Friday, March 30, 2012

The Loyalty of the Horses

I am going to start this post with something I have never done before: a warning. Some of the images below may be heartbreaking and disturbing to some.  This is not my intention with this post. My intention is to show the sheer loyalty and love that the horses of the Civil War exhibited. As some of you may know, I am a Civil War Reenactor, and proud member of the 1st North Carolina/12th Missouri Cavalry. If you're interested, you can find all of my history and reenactment related posts at my other blog: Confessions of a Reenactor. I am also an avid animal lover, as can be noted by all the odd animal facts on this blog. I wanted to share a bit of my passion for history, as well as my passion for animals. I hope you can enjoy.

Myself on Maggie at the Lamoni Civil War Dats event, 2012

Capt. Charles Francis Adams served in the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry. The grandson of one U. S. President, and the great-grandson of another, Adams possessed the family’s gift for the written word. The winter of 1863 was an especially harsh one. Adams had a chance to observe the torment of his unit’s mounts as they suffered alongside their masters:

My tent is logged up, I have a good fire-place, a pretty complete outfit and am as comfortable as I have any wish to be; but I feel for my men and dare not go and look at my horses. I know just how they look, as they huddle together at the picket-ropes and turn their shivering croups to this pelting north-easter. There they stand without shelter, fetlock deep in slush and mud, without a blanket among them, and there they must stand–poor beasts–and all I can do for them is to give them all the food I can, and that little enough. Of oats there is a sufficiency and the horses have twelve quarts a day; but hay is scant, and it is only by luck that we have a few bales just now when most we need them. I have them fed four times a day–at morning, noon, night and midnight–and if they have enough to eat, they do wonderfully well, but it comes hard on them to have to sustain hunger, as well as cold and wet. It is all over, however, with any horse that begins to fail, for after a few days he either dies at the rope, or else glanders set in and he is led out and shot. I lose in this way two or three horses per week.

Charles Francis Adams to his father, January 28, 1863. 

Some 1.5 million horses are estimated to have died in the American Civil War.

The Battle of Monroe’s Crossroads was fought near Fayetteville, North Carolina on March 10, 1865. Pvt. William F. Sewell of the 5th Georgia Cavalry received a mortal wound in that harsh fighting. While the Battle of Bentonville raged on March 19, local blacks ventured out onto the Monroe’s Crossroads battlefield. They found Sewell’s unburied body lying on the bank of a creek where he fell and died on March 10. His large black horse, still saddled and still carrying all of its accouterments, grazed nearby, faithfully waiting for his master to awaken and for them to get back to work. That black horse loyally stood by its dead master for nine long days.

The National Sporting Library in Middleburg, Virginia commissioned a monument to the Civil War cavalry horse. Rather than portray a hale and hearty horse, the monument shows an exhausted, malnourished cavalry horse, still faithful and still serving, even though it was clearly near the end of its rope. The scabbard to his master’s saber is empty; we don’t know what happened to his master. The monument accurately depicts the condition of Civil War cavalry horses, and shows the frightful toll that endless hours of marching and picketing took on those proud beasts.

Here are the words spoken during the dedication of that memorial: an appropriate tribute to the cavalry horses who sacrificed so much during the Civil War.

“Here lies the steed with his nostrils all wide,
But through it there rolls not the breath of its pride.
The foam of his gasping lies white on the turf,
And as cold as the spray of the rock-beaten surf.”
Ah! The horses—the blacks and bays, the roans and grays, the sorrels and chestnuts that pulled Lee’s army from the Rappahannock to Gettysburg and back, and all the other horses that pulled and tugged at the wagons, at the batteries of artillery; the horses that carried the men, the unstabled horses and the half-fed horses.

Let my right hand forget its cunning if I forget to pay proper tribute to those noble animals that suffered so much for their masters. How often my mind goes back to that horse my mind’s eye saw coming across the field from the front at Bull Run with his sides all dripping with blood. He was a hero and coming back home to die.

The cavalryman and his horse got very close to each other, not only physically, but also heart to heart. They ate together, slept together, marched, fought and often died together. While the rider slept, the horse cropped the grass around him and got as close up to his rider’s body as he could get. The loyal steed pushed the trooper’s head gently aside with his nose to get at the grass beneath it. By the thousands, men reposed in fields fast asleep from arduous campaigns with their horses quietly grazing beside them, and nary a cavalier was trod upon or injured by his steed.

They were so faithful and unfaltering. When the bugle sounded, they were always ready to respond, for they knew all the bugle calls. If it were saddle up, or the feed, or the water call, they were as ready to answer one as the other. And they were so noble and so brave in battle. They seemed to love the sound of the guns. The cavalryman might lie low on the neck of his horse as the missiles of death hissed about him. But the horse never flinched, except when struck.
Lo! As we should, we build monuments for our dead soldiers, for those we know, and for the unknown dead. So with the ultimate sacrifice of our lamented fallen honored upon their noble deaths, is it not also just that we recall their valiant steeds? What would you think of a monument some day, somewhere in Virginia, in honor of Lee’s noble horses?

What could General Lee have done had all his horses balked in unison? Nothing! Then all honor to Lee’s horses, which pulled and hauled and fought and died that this might be a very great nation.

“The good black horse came riderless home,
Flecked with blood drops as well as foam;
See yonder hillock where dead leaves fall;
The good black horse dropped dead—
That is all.

‘All? O, God! It is all I can speak.
Question me not; I am old and weak;
His saber and his saddle hang on the wall,
And his horse is dead—
I have told you all.”

-          Clark B. Hall
Middleburg, Virginia

For all of us who have had the privilege and honor of being loved by a horse, this is for you.

Love and Lightning Bugs,
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