U.S. ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS COLLAR DEVICES

The turreted castle employed as the Corps of Engineers insignia is one of the oldest in the United States Army. It was inspired by the types of fortifications the Corps of Engineers constructed during its first major building program, a system of harbor defenses proposed by President Thomas Jefferson in preparation for a possible war with Great Britain. Known as the Second System, this series of multi-tiered coastal forts was concentrated in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern states, and in fact two of the most famous ones located in New York City were actually designated “castles:” Castle Williams in New York Harbor, and Castle Clinton at southernmost tip of Manhattan.

The outbreak of the War of 1812 necessarily brought construction of coastal defenses to a halt, but the fall of Washington, D.C. made it clear that more of the nation’s harbors and ports needed significant defensive fortifications in order to prevent would-be invaders from even making landfall. To that end, Congress approved more than $800,000 for the design and construction of a defensive system along the Eastern seaboard; it came to be known as the Third system. In 1821, a report issued by a Board of Engineers for Fortifications recommended fifty locations where forts should be built, but over the next three decades that number ballooned to almost 200.

In 1816, following the War of 1812, Congress appropriated over $800,000 for an ambitious seacoast defensive system which was known as the Third System. A Board of Engineers for Fortifications, appointed by President James Madison, visited potential sites and prepared plans for the new forts. The Board's original 1821 report established the policy which would remain in place for most of the 19th century. The original report suggested 50 sites, but by 1850 the board had identified nearly 200 sites for fortification.

Before the program was brought to an end, the Corps of Engineers erected forts at 42 of the proposed sites; these ranged from Maine to Florida on the Eastern seaboard, with two in Louisiana and Alabama serving as protection in Gulf of Mexico and two more in San Francisco Bay (Fort Point and Fort Alcatraz).

Ironically, by the time the last of these forts were completed, they were already obsolete: the masonry walls used in their construction was simply no match for the greater accuracy and firepower of rifled artillery. This did not mark the end of coastal artillery emplacements, and the Corps of Engineers played a major role in erecting these new, less vulnerable structures. Still, the “castles” that the nascent Corps of Engineers erected serve as a wonderful reminder of the branch’s centuries-old heritage.
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