On this day in 1804—it was a Monday, and it rained—the Lewis and Clark Expedition left its winter encampment at Camp Dubois near present-day Wood River, Illinois. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark recorded the event as the official beginning of the expedition, but it was Sergeant Patrick Gass who provided the fullest account of the historic day:
The corps consisted of forty-three men (including Captain Lewis and Captain Clarke, who were to command the expedition) part of the regular troops of the United States, and part engaged for this particular enterprize. The expedition was embarked on board a batteau and two periogues. The day was showery and in the evening we encamped on the north bank six miles up the river. Here we had leisure to reflect on our situation, and the nature of our engagements: and, as we had all entered this service as volunteers, to consider how far we stood pledged for the success of an expedition, which the government had projected; and which had been undertaken for the benefit and at the expence of the Union: of course of much interest and high expectation.
The best authenticated accounts informed us, that we were to pass through a country possessed by numerous, powerful and warlike nations of savages, of gigantic stature, fierce, treacherous and cruel; and particularly hostile to white men. And fame had united with tradition in opposing mountains to our course, which human enterprize and exertion would attempt in vain to pass. The determined and resolute character, however, of the corps, and the confidence which pervaded all ranks dispelled every emotion of fear, and anxiety for the present; while a sense of duty, and of the honour, which would attend the completion of the object of the expedition; a wish to gratify the expectations of the government, and of our fellow citizens, with the feelings which novelty and discovery invariably inspire, seemed to insure to us ample support in our future toils, suffering and dangers.
IMAGE: This gorgeous photo of the Lewis and Clark statue in Charlottesville shows Lewis and Clark standing tall and Sacagawea appearing to duck behind them (courtesy of Flickr user Shmaktyc). For more on the statue and interpretations of Sacagawea, see here.