Animals played a critical role during the War Between the States. The most important of the animals that were involved was the horse. Both the North and South relied heavily on the strength, endurance and mobility that horses provided on the battlefield. Horses were also relied upon for work and travel and were an essential part of industry.
During the War horses were considered as important as soldiers. They were used to carry messengers, commanding officers, equipment and artillery during the war. Many horses were lost to disease and exhaustion. Because of the value of these horses they often became a target for the enemy. At one point early in the war, more horses than men were being killed. The average life expectancy for a horse used in the war was about six months.
Northern cavalrymen were provided with horses by the government, but enlisted men who provided their own horse were paid fifty cents extra per day. It is estimated that the Union paid for a total of 840,000 horses during the war. Southern troops were required to provide their own horses, but were paid forty cents per day for the use. If the horse was killed, the soldier had to find a new one or be transferred to the infantry.
The bodies of dead horses often formed a protective barricade for nearby fighting men. After the battles were over there could be hundreds left lying around, which were usually burned and not buried. The soldier with the worst record for losing horses was General Nathan Bedford Forest, who reportedly had thirty-nine horses killed underneath him in battle.
There was a horse with a bad record for riders also. Four Guillet brothers rode the same horse at different times, each receiving a fatal wound, while the horse survived. The horses also served another important function, carrying the general. Many generals rode by horseback instead of walking. One reason why the general rode a horse was so that he sat up higher than his troops. This allowed him to monitor progress and potential dangers farther in advance than if he were on the ground.
On March 9, 1863, Confederate partisan Col. John S. Mosby led his Rangers on a daring raid deep into Union Territory and captured Brig. Gen. Stoughton at Fairfax Court House. Mosby allegedly found Stoughton in bed and roused him with a slap of his sword to his rear. Upon being so rudely awakened, the general shouted, “Do you know who I am?” Mosby quickly replied, “Do you know Mosby, general?” “Yes! Have you got the rascal?” “No but he has got you!” In addition to the General, Mosby and his 29 men captured two captains, 30 enlisted men, and 58 horses in the raid without firing a shot. Lincoln, on hearing of the capture, said “he did not so much mind the loss of a brigadier general, for he could make another in five minutes; ‘but those horses cost $125 apiece!'”
Many a fighting man had one or more favorite mounts, entitled to bountiful corn and fodder, careful grooming, and a name of its own. One clause in the surrender terms at Appomattox in 1865 puzzled some people: every Confederate cavalryman was entitled to take his horse home with him. This provision, insisted on by Lee, was accepted by Grant when he was told that once they returned to civilian life, former soldiers wouldn’t be able to plant spring crops without their war horses.
The following are some of the more famous Confederates and the horses they rode into battle and into history:
Traveller is probably the best known horse of the war and was Gen. Robert E. Lee’s favorite. The general had several other horses, including Brown-Roan, Richmond, Lucy Long (Given to Lee by Jeb Stuart), and Ajax, but Traveller was his favorite. On October 12, 1870 Lee died at his home in Lexington Virginia. Traveller walked behind the hearse at Lee’s funeral and continued to be well cared for up until his death in June 1871. After stepping on a nail Traveller contracted tetanus, commonly known as lockjaw and he was euthanized. Traveller was initially buried behind the main buildings of the college but was unearthed by persons unknown and his bones were bleached for exhibition in Rochester, New York, in 1875/1876. In 1907 Richmond journalist Joseph Bryan paid to have the bones mounted and returned to the college, named Washington and Lee University since Lee’s death and they were displayed in the Brooks Museum, in what is now Robinson Hall. The skeleton was periodically vandalized there by students who carved their initials in it for good luck. In 1929, the bones were moved to the museum in the basement of the Lee Chapel, where they stood for 30 years, deteriorating with exposure. Finally in 1971, Traveller’s remains were buried in a wooden box encased in concrete next to the Lee Chapel on the Washington & Lee campus, a few feet away from the Lee family crypt inside, where his master’s body rests.
Old Sorrel was formerly a Union officer’s mount and was acquired by Lt. Gen. Stonewall Jackson at Harpers Ferry when she was about eleven years old. Because the mare was so small that Jackson’s feet nearly dragged the ground, she was often known as Little Sorrel.
Virginia is credited with having prevented the capture of Maj. Gen. Jeb Stuart by jumping an enormous ditch. In addition Stuart rode Highfly, Skylark and My Maryland.
