The Ante-Bellum Army
As the Military Academy entered its second half-century, the Regular Army was undergoing many changes. Despite its outstanding accomplishments during the Mexican War, Congress in 1848 reduced its wartime strength from approximately 31,000 men and officers to 10,317, over 2,000 less than its authorized strength ten years earlier. This minuscule force was tasked with a multi-faceted mission. Coastal fortifications had to be manned and improved. Frontier posts had to be garrisoned. New attention was drawn to the immense lands west of the Mississippi when gold was discovered in California in 1849. The Army now had to provide protection for settlers moving westward as well as surveying and mapping routes across the plains and mountains.
Many civil engineering projects--roads, bridges, canals, and river and harbor improvements--were made under Army supervision. Although other educational institutions such as Yale, Harvard, Rensselaer, and Norwich began to offer engineering degrees in the 1830s, Academy-trained officers still set an example for their civilian contemporaries.
The Regular Army of this period had an unwieldy and somewhat inefficient organization. Morrison in his history of the Military Academy from 1833 to 1866 divides the Army into three groups: the scientific or technical services consisting of the Corps of Engineers, the Topographical Engineers, and the Ordnance Corps. What would today be considered the general staff included the Adjutant General, Inspector General, Subsistence, Quartermaster, Medical, Pay, and Judge Advocate General Departments. The third group consisted of combat units of artillery, infantry, dragoons, cavalry, and mounted riflemen.
The Corps of Engineers was considered the elite organization of the Army. Until 1846, the Corps included only officers, all of whom had graduated high