Corps of Discovery Facts

Lewis and Clark Picture

The Corps of Discovery Definition
Definition: The Corps of Discovery was a special unit of soldiers of the United States Army who were selected to join Meriwether Lewis and William Clark on their historic expedition across the unmapped lands acquired for the U.S. and its people in the Louisiana Purchase. The outward journey undertaken by the Corps of Discovery began on May 14, 1804 from St. Louis, Missouri and crossed ten modern states to the Pacific Ocean reached on September 23, 1806.

Lewis and Clark Expedition for kids: facts about the Corps of Discovery
The following fact sheet provides short, interesting facts about the Corps of Discovery.

1. The Corps of Discovery was essentially a military mission and the men were physically fit soldiers who adhered to a strict military regime and were subject to strict discipline.

2. The men of the Corps of Discovery were expected to help achieve major goals of the expedition which were to find a water route, a 'Northwest Passage' to the Pacific Ocean, to report newly discovered animals and plants and to learn about the customs and culture of the Native American Indians.

3. The men who joined the Lewis and Clark expedition for their skills as soldiers and special areas of expertise that included handling weapons and hunting, as a gunsmith or as a blacksmith - all essential abilities that would be crucial to the Corps of Discovery and the success of the mission.

4. The first recruits to the expedition were selected by Captain William Clark who became known as the "Nine Young Men from Kentucky". The names of the "Nine Young Men from Kentucky" were Charles Floyd, George Gibson, Nathaniel Pryor, William Bratton, John Colter, Joseph Field, Reubin Field, George Shannon, and John Shields.

5: The Corps of Discovery eventually consisted of over 40 men who started the journey. They built Fort Mandan for wintering over in 1804-1805 alongside the Missouri River near modern day Washburn, North Dakota. At this point some members of the expedition were selected to return the keelboat, loaded with animal and plant specimens that had been collected, and provide reports of the journey to President Thomas Jefferson.

6. The 33 remaining members of the unit became the permanent party of the expedition and further traveled west to the Pacific Ocean.

7. Each of the soldiers in the Corps of Discovery wore a military uniform and were drilled every day. Each man were equipped with a rifle or musket and were responsible for the care and maintenance of their weapons.

8. The soldiers wore their military uniforms throughout the entire journey. The work uniforms were the normal garments worn on the arduous mission although dress uniforms were taken on the expedition but only worn on special occasions.

9. The work required on the Lewis and Clark  was hard. The men of the Corps of Discovery were expected to haul the keelboat when necessary and to cross, harsh and rough terrain. When their the work uniforms wore out they made new uniforms in leather using their old uniforms as patterns for their new uniforms. It was important to maintain the disciplined appearance of a military mission.

10. The different roles and units the soldiers were assigned to were distinguished by their different hats. The officers and artillery men wore a small three-cornered hat called a chapeau des bra. The infantrymen wore round hats.

11. The uniform worn by the infantry consisted of a dark blue cutaway coat, lined with white turn-backs, and had red lapels, cuffs, and collars.

12. The men endured many Hardships on the long journey including extreme weather conditions from the bitter cold and snow in the winter, continuous rain or blistering heat. They were plagued by mosquitoes and encountered the terrifying Grizzly Bear and numerous tribes of Native American Indians. Most were friendly but the Blackfoot and the Sioux were hostile.

13. Despite the hardships endured by the Corps of Discovery only one man lost his life on the Lewis and Clark expedition. His name was Sgt. Charles Floyd who died due to a ruptured appendix.

14. Two members of the Corps of Discovery, Private Moses Reed and Private John Newman, were dismissed before the explorers reached Fort Mandan. Private Moses Reed was convicted for desertion, and Private John Newman for “mutinous acts.” They were tried by court martial and stiff sentences were passed including “100 lashes on [Newman’s] bear back”. Reed and Newman were sent home in disgrace downriver aboard the keelboat in the spring of 1806.

15. The youngest man on the Lewis and Clark expedition was nineteen year old Private George Shannon. He was a skilled hunter and famously became temporarily separated from the expedition for 16 days in September 1804. He must have been extremely relieved when he was reunited with the Corps. When he returned home George Shannon studied law, entered politics and became a Missouri State Senator.

16. The oldest man on the expedition was John Shields, who was 35 years old. The average age of all the men was 27 years old.

17. Private Patrick Gass, was also a skilled carpenter and his abilities were extremely useful to the expedition. Gass was promoted to the rank of sergeant during the journey and when he returned home he was the first to publish his journal of his adventures in 1808.

18. The Corps of Discovery was disbanded in 1806 and every man was rewarded with land and treated as a hero.

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