U.S. ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS SERVICE CAP SCREW-BUTTONS

These cap screws used to secure the chin strap on the Army Service cap feature the same design as found on buttons authorized for wear by all members of the Corps of Engineers with an Engineer primary MOS. Just how the Corps of Engineers came to have its own set of jacket, coat, and cap buttons is fascinating.

For the U.S. Army of the earl 19th century, buttons proved to be an inexpensive form of insignia, with each regiment having its own distinct button that was frequently augmented with some type of branch identification. By 1821, however, each branch wore buttons that shared the common design element of an eagle with a shield, with an initial on the shield indicating branch (A for Artillery, D for Dragoon, etc.). Enlisted personnel began wearing what are called “general service” buttons, and in 1902 the Army adopted a general service button for all personnel, with one notable exception: members of the Army Corps of Engineers.

The decision was taken not because Engineer were considered more important or valuable than personnel in other branches, but rather to respect a tradition that had begun sometime between 1802 and 1814 at the United States Military Academy at West Point. The Academy’s first Commandant and the Army’s Chief Engineer, Major Jonathan Williams, had been given free rein to develop uniform items for the Corps of Engineers and Artillerists at the Academy, and a diary account by General George D. Ramsey makes it clear that Williams (or someone under his command) had established a unique uniform and buttons for the Corps of Engineers.

In 1840, the War Department officially authorized the button for wear by Corps of Engineers personnel, describing it as “an eagle holding in his beak a scroll with the word ‘Essayons,’ a bastion with embrasures in the distance, surrounded by water, and rising sun.” Add in the fact that the imagery of an eagle and the word “Essayons”—French for “Let us try”—is also found on coastal-fortification maps from 1806 and 1807 make it clear that the phrase and associated design was an integral part of the Corps’ history.
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