U.S. Army engineers played significant roles in the Mexican and Civil Wars, providing both mapping and construction services and troop leaders in theaters of operations while largely suspending work on navigational improvements. Engineers of all ranks gained renown for their military efforts during their service in Mexico in 1846-48. Chief Engineer Joseph Totten directed the successful siege of the port city of Veracruz, from which General Winfield Scott launched his decisive assault on the interior of the country. Captain William Williams, who had directed the Great Lakes survey, served as chief topographical engineer for General Zachary Taylor until his death at the battle of Monterey.
During the Civil War, Army engineers built ponton and railroad bridges, constructed forts and batteries, demolished enemy supply lines, and conducted siege warfare. In December 1862 they laid six ponton bridges across the Rappahannock River, under devastating fire from Confederate sharpshooters, in support of the Union attack on Fredericksburg, Virginia. The 2,170-foot ponton bridge, which Union engineer troops laid across the James River in June 1864 as the Army of the Potomac approached Petersburg, Virginia, was the longest floating bridge erected before World War II. Drawn largely from the top of their West Point classes, the engineers in the Corps before the Civil War included many excellent military strategists who rose to leadership roles during the war. Among them were Union generals George McClellan, Henry Halleck, George Meade, and Confederate generals Robert E. Lee, Joseph Johnston, and P. G. T. Beauregard.
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