Scarlet and white, the Corps of Engineers branch colors found on the hatband of the service cap and on the sleeve ornamentation of the jacket of the Army Service Uniform, were established as the Corps’ official colors in 1872. Scarlet is used as the color of the branch scarves for the Corps of Engineers, Air Defense Artillery, and Field Artillery, as well as for the Registrar, and civilian instructors at the United States Military Academy.
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On October 31, 1978, the Department of the Army issued General Orders No. 19 announcing   June 16, 1775 as the traditional anniversary date of the official establishment of the United States Army Corps of Engineers. In addition to designating the office of “chief Engineer for the Army” and setting his remuneration at $60 per month on that date, Congress also made provision for the Engineer to have two assistants to be paid $20 per month.

But unlike some of basic branches of the Army, the Corps of Engineers did not have to wait decades before being given its official title. On March 11, 1779, Congress passed a resolution that “engineers in the service of the United States” would be consolidated into a corps “styled the “corps of engineers,” and that further the members of the Corps would receive appropriate military rank and be given the same honors, rights, and privileges as those of other troops in the Continental Army.

With the passage of the Military Peace Establishment Act of 1802, the size and structure of the Corps of Engineers was fixed by statute: no more than twenty officers and cadets at any given time, commanded by an officer ranked no higher than colonel. It also inextricably linked the Corps to one of our nation’s most enduring military establishments: The United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. In addition to mandating the construction of the Academy and authorizing the Secretary of War to raise the funds necessary to acquire educational supplies and equipment, the Act also specified that the Academy Superintendent would be the Corps’ “principal engineer." In fact, not until 1866 would an officer from outside the Corps of Engineers be selected to serve as the Academy Superintendent.

Today, Academy graduates serve in every branch of the military, but its origins as an Engineering school meant that many of its graduates during its first few decades were Engineers—and many of them also went on to become household names. Some of the most renowned generals of the Civil War were originally trained as Engineers at West Point, among them Union Generals George McClellan and Gettysburg hero George Meade; Confederate generals who learned the Engineers’ art at West Point included Joseph Johnston, P.G.T. Beauregard, of course Robert E. Lee. When Lee was first named commander of the Army of Virginia, in fact, his obsessions with building defensive fortifications earned him the nickname “King of Spades.”

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