Pvt. Clark, reporting for duty

One of the most useful facts we discovered in looking at Jonathan M. Clark’s entry in the U.S. Army’s Register of Enlistments was that Jonathan was assigned to the Fifth Infantry, Company K. In the 1830s, the Fifth Infantry’s mission was to protect the expanding northwestern frontier.

The regiment’s companies were stationed at Ft. Dearborn (present day Chicago), Ft. Howard (Green Bay) and Ft. Winnebago (at the portage between the Fox and Wisconsin rivers, near the city of Portage). It was the regiment’s job to protect the settlers from the Native Americans (and vice versa), keeping the peace along the boundaries between the two peoples, as established in a series of treaties that, for the most part, continuously pushed the Indians farther and farther westward, toward the Mississippi River and beyond.

After enlisting in the Army in Utica, New York, on September 19 and confirming his enlistment on September 28, 1833, Jonathan was sent to one of the Army’s “general depots.” I’ve not yet established which one he went to; the most likely places were the Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis, Missouri, or Kentucky’s  Newport Barracks, on the south side of the Ohio River, across from Cincinnati. It’s possible that Jonathan may have reported to another “depot,” perhaps Ft. Niagara, New York, which was the home base of JMC’s recruiter, Capt. Clitz.

In any case, less than a month later Jonathan arrived at Fort Howard, Michigan Territory. Fort Howard was the headquarters of the army’s Fifth Regiment, with easy water access via Lake Michigan to Ft. Dearborn, Chicago, and via the Fox and Wisconsin rivers to Forts Winnebago and Crawford.

And here is JMC, with a dozen other “recruits from the general depot,” reporting for duty, October 20, 1833:

CLARK, Jonathan M., Pvt at Ft. Howard Oct. 1833 verso (detail)

Pvt. Jonathan M. Clark (no. 12) reports to Ft. Howard, Michigan Territory, Oct. 20, 1833. NARA, Washington, D.C.; Returns from Regular Army Infantry Regiments, June 1821 – December 1916; Microfilm Serial: M665; Roll: 54 Military Year : 1832-1842. Return for October, 1833, verso. Accessed online at Ancestry.com Click for larger image in a new window.

This detail is taken from a microfilm image of one of the large, two-sided “Returns from Regular Army Infantry Regiments” that Army regulations required to be prepared in duplicate, every month, with one copy kept with the regiment’s papers, and the other copy sent to the Adjutant General’s office in Washington, D.C. It’s the sort of document that is easily overlooked: a big, handwritten, nineteenth-century “spreadsheet,” detailing the monthly comings and goings of each regiment’s officers (by name), enlisted men (by quantity) and the duty assignments of each company for the month.

But we know that Jonathan served with Co. K, 5th Inf. for three years. So by carefully looking at these monthly returns we will be able to infer quite a lot about what he did during his service on the wild northwestern frontier from 1833 to 1836.

Post edited June 4, 2016 to omit incorrect reference of Fort Crawford, Prairie du Chien. In 1833 Fort Crawford was an important link in the frontier border and river waterway connecting Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River via Forts Howard, Winnebago and Crawford, but it was not garrisoned by troops of the Fifth Regiment of Infantry.

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2 thoughts on “Pvt. Clark, reporting for duty

    • Yes, indeed. One of the Fifth Regiment’s main functions in the early- to mid-1830s was work on the new military road connecting Forts Howard and Winnebago, which eventually joined with Fort Crawford at Prairie du Chien. JMC’s Company K was often detailed to road building work during the construction season. During this period it appears that the regiment spent much more time with road construction than it did with any sort of protecting the frontier or suppressing hostilities duties. I’ll have more Co. K’s activities circa 1833-1836 in coming posts.

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