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The First Congressional Investigation: St. Clair's Military Disaster of 1791

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Journal article

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With all of the attention focused these days on defense procurement scandals and congressional involvement in military management, it may be useful to recall that events of this nature are nothing new for the United States. Indeed, the story of the first congressional investigation -- then and now perhaps the ultimate congressional involvement in executive branch activities -- brings to mind Yogi Berras comment that It was deja vu all over again. The underlying cause of the incident was an expanding wave of civilization. As the decade of the 1780s drew to a close, American settlers moved across the Allegheny Mountains and encroached on Indian-occupied lands in the West, meaning what is now Ohio. The Indians, naturally enough, resented these intrusions by people who moved in, chopped down the trees, planted crops, and otherwise disturbed the existence they had enjoyed for hundreds of years. Soon enough these first inhabitants of the land resisted violently the incursions of the pale-faced men and women from the east. Warfare -- intermittent, bloody, and unacceptable to the settlers -- was the result. It did not take long for the demand to go out from them to the federal government Send help This was easier asked than done. The Continental Army had been disbanded at the end of the American Revolution, and the entirety of the US Army during the remaining years of the 1780s consisted of a few companies of regulars scattered across a vast territory. Growing troubles with the Indians led Congress in 1790 to authorize an increase in the enlisted strength of the army to 1216 men, organized into an infantry regiment of three battalions of four companies each, plus a separate artillery battalion. Each infantry company consisted of a captain, a lieutenant, an ensign, four sergeants, four corporals, two musicians, and 61 privates. Each battalion headquarters was composed of a major, an adjutant, a surgeon, and a quartermaster.

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  • Humanities and History
  • Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics

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