Sunday, March 01, 2009

Figures for the Corps of Discovery

Coming up with figures for the Corps of Discovery can be maddening. First there is a perception problem that these guys all wandered around in dirty buckskins so anything goes. Wrongo, Buckwheat. The Corps of Discovery was a military expedition and they were issued uniforms. When it was appropriate, they wore them too-when impressing Indians, at Sgt. Floyd's funeral, on Independence Day and New Years Day 1805, and for inspections you can bet they wore their dress regimentals.

Um, what exactly did those look like? Well kind of like this:
These are Old Glory's Mad Anthony Wayne's Legion skirmishing figures. They wear the round hat with bearskin crest, and blue jacket with red facings. There are couple of differences between the Legion and the Corps. First, there aren't any of those funky red, green, yellow or white unit designations in the Corps. The distinctive colored hat band has been replaced by a black silk band. Also the plume is gone and replaced by a bucktail. The hat also has white tape around the edging. The trousers are white in summer and blue in "winter." I used both just to keep things interesting. I chose to use just ten in uniform. They would have been out of place during a normal day. However, they also serve the purpose of being the guys with smoothbore muskets and bayonets. Much of the party was rifle armed.

There were three squads of infantry in the Corps of Discovery, each commanded by a sergeant. I used the NCO figures, plus the kneeling guys in the skirmishing pack. None of these were particularly fun to paint. There isn't anything special about them.

The figures represent Sgts. Pryor, Gass and Ordway from left to right. Ordway was the only sergeant with regular army experience, and was left in charge if the captains were away from camp.

One of the only civilians in the expedition was a half-French, half Indian named George Drouillard. Drouillard was an incredibly important member of the expedition. He was a very talented woodsman, scout and hunter, and the expedition's best shot. He also knew Native American sign language, which helped him interpret the gestures of many different cultures. Drouillard appeared in many of the Corps' tight spots where he behaved with such bravery that Lewis asked that he receive an extra five dollars per month for his service when the captain made his final report to the War Department. One of the very first mountain men, Drouillard was killed by the Blackfeet in 1810. I've used one of the Foundry Mountain Men figures to represent Drouillard.

In 1803, on his way to Camp DuBois, the winter encampment near St. Louis, he made stops in Kentucky to recruit unmarried men who were good woodsmen and used to physical hardship. The volunteers he found were called the "nine young men from Kentucky." Without exception, they distinguished themselves time and again. Though they were mustered in to the regular army, received army pay and served under army regulations, there wasn't sufficient time to fit them with regular army dress. Both Michael Haynes and the U.S. Army website show them as having their own uniform of a gray roundabout, with blue or white overalls. they wear a round hat without the bearskin crest. They probably carried their own Kentuck rifles, and hence no bayonet. The figures are militia from the War of 1812 range. I've filed down the tall top hats (probably not enough.) The brims have the white tape, and should also have a cockade. the figures should probably have their coattails further shortened.
The figure in the middle wears a linen undress smock

It is likely that most of the men would have worn undress attire or civilian clothing when they were out of the barracks or traveling. The work they did each day was difficult, whether it was hunting, foraging, wading, cutting would, poling or cordelling (pulling the keelboat.) It would have taken a toll on their clothes. By the time the expedition left the Fort Mandan in the winter of 1805, clothes would have begun to wear out. We know that the the weather on the Columbia was so wet it literally rotted the clothing off their backs. On the return trip the Corps would have been dressed in buckskins, saving brass buttons and other articles as trade items for food. The last picture is an example of some of the other figures I've used to represent men of the Corps of Discovery. The figure on the left with a blunderbuss is another Foundry mountain man. The rest are all Front Rank figures from the their American Revolution range. In addition I have minute men from the Old Glory and Foundry AWI ranges, and even a few Canadian militia from the OG French and Indian War range (their caps make great American forage caps, and their smock-like dress looks like summer undress.)

There were 51 men in the Corps of Discovery that made their way upriver to the Mandan villages. Far fewer were in the permanent party that made their way to the Pacific Coast. These are some easily available options for you to use if you think this period may interest you.

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