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3rd Regiment, Confederate Engineer Troops



The Confederacy established a Corps of Engineers commanded by five different Chiefs during the war: Brig. Generals Josiah Gorgas and Danville Leadbetter, Colonel Alfred L. Rives, and Major Generals Jeremy F. Gilmer and Martin L. Smith. Fortunately, the Confederate Engineers obtained the services of trained Officers who had resigned from the U.S. Army, but they lacked equipment and maps when the war began. Equipment was purchased from foreign countries, captured from the enemy, and manufactured in the South, but deficiencies continued throughout the war. Among other duties, Engineer Officers energetically prepared maps that were quickly distributed to the various army commands. The Confederacy also organized Engineer troops and hired hundreds of civilians and slaves to work on fortifications, roads, and bridges. Since Army Engineers were not permanently garrisoned on the frontier, it was necessary to send out small detachments whenever their services were needed. In addition to the regular surveying and mapping duties, Engineers were called upon to locate possible sites for forts and routes for roads and railroads. A detachment would typically consist of one or two Engineers, two Engineer Sergeants and several non-rated enlisted men, sometimes pulled from the ranks of other branches.

The 3rd Engineers Regiment was formed in the summer of 1863 using Presstmanís Confederate Engineers Battalion as its nucleus. The unit contained men from Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, and Tennessee. It seems the regiment had only eight companies; seven were involved in the Atlanta Campaign and Hoodís Tennessee operations, and one moved with Early to the Shenandoah Valley. Later six companies were in North Carolina and surrendered with the Army of Tennessee. Two fought at Waynesborough, Virginia, and disbanded during the spring of 1865. Lieutenant Colonel S. W. Presstman and Major John W. Green were in command.

There is a discussion of the engineers units On Line at History-sites.

Chiefs of the Army Engineers Bureau (subordinated to Secretary of War) Apr 08 1861 - Aug 03 1861 Lt. Col. Josiah Gorgas (acting, later Brig. Gen.) Aug 03 1861 - Nov 10 1861 Maj. Danville Leadbetter (acting, later Brig. Gen.) Nov 13 1861 - Sep 24 1862 Lt. Col. Alfred L. Rives (acting, 1st time) Sep 25 1862 - Aug 17 1863 Lt. Col. Jeremy F. Gilmer (1st time) Aug 18 1863 - Mar 09 1864 Col. Alfred L. Rives (acting) Mar 09 1864 - Apr 1864 Maj. Gen. Martin L. Smith Apr 1864 - Jun 1864 Col. Alfred L. Rives (acting, 2nd time) Jun 1864 - Apr 1865 Maj. Gen. Jeremy F. Gilmer (2nd time)




The compiled service records of this unit contains the names of 1253 men.




It is well known that the American Civil War was a transitional war, and this applies as much to the practice of military engineering as to other branches of military science. Prior to 1860, US Army engineer officers were thoroughly educated, indeed the West Point officer cadet syllabus was based on engineering, and top cadets were assigned preferentially to the Engineer Corps. But engineer officers relied on skilled civilian tradesmen for getting the job done on major construction works. For temporary works, it was reckoned that the soldiers in the ranks had sufficient inherent DIY skills to be able to work under the direction of engineer officers.

It should therefore come as no surprise to read in this account of the South's one fully formed combat engineer unit, that it came into being late on in the war, in March 1863, when the Southern congress authorized full engineer units. A company was to be raised in each infantry division, in violation of the principal that "scarce resources are best held centrally". Throughout the Gettysburg Campaign, engineers were deployed it penny packets. The author relates that Lee's pontoon bridge at Falling Waters was cared for by a detachment of just 14 engineers, who were captured whey the Union forces destroyed the bridge. At that stage the dispersed engineer companies were brought together to construct pontoons from scratch. After 36 hours the first ones were ready and a 23-pontoon bridge was constructed in another 48 hours, enabling the Arm: of Northern Virginia to withdraw.

Clearly mindful of the enormous losses, Lee ordered the engineer companies back to their divisions. After some horse-trading with the Secretary for War it was agreed that the companies should be formed into a regiment for purposes of pooled expertise and esprit de corps. Thus, throughout the late summer of 1863 the Engineer Regiment was formed from a nucleus of people drawn from existing units, and brought up to around 60 percent of its authorized strength with new con scripts. The regiment started to train centrally, and by November 1863 a dedicated pontoon company had been created. But it was not until Christmas that the unit approached its desired strength of 1,000, and it remained in camp, training, until April 1864.

The unit was not involved in the Wilderness Campaign, but throughout June it was split up to build and maintain bridges in the vicinity of the Chickahominy River, a notorious obstacle east of Richmond. Throughout the summer the engineers came into their own and proved their worth, their time split between building bridges, forts, and occasionally being used as infantry to plug gaps in the lines.

Some 70 pages, almost half of the book, describe the static defence of Petersburg starting in late 1864. Again the regiment proved its worth, ready to deploy quickly to wherever the priority was. The skilled unit was able to stave off the Union's more original attempts to break into the Petersburg trench defences over a nine-month period. The book is authoritative in its details, for example, of the production line needed to manufacture the basics for trench warfare: fascines, gabions, sap rollers, cheval de fries and sap fagots. But inclusion of documents such as the pay scales for all ranks breaks the flow of the narrative and should have been relegated to annexes. This is a slightly uneven read of a most interesting subject. The book is clearly a labour of love for its author, a retired US Marine, and his enthusiasm for the subject shines through. While the book has some technical imperfections, nonetheless it is an important subject, well worth appearing in print.

(Reviewer John Drewienkiewicz was formerly Engineer-in-Chief of the British Army)

Dyer, Frederick H. - A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion

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