Fort Howard, October 1833 (part 1)

Jonathan M. Clark arrived and reported for duty at Fort Howard, the headquarters of the U.S. Army’s Fifth Regiment of Infantry on Sunday, October 20, 1833. He served there until his  discharge at the end of service in 1836. What did he do for those three years?

After the national excitement over the brief Blackhawk War in 1832, the northwest frontier was generally calm. The federal government continued to negotiate treaties with the Native Americans, urging them ever westward. Most Indians and white settlers observed the treaty boundaries and there was only the occasional “scare” from the original inhabitants. So what were the soldiers to do?

Let’s take a further look at Ft. Howard’s “Return of the Fifth Regiment of Infantry” for the month of October, 1833 and see what we can find. Here’s the front side:

CLARK, Jonathan M., Pvt at Ft. Howard, Oct 1833 recto

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 Fort Howard, October, 1833, recto. Accessed online at Click for larger image in new window.

There is a lot of information here. The top half of this page lists which officers are commanding which companies of the regiment and where those companies are stationed. The field officers and regimental staff are at Ft. Howard, as are companies G, H, I and K (Jonathan Clark’s company). Companies A and B are at Ft. Dearborn (Chicago) and companies C, D, E and F are to the west, at Ft. Winnebago. Apparently, by 1833 the new Town of Chicago and its 200 or so inhabitants were reasonably secure and only needed two companies to garrison old Fort Dearborn. It was the frontier—Forts Howard and Winnebago—that needed the most manpower.

Also in the top half of the page, we can see how many men, of what rank, are present for duty, sick, assigned to extra or daily duty, or are in arrest or confinement (usually for desertion). Following that is information on absent soldiers: whether the absence was for detached service elsewhere (such as recruiting duty or service at army headquarters in Washington, D.C.), on furlough, or absent without leave. In the upper right corner are statistical summaries of soldiers present and absent, changes since the last return, primarily soldiers joined or discharged from the regiment, and the reasons for the absences and changes.

Jonathan Clark’s Co. K had twenty-six men present for duty. They were led by a first lieutenant, who was assisted by two sergeants, three corporals, and a drummer to sound the signals. There were nineteen privates. Also “on duty” were one private who was sick, nine men on extra or daily duty, and seven privates in arrest or confinement.

The lower left half of the page gives a statistical accounting, by company, of enlisted soldiers and non-commissioned officers that were “absent” from their usual companies and duties. For example, in Co. K  only one soldier from the company is “absent” from his usual duty; a private from the company is in confinement at Fort Niagara, New York, for desertion.

The lower right half of the page gives a statistical accounting of non-commissioned officers and others that were assigned to daily or extra duty, and by whose orders they were assigned to that duty. For this month, Co. K had one corporal and seven privates that were assigned to daily or extra duty: four carpenters, one teamster, one mason, one [assisting?] mason and one collier. (The collier, by the way, was not mining or handling coal, he was a maker of charcoal. It’s a duty that comes up often on the returns for this period.)

Finally, we can see that frontier paperwork was not always prepared on time. This “October, 1833” return is dated 1st December 1833. And, per army regulations, the return is signed by the commanding officer, George M. Brooke, Colonel 5th Infantry and Brevet Brigadier General.

So that’s the front side of the return. There is much more information on the back.