replaced by a system of bureaus in 1842, Sanger was named to the staff of the first bureau, the Bureau of Navy Yards and Docks, as its civil engineer. Captain Lewis Warrington, who had headed the Board of Navy Commissioners, served as that Bureau’s first Chief.

When the Bureau was founded, Naval shore facilities comprised just seven Navy yards and a clutch of smaller stations along the Eastern coastline. Besides Sanger and Warrington, only five others made up the staff: a chief clerk, two assistant clerks, a messenger, and a draftsman.

Today, in the summer of 2015, there are over 1300 officers in the Civil Engineer Corps serving under the command of the Naval Facilities Engineering Command, leading Seabee units in the construction and maintenance of shore facilities on every continent on the globe.

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