King Philip was possibly the favorite horse of Lt. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, who also owned and rode Roderick and Highlander.
Black Bess was Brig. Gen. John Hunt Morgan’s beloved mare. Morgan is honored for his service with a statue in downtown Lexington KY. Created by Italian sculptor Pompeo Coppini, it depicts the General atop his beloved horse. Coppini, for reasons unknown decided that it would be more heroic if Morgan was on a stallion instead of a mare and so he took the artistic license by giving Black Bess prominent testicles.
Fire-eater was a splendid bay Thoroughbred ridden by Gen. Albert S. Johnston when he was killed at Shiloh.
Milroy was captured from General Robert H. Milroy at Second Winchester and ridden from that point by Maj. Gen. John B Gordon.
Sardanapalus was the favorite mount Missouri State Guards Brig. Gen. M. Jeff Thompson.
Dixie was killed at Perryville while being ridden by Maj. Gen. Patrick R. Cleburne.
Fleeter was ridden by the famous Confederate spy Belle Boyd.
Black Hawk was ridden by Maj. Gen. William B. Bate.
Rifle was Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell cherished steed.
Beauregard was ridden to Appomattox by Capt. W I. Rasin and survived until 1883.
Joe Smith was ridden by Brig. Gen. Adam Johnson.
Nellie Gray was Maj. Gen. Fitzhugh Lee’s steed and was numbered among the dead at Opequon.
Other famous Confederate horses:
Brig. Gen. Edward Porter Alexander: Dixie, Brig. Gen. George H. Steuart: Pocohontas, Maj. Gen. Isaac Trimble: Jinny, Lt. Gen James Longstreet: Hero, President Jefferson Davis: Blackjack, Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood: Jeff Davis, Maj. Gen. Patrick R. Cleburne: Red Pepper (after Dixie was killed), Brig. Gen. Richard Garnett: Red Eye, Brig. Gen. Robert E Rodes: Firefly, Maj. Gen. Sterling Price: Bucephalus, Col. Turner Ashby: Tom Telegraph, Lt. Gen. Wade Hampton: Butler, Lt. Col. Walter H Taylor (Chief Aide-de-camp to General Lee): Fleetfoot.
Union officers were as dependent on their horses as were their opponents. Had neither side been provided with mounts, the war might have fizzled out in about ninety days. The following is the Union side and the horses that helped them make history.
Cincinnati was presented to Lt. Gen. U. S. Grant in 1864 and immediately identified as his favorite horse. When Colonel Grant rode into Springfield, Illinois in 1861, he was astride a white horse named Methuselah. Grant first rode into battle on the back of Rondy and during the war also used Fox, Jack, Jeff Davis, and Kangaroo.
Lexington was possibly the favorite of Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman who also rode Dolly and Sam.
Aldebaron was an early mount of Col. Philip Sheridan and gave way to a gelding named Rienzi.
After taking him on his famous ride to Winchester, the name of the animal was changed to that of the town. Winchester (or Rienzi) was so revered that when he died, his stuffed body was presented to the Smithsonian Institution.
Kentuck may have been the favorite mount of Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan. In addition, McClellan rode a black horse named Bums.
Lookout was acquired at Chattanooga and named for a battle of that campaign. He stood seventeen hands high and was cherished by Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker.
Moscow was a white horse used in battle by Maj. Gen. Philip Kearny against the advice of his colleagues because the big horse was an inviting target, Kearny switched to a bay named Decatur and then to Bayard, whose color was light brown.
Baldy was wounded at First Bull Run and at Antietam while under Brig. Gen. George G. Meade Later Baldy took Meade to Gettysburg and a promotion.
Almond Eye was the steed ridden by Maj. Gen. Benjamin E “The Beast” Butler.
Nellie was the favorite mare of Brig. Gen. Kenner Garrard.
Billy who was named for General Sherman was the bay war horse of Maj. Gen. George Thomas.
Slasher was ridden into battle by Maj. Gen. John A. Logan and depicted by an artist as dashing along a line of battle with all four feet off the ground.
Boomerang was named for his tendency to move backward was owned by Col. John McArthur of the Twelfth Illinois Regiment.
Old Whitey was the usual mount of “Mother” Bickerdyke who was among the most famous of female nurses.