Clark's Dress Uniform Coat

The gilt buttons of an officer in the Corps
of Artillerists may have been embossed
with the image of a flag and
a cannon on a carriage.

Re-creation by Robert Moore, Historian, Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, St. Louis; Peyton C. Clark; and Greg Hudson, Weeping Heart Trade Company, Ehrlanger, Kentucky. Photos by Mike Venso.

A steady process of replacing worn-out woven fatigues with leather clothing began when the Corps set out from Fort Mandan in April of 1805, but by the time they reached the mouth of the Columbia River their leather attire was rotten and full of holes. Still, the captains held on to their dress uniforms because they were important in dealing with Indian tribes—the emblems of authority, counterparts of the Indian leaders' ceremonial attire.

Throughout the expedition the officers wore their dress uniforms on special occasions such as parades and reviews, to reinforce pride and esprit de corps. They also wore them on official occasions such as courts-martial, and the burial of Sergeant Charles Floyd.

"Captain" Clark, who actually was a second lieutenant in the Corps of Artillerists during his duty with the expedition,1 probably wore a dress uniform coat of blue and red wool, lined with red linen. The red turnback of the coat skirt signified an artillery officer, as did the 20 gold-plated buttons embossed with an image of an artillery gun and carriage, and the red sash. A white belt, held in place over the right shoulder by a gold epaulet, carried the officer's sword.

Under his coat an officer wore "small clothes"—a knee-length flannel or linen pullover shirt, with ruffles at the neck and sleeves, was tucked into the waistband and between the legs of a pair of white "pantaloons." No one yet wore what we know today as "underwear," but the long shirt flaps fulfilled this function. The legs of the pantaloons, similar to modern trousers except for the fact that they were cut very full in the seat, covered knee length stockings, and over them an officer wore a pair of black boots.

Evidently one pair of Lewis's uniform pants were of satin, for he recorded that on January 3, 1806, he gave the Clatsop chief, Coboway, "a pare of sattin breechies with which he appeared much pleased." The gold trim of Clark's coat was made of thread wrapped with fine gold wire.

Closer Looks
Robert J. Moore, Jr., "The Clothing of the Lewis & Clark Expedition," We Proceeded On, Vol. 20, No. 3 (August 1994), 4-13,

___________, and Michael Haynes, Tailor Made, Trail Worn: Army Life, Clothing & Weapons of the Corps of Discovery (Helena, Montana: Farcountry Press, 2003, 121-36.

1. Clark had resigned his commission as a captain in the Infantry in 1796, to return to civilian life. President Jefferson had authorized Lewis to offer Clark a captain's commission to serve as co-commander of the expedition. Unfortunately, the reduction in the size of the standing army had eliminated some officers, and no new appointments could be ranked above men of greater longevity. The only berth available was a lieutenancy in the Corps of Artillerists. Lewis, however, treated Clark as his co-captain without letting on otherwise to the enlisted men. Clark was finally granted a retroactive promotion to the rank of captain by President William Jefferson Clinton on January 17, 2001. See Donald Jackson, Letters of the Lewis and Clark Expedition with Related Documents, 1783-1854, 2nd ed., 2 vols. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1978), 60, 172-73.