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Horses in Grayby J.D.R. Hawkins


Review by Tommy Brannon

There is quite a bit of controversy these days about Confederate monuments and statues of Confederate Generals. No matter how one feels about these men, though, it is the horses in these statues, and others that were used in the Civil War on both sides, who were true heroes. Unaware of politics, they bravely performed the duties asked of them and many paid the ultimate price for it. It is hard to imagine the hardship that they endured: inconsistent hay and forage, little to no grain, no shelter, and all of the horrible dangers of battle.

Horses in Grayis a well researched narrative of the horses owned and ridden by many of the Confederate Generals. It has an extensive bibliography and it is apparent that the author is well read on the history of the Civil War. She is one of a few female Civil War authors and has published several fiction, as well as this non-fiction, books on the Civil War.

The book describes how important horses and mules were in 19th century warfare, as cavalry mounts, pulling wagons, caissons, and ambulances. Federal cavalry troopers had their mounts provided to them by the army, but Confederate troopers owned their own horses.    

Probably the most famous Confederate warhorse was General Robert E. Lee’s favorite horse Traveler. Lee was an excellent rider, with a good seat and steady hands. A quote attributed to Lee is:  “I do not see how any man could ride a horse for any length of time without a perfect understanding being established between them.” Traveler was a dappled gray half Thoroughbred gelding, the get of Gray Eagle, a famous Kentucky race horse. He could be difficult to manage at times, as attributed by his grooms, but his spirited temperament was one of the things that Lee liked about him. Lee rode Traveler throughout most of the war, as well as his other horses: Richmond, Brown Bess, and Lucy Long. It was Traveler that he rode to meet with General Grant at Appomattox Courthouse.

After the capitulation, when Lee became president of Washington College, Traveler moved with him, stabling on the campus. Lee and Traveler would take long contemplative rides through the Virginia countryside to gain solace. Traveler survived General Lee and was part of Lee’s funeral procession.

A contrast to Robert E. Lee’s leadership and horsemanship style was that of General Nathan Bedford Forrest. Forrest had no less than 30 horses killed from under him throughout the war. Partly, this can be attributed to the fact that Forrest liked to lead. Showing absolutely no fear, he liked nothing more than a furious charge at the enemy.

He did have some favorite horses, though. Roderick was a dark chestnut gelding that was so devoted to his master that, after being wounded at the battle of Thompson’s Station and retired from the field, he broke loose from his groom and jumped several fences to find Forrest. He was fatally wounded at the side of the General. There is a statue of Roderick near the battlefield.

Another of Forrest’s horses, Prince Phillip, survived the war and came to live with him in Memphis. The horse would often graze in the front lawn of Forrest’s home, acting as sentry and “guard dog.”
Little Sorrel, the favorite horse of General Thomas (Stonewall) Jackson began his military career in the Federal Army. Stonewall Jackson procured the chestnut Morgan when a trainload of horses was captured in May 1861. Jackson was not known as a great horseman, but he got along well with Little Sorrel. The horse was small but stout and was a comfortable ride. Indeed, Stonewall would complain if he had to ride any other horse. Jackson doted on Little Sorrel, often feeding him apples. It was Little Sorrel that he was riding when Jackson was fatally wounded by his own troops at the battle of Chancellorsville. Little Sorrel survived the war, first residing at Jackson’s father-in-law’s farm in North Carolina and later at the Virginia Military Institute. He lived to the age of 35.

The most flamboyant general of the Caviler Commonwealth was J.E.B Stuart. His signature ensemble included a plumed feather tucked in his hat band. Stuart was one of the best cavalry commanders of history. He taught his men and horse to be bold warriors. Even in the down times between battles, they would hold horse races so close to the federal pickets that the “troopers turned jockeys” would have to dodge bullets. One of Jeb’s many mounts was My Maryland, a gift from a Maryland farmer.

There is mention in this book of most of the Confederates, with what is known about their various horses. It is apparent how valiant these warhorses were, exposed to cannon fire, bullets and sabers, and the awful trauma of war.                              

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