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The U.S. Army and the Lewis & Clark Expedition
The U.S. Army in 1803

With the election of Thomas Jefferson to the presidency in 1800, the Army received close attention. Contrary to popular opinion, Jefferson increased the size of the army, expanded its role to include building of the nation, reformed its leadership, established the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York (1802), and paid particular attention to military affairs along the frontier. The United States Army in 1803 was organized under the Military Peace Establishment of 16 March 1802. This organization allowed for two regiments of infantry, one regiment of artillery, a small corps of engineers, and the general staff - a total of 3,287 officers and men. All three line regiments were represented on the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Jefferson was both determined to maintain peace with the Indians and fascinated with western exploration. With the purchase of the Louisiana Territory on April 30, 1803, Jefferson chose the Army to explore this region. It was no accident that the new nation and its president turned to the Army for this most important mission. Soldiers possessed the toughness, teamwork, discipline, and training appropriate to the rigors they would face. The Army also had a nationwide organization even in 1803 and thus the potential to provide requisite operational and logistical support. Perhaps most important, the Army was already developing leaders of character and vision: soldiers such as Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, and the outstanding noncommissioned officers - John Ordway, Charles Floyd, Nathaniel Pryor, Patrick Gass, and Richard Warfington - who served with them.

Perhaps the greatest achievement of the Army during the Jefferson administration was the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition. From the summer of 1803 to the fall of 1806, the Expedition was an Army endeavor, officially called the "Corps of Volunteers for North Western Discovery." It led Americans across the breadth of the vast continent for the first time. Its scientific agenda brought back invaluable information about flora, fauna, hydrology, and geography. Its benign intent resulted in peaceful commerce with Indians encountered en route. The Expedition was, all things considered, a magnificent example of America's potential for progress and creative good.

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