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Charleston District History

1670 - Charles Towne Founding

English settlers founded Charleston’s first permanent English settlement, known then as Charles Towne.

1775 - Engineers of the New World

The new American government created the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to initiate and supervise the development of fortifications. The Continental Congress organized an army with a chief engineer and two assistants to supervise the development of fortifications. This same year, the British laid siege on Charleston, leading to the largest surrender of an American army until a World War II surrender in 1942.  Colonel Richard Gridley became General George Washington's first chief engineer; however, it was not until 1779 that Congress created a separate Corps of Engineers. At the end of the Revolutionary War, the engineers mustered out of service.

1794 - 1802

Congress organized a Corps of Artillerists and Engineers, but it was not until 1802 that it reestablished a separate Corps of Engineers. The Corps' continuous existence dates from this year. Around this time, Congress established the West Point Military Academy. Until 1866, the academies superintendent was always an engineer officer. During the first half of the 19th century, West Point was the major and for a while, the only engineering school in the country.  
From the beginning, many politicians wanted the Corps to contribute to both military construction and works "of a civil nature." The Corps of Engineers also constructed lighthouses, helped develop jetties and piers for harbors, and carefully mapped the navigation channels.

1812 - A National Fortifications Program

Following the War of 1812 and the burning of Washington, DC, the Army Corps of Engineers acquired a national defense mission, known as the Fortifications Program, to build a complex coastal defense system of arsenals, armories and other fortifications that discouraged attacks on U.S. shores.  
While Congress reduced the size of the country’s infantry and artillery forces after the war, it retained the increased number of officers that it had authorized for the Corps of Engineers in 1812.

1821 - Visits to Charleston

Teams from the Army Corps of Engineers visited Charleston to survey defense sites; oversee the construction of Forts Moultrie and Johnson; and initiate erosion projects along the harbor. During this time, expeditionary engineers also help survey and design the region’s first railroad.


Congress passed The General Survey Act, which authorized the president to have surveys made of routes for roads and canals "of national importance, in a commercial or military point of view, or necessary for the transportation of public mail." The president assigned responsibility for the surveys to the Corps of Engineers.

1829 - Fort Sumter

Construction of Fort Sumter began in 1829. South Carolina challenged the federal government seizure of the harbor shoal, delayed construction until 1841. Construction of the five-sided, five-foot thick brick masonry fort towering as high as 50 feet above low water was completed in 1860.

1837 - Bowman’s Jetty

Engineers constructed breakers and jetties.


Pleas from several secretaries of war for more engineers to work on fortifications led Congress to double the size of the Corps again in 1838. The fortifications, which the Army engineers built on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, and after 1848 on the Pacific coast, securely defended the nation until the second half of the 19th century when the development of rifled artillery ended the earlier impregnability of the massive structures.

1857 - First Harbor Deeping

In 1857, using hydraulic dredges, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers begins expanding and deepening the Charleston Harbor. Charleston Harbor later became one of the nation’s 17 strategic ports, and still is today.

1871 – CHS District Founding

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers establishes permanent roots in the Charleston area. While the Charleston District was not formally founded until 1871, the Corps still played a major role in the development of the state since the very early 1800s.

1882 - Initial Jetty Construction

To funnel tidal flow and improve navigation, Col. Quincy Gillmore, the District’s first District Engineer, begins construction of the north and south jetties along Sullivan’s and Morris Islands. Gillmore also clears the harbor of sunken Civil War ships, making the harbor more stable and accessible.


Discussions began on closing the Charleston District and realigning work to the Wilmington and Savannah Districts. Numerous efforts were made to plan for a closing, but in the end, enough workload and a pitch by Mayor Joseph Riley saved the District, which has grown exponentially since.


Construction of the St. Stephen Dam and Powerhouse at the Cooper River Rediversion Project was completed, and power was turned on, supplying power to more than 30,000 homes in the area.


Folly Beach was authorized as a federal shoreline protection project, leading to beach nourishments by the Corps every seven years, or as needed as part of emergency situations.


After Hurricane Hugo, the Charleston District figured out a way to get the Ben Sawyer Bridge back into working action after it had been tipped into the AIWW by the storm. The fix took two weeks and allowed residents to access their homes on Sullivan’s Island.


The first nourishment of the Grand Strand, comprised of three reaches: Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach, and Garden City/Surfside.


The new headquarters building was completed by The Citadel and the District moved in after being displaced from the old federal building after damage from Hurricane Floyd.


The beginning of the Interagency and International Support program came with work for the Marine Forces Reserve building their headquarters in New Orleans. IIS now includes work for the Veterans Administration, Defense Logistics Agency, Department of Energy, Joint Base Charleston and many more.


The Charleston District took over the military mission from the Savannah District, constructing and renovating buildings and other facilities for the 50,000 soldiers who go through Fort Jackson every year.


The Charleston District completed construction of a cofferdam around the Morris Island Lighthouse, a Lowcountry icon sitting in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Folly Beach.


The Charleston District’s regulatory division issued the permit for the expansion of Haile Gold Mine, a 4,500-acre site that hadn’t been mined since the early 1990’s.

2018 The Charleston Harbor Post 45 Deepening Project officially began construction to deepen the federal channel to 52 feet. The project began in 2011 with a feasibility study.