Instructions for Captains and Sergeants

It was in his instructions for each of the twelve ranks of officers soldiers in a battalion that the character of Steuben's style of command was best illustrated. He emphasized the obligations of officers to the government and the people, the importance of orderliness and cleanliness, and the maintenance of a firm but even-handed chain of command. In several significant ways, the background in Steuben's Regulations Lewis and Clark had gained under General Anthony Wayne provided some of the keys to the expedition's success.

Instructions for the Captain


A Captain cannot be too careful of the company the State has committed to his charge. He must pay the greatest attention to the health of his men, their discipline, arms, accoutrements, ammunition, clothes and necessaries.

His object should be, to gain the love of his men, by treating them with every possible kindness and humanity, enquiring into their complaints, and when well founded, seeing them redressed. He should know every man of his company by name and character. He should often visit those who are sick, speak tenderly to them, see that the public provision, whether of medicine or diet, is duly administered, and procure them besides such comforts and conveniencies as are in his power. The attachment that arises from this kind of attention to the sick and wounded, is almost inconceivable; it will moreover be the means of preserving the lives of many valuable men. . . .

He must keep a strict eye over the conduct of the non-commissioned officers; oblige them to do their duty with the greatest exactness; and use every possible means to keep up a proper subordination between them and the soldiers: For which reason he must never rudely reprimand them in presence of the men, but at all times treat them with proper respect.1

Similar instructions directed toward commissioned junior officers, or subalterns—lieutenants and ensigns—followed by instructions for the sergeant-major, quartermaster sergeant, and first sergeant of a company. Next came instructions for sergeants and corporals, who commanded platoons and squads.

Instructions for Serjeants

It being on the non-commissioned officers that the discipline and order of a company in a great measure depend, they cannot be too circumspect in their behaviour towards the men, by treating them with mildness, and at the same time obliging every one to do his duty. By avoiding too great familiarity with the men, they will not only gain their love and confidence, but be treated with a proper respect; whereas by a contrary conduct they forfeit all regard, and their authority becomes despised.

Each serjeant and corporal will be in a particular manner answerable for the squad committed to his care. He must pay particular attention to their conduct in every respect; that they keep themselves and their arms always clean; that they have their effects always ready, and put where they can get them immediately, even in the dark, without confusion; and on every fine day he must oblige them to air their effects.

. . . In teaching the recruits, they must exercise all their patience, by no means abusing them, but treating them with mildness, and not expect too much precision in the first lessons, punishing those only who are willfully negligent.

They must suppress all quarrels and disputes in the company; and where other means fail, must use their authority, confining the offender.2

On March 31, 1804, the captains selected "the Detachment destined for the Expedition through the interior of the Continent of North America," including the men who were to take the keelboat back to St. Louis. On the next day they formalized the process in a detailed set of Detachment Orders. They appointed three sergeants—Charles Floyd, John Ordway, and Nathaniel Pryor—"with equal Power (unless when otherwise specially ordered)." To insure order among the party, they continued, "as well as to promote a regular Police in Camp, The Commanding officers, have thought to devide the detachment into three Squads, and to place a Sergeant in Command of each, who are held imediately responsible to the Commanding officers, for the regular and orderly deportment of the individuals Composeing their respective Squads." With apparently some participation from the enlisted men, they assigned eight to each squad, then ordered the sergeants to divide their respective squads into two messes, or eating units, and distributed "Camp Kittles, and other Public utensels for Cooking." All in all, these Detachment Orders duly reflected the spirit of the procedures Baron von Steuben had outlined.

Adapting Steuben's regulations

Two of the three appointed sergeants—Charles Floyd and Nathaniel Pryor—had no background in the Army before they enlisted in the detachment that was to become the Corps of Discovery. This suggests that both captains relied on their own abilities to recognize positive leadership qualities in men who may not themselves have claimed them. There are no indications in the journals that Lewis and Clark systematically indoctrinated the green sergeants into the basic regulations as laid down by Steuben. Instead, marksmanship, which was of secondary importance to Steuben, was cultivated and encouraged, partly in order to sort out the best hunters. To expedite that process, Lewis declared in his orders of February 20, 1804, that riflemen would "in futur discharge only one round each per. day, . . . all at the same target and at the distance of fifty yards off hand." He made the effort worth their attention by offering an extra gill of whiskey, plus exemption from guard duty, to each day's best marksman.

Of the members of the permanent company who completed the round trip, thirteen volunteered from four different frontier garrisons, including the First Infantry Regiment and the artillery company at Kaskaskia, Indiana Territory; another company of the First Infantry Regiment at Fort Massac, also in Indiana Territory; and the Second Infantry Regiment at South West Point, Tennessee. It is uncertain whether McNeal, Goodrich, Frazer, Thompson or Werner were previously in the army or not. Privates Cruzatte and Labiche were civilians who were enlisted at St. Charles on the basis of their qualifications as boatmen experienced in navigating the Missouri River. It was a motley crew, indeed, and Lewis and Clark—especially Clark—knew from their experiences on the frontier in Ohio and Indiana which of Steuben's instructions would work on this expedition, and which would not.

Most of Steuben's instructions for the "private Soldier" were aimed toward making him an effective and reliable member of a well-coordinated frontline musket-and-bayonet battle force. They would have held no relevance to the needs of an exploratory team, who had to be capable of wrestling heavily loaded boats up or down challenging rivers, or coaxing cooperation from headstrong Indian horses. It is clear Lewis knew from his own experience that they would need "good hunters, stout, healthy . . . men, accustomed to the woods, and capable of bearing bodily fatigue in a pretty considerable degree," and that Clark understood precisely what he meant.3 Despite the disciplinary problems Clark had to cope with that winter, he recognized the qualities he valued in the members of the permanent party on the day of their departure from Wood River, but in candor crossed out his true assessment of them: "robust Young Backwoodsmen of Character helthy hardy young men, recommended."

One of Steuben's incidental directions to captains, "to prevent the soldier loading himself with unnecessary baggage," and correspondingly to the "private Soldier" not to "charge himself with any unnecessary baggage," came up during the expedition. On the day the party left the upper portage camp at the Falls of the Missouri in their heavily loaded dugout canoes, Lewis admitted the futility of bucking the universal tourist's curse: "we find it extreemly difficult to keep the baggage of many of our men within reasonable bounds; they will be adding bulky articles of but little use or value to them."

1. Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States. to which is added, An Appendix, containing, the United States Militia Act, Passed in Congress, May, 1792, by Baron de Stuben [sic]. Boston: Thomas and Andrews, 1794. Facsimile reprint (New York: Dover, 1985), 134-35. Steuben insisted a captain "must keep a book, in which must be entered the name and description of every non-commissioned officer and soldier in his company," including "his trade or occupation; the place of his birth and usual residence; where, when, and for what term he inlisted." Had one of the captains only done so, we would now be able to memorialize the contributions of all the men in the Corps on an equal basis.

2. Ibid., 144-47.

3. Lewis to Clark, 19 June 1803. Donald Jackson, ed., Letters of the Lewis and Clark Expedition with Related Documents, 1783-1854; 2nd ed.; 2 vols. (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1978), 1:58.

Funded in part by a grant from the National Park Service, Challenge Cost Share Program.