Looking For a Few Good Men

While the budding Corps of Discovery plans the expedition near St. Louis, William Clark grades the recruits

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In June 1803, President Thomas Jefferson directed Meriwether Lewis to find a second in command for the coming expedition, someone who could take over if Lewis were killed or incapacitated along the way. But rather than pick a deputy, Lewis offered to share leadership with his former superior William Clark.

Clark's Army career had begun in 1789 when he was 19 years old; by 1795 he had attained the rank of captain—with Ensign Meriwether Lewis under his command. The next year, Clark resigned his commission to help his older brother George straighten out his financial affairs in Indiana. It was there, on July 16, 1803, that he received Lewis' letter inviting him to become co-commander of Jefferson's scientific mission. When Clark's commission came through (after the expedition was under way), Lewis discovered that the War Department had made Clark a second lieutenant rather than captain. Lewis was furious; he told Clark he would address and treat him as a captain and keep the lower rank secret from the men.

In January 1804, the expedition was getting organized at Camp Dubois, the winter quarters established at the mouth of the Missouri River. Clark's journal of events at Camp Dubois provides the only known account of winter's preparations before the expedition got under way, in May 1804. Clark's notebooks were found in a St. Paul, Minnesota, attic among a Civil War general's papers in 1953. By January, the expedition included more than 40 men, many of whom were unused to military discipline. They were cold, bored and frequently disorderly:

Jany 6th I was up last night at 12 to right the Boat....I order in those men who had fought got Drunk & neglected Duty to go and build a hut for a Wo[man] who promises to wash &Sow &c

Tuesday 10th....at 1 oClock Joseph Fields returned & crossed the River between the Sheets of floating Ice with Some risque, his excuse for Staying so long on the Mississippi were that the Ice run so thick in the Missourie where he was 30 miles up that there was no crossing....

Wednesday 11th Jany. I was unwell last night Slept but little, A fine morning, the river still riseing, The Missourie runs with fine Ice, the Boat is afloat, one man McNeal [lost] out last night, he Sepperated from the hunting party about 7 miles from this place, he returnd this evening. Sjt Ordday was also lost all night....

Sunday 15th Jany....at Sun Set Maj Rumsay the Comsy arrived with Some provisions in a waggon Mr. Todd, Seven or Eight men followd the Waggon Intoxicated from the Whiskey they receced....

Friday 20th 1804 Jany....The river Mississipi raised & some [of] the Ice formed above the Missouris broke Loose & floted down, this Ice is 9 Inches Thick....


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