The Civil War Horse

Posted on February 10, 2018 by Jerrilee.
Categories: equipment, history, military, riding.

unionlthaskell

from dailykos.com & the civilwarblog

Over the course of 3 days, between July 1 and July 3, 1863, the Battle at Gettysburg was fought.  When it was over, around 3100 Union soldiers had been killed.  Lee’s Army lost approximately 4,000 soldiers.  Less often commented upon is that between 3,000 and 5,000 horses and mules were killed in the engagement.  It has been estimated that at least 1.5 million horses and mules were killed during the war, and perhaps as many as 3.5 million.  For every soldier killed during the Civil War, almost 5 horses met a similar fate.

Union Lt. Haskell recounted the fate of his own horse, “Billy.”  He had been riding half asleep, which was common for battle weary cavalrymen, after a skirmish earlier in the day.  The horse was plodding along at a slow pace, and could not be made to move any faster in spite of being spurred.  Lt Haskell noted that the horse had perhaps taken a shot or two earlier in the day, but nothing to make it go lame.  Coming upon an ambulance unit after dark, he borrowed a lantern to more thoroughly inspect his mount, and found that it had been shot in the chest and was bleeding profusely, with air escaping its lungs through the wound.  In his letter he confesses:  I begged his (Billy’s) pardon mentally for my cruelty in spurring him, and should have done so in words if he could have understood me.  Lt Haskell’s horse died just moments later from its wounds, and he had no idea how long he had been riding him in such a state.

In an account of the events at Gettysburg, General Gibbons of the Union Army made this observation of the horses in Lieutenant Alonzo Cushing’s 4th Artillery Brigade: One thing which forcibly occurred to me was the perfect quiet with which the horses stood in their places.  Even when a shell, striking in the midst of a team, would knock over one or two of them or hurl one struggling in its death agonies to the ground, the rest would make no effort to struggle or escape but would stand stolidly by as if saying to themselves, “It is fate, it is useless to try to avoid it.”

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equi-works