spacer spacer Brandywine Valley Civil War Round Table


Compiled by Lynne Fulton

The horse was one of the most important tools used by the military during the American Civil War. Horses carried unit staffs. Horses WERE the cavalry. Horses pulled the caissons and limbers of the artillery, the supply wagons, and the ambulances.

The Cavalry

The cavalry was the "EYES" of the nineteenth century army and for the first two years of the war, the Confederates had the upper edge in horsemanship. By the time of the Gettysburg Campaign, however, the Federal cavalry had come of age and remained respectable during the rest of the War. The cavalry also produced some of the most flamboyant personalities who served during the Civil War, including J.E.B. Stuart, Wade Hampton, Judson Kilpatrick, George Soneman, and George Armstrong Custer.

"War was much harder on horses than it was on men, and it required an enormous supply of animals to keep the troops mounted." In the case of the Confederacy the men supplied their own mounts. If the horse was killed, the troopers was compensated by the government. If the horse was captured, disabled, or lost, he was not. In either case, the cavalryman was required to replace the mount himself. This could be a difficult task, as by the end of 1863 horses in the South were selling for $2,000 to $3,000 each. [1]

In the North, cavalrymen were more apt to be city boys, and therefore not a horse owner. For this reason either the Federal of State government, or possibly some patriotic organization, furnished mounts, with the price of an average horse being $140. [2]

By 1863 the typical cavalry regiment consisted of 800 to 1000 men. It was commanded by a colonel with one lieutenant colonel, three majors, a commissary (lieutenant), and a regimental surgeon with his assistant. Other regimental and company members included a quartermaster sergeant, commissary sergeant, saddler sergeant, farrier or blacksmith, wagoner, hospital stewards, and musicians. A Confederate cavalry regiment was similarly organized. [3]

Horse equipment was also similar in the two armies. The typical Federal equipment included a McClellan saddle, single reins, curb bit, saddlecloth, and breast straps. Saddle bags included straps on the saddle used for attaching things like blanket rolls and ponchos. [4]

Equipment used by officers was usually non-regulation. The saddles were flat or English style [Confederate of all ranks often used imported types]. Gear also included iron stirrups, breast and crupper straps, running martingale, bridoon or snaffle bit, as well as a curb bit. [5]

Gettysburg Horse Stories

- The Campaign -

The largest cavalry battle fought in North America was Brandy Station, Virginia, on June 9, 1863, at the very beginning of the Gettysburg Campaign. One staff officer who participated in the action was a young lieutenant, George Armstrong Custer, the recent graduate of the Military Academy at West Point. As the Federals retreated from the initial assault, Custer's horse spooked and bounded into a fence alongside the road where it "huddled in fright, neighing madly but budging not an inch." The Lieutenant scrambled out of the saddle, and in a fit of cursing and tugging was able to get the horse turned around and headed in the direction of friendly territory. He then managed to mount the animal just before it took off like a rifle shot. Within a few minutes, the two came to a stone wall which was jumped with great difficulty, causing the horse to stumble and sending Custer "flying head over heels through the air." Dazed but unhurt, Custer remounted the horse and dashed off to safety."

Lieutenant Custer continued to have problems with his horses (he was to have two killed and one wounded during the campaign). At the battle of Aldie his horse, "Harry," spooked and bolted, carrying the Lieutenant to the front of the fighting. This time, however, Custer turned the event to his advantage. Galloping through enemy lines, he unhorse two Confederates, and after gaining control of the horse, continued though the enemy's flank, around the field, and back to General Kilpatrick's headquarters. [36]

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Although the Confederate snatched up many civilian horses, they were not always pleased with what they got, or who got them.

The horses brought back from Maryland and Pennsylvania proved "utterly unserviceable and seemingly have as little taste or talent for war as their fat Dutch proprietors." Mennonites and Dunkards had followed the way of peace for generations. Could anyone expect more than quiesent dispositions in their horses? Another interesting commentary came from General Rodes. He complained that all of the horses seized by Jenkins's men were "rarely accounted for." This observation gives further credence to the claim that many of the foragers were in business for them-selves. [46]

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About 5:00PM, July 2, Captain Von Fritsch, whose horse had gotten him out of possible capture the day before, became quite upset when one of his men yelled , "look at your horse, Sir!"

I turned around and found a piece of shell had torn away poor Caesar's nose! The poor fellow stood there trembling, his lower jaw exposed. It gave me a shock, as the sight was horrible. Stepping near him, I pushed his head down and fired a bullet from my revolver behind his ear; he dropped, but was not dead, so I had to shoot twice more before he gave his last convulsive shudder. I shall never forget the look he gave me before I fired the first time; it seemed to say: " What made you bring me back here, after I saved your life?" [65]

- The Aftermath -

Major Osborn's 11th Corps artillery had some horse-power problems following the battle.

I lost in the battle about 100 horses. The government had no spare horses with the army or anywhere immediately available. Unless these horses were replaced, I should be compelled to dismount one battery, take its horses for the others and leave it. This was not advisable. I therefore asked General Howard for an order to send men into the country and gather up the horses required from the citizens, in other words, press them into service. This order he gave, and I sent out the quartermaster sergeants of all the batteries with instructions to take from the citizens the horses that each battery required and gave memoranda receipts for them. The orders were carried out to the letter and much to the consternation of the farmers. The receipts were given, and the government soon after paid $125 for each horse without inquiring as to its market value. It was a good sale for some, a bad one for others. [90]

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"The dead horses left on the field were estimated to be between three and five thousand. After the soldiers were buried these animals were dragged into piles and burned; an extremely slow and odorous process." [92]

Following the battle, many of the wounded horses were taken to a field near Rock Creek and put out of their misery. The site was south of Culp's Hill, just east of the Abraham Sprangler Farm and along the Baltimore Pike. The horses were not buried, and for many years the bones lay in a thicket on a runwhich flowed into Rock Creek. Although unmarked on today's battlefield, the area is within sight of the Park's Visitor Center. [94]

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The civilians of the town often had to deal with the corpses of dead horses. Mrs. Hannah McClean related how this was done.

[Mrs. McClean] left the safety of her house to go help son William with his sick wife. On her way up Baltimore Street to Middle Street she came upon the body of a dead horse, killed the day before. The carcass was already swelling and in the July heat would soon be a source of putrid odor. Upon her return she notified here husband of the dead horse. Moses McClean went with fellow attorney, Robert McCreary, to see General Ewell about removing the horse. Ewell was sympathetic, but declined to help with the explanation; " he had more important business on hand just then than to burying dead horses." [95]

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Civilian accounts of the battle, and its aftermath, are full of stories relating to the awful conditions and smell surrounding the town when the soldiers left.

Therewas a great number of dead horses on the field, and itwas found very difficult to dispose of them, and there were not crows or buzzards enough to act as their executors. Consequently, they rotted where they lay, and the atmosphere was, as a result, vitiated and corrupted. When you would open the windows for the morning air, you would be assailed by the foul odorswhich arose all over the field. We citizens became gradually acclimated to it, but some visitors coming from a pure atmosphere into this, were poisoned, and went home and died. [97]

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All excerpts are from the booklet, "Traveller and Company: The Horses of Gettysburg" by Blake A. Magner.


[1] Thiele, The Evoluation of the Cavalry in the American Civil War, 1861-1863, pp. 175-179, 215.
[2] Ibid, p. 180
[3] Coggins, Arms and Equipment of the Civil War, pp- 48-49
[4] Ibid, p. 55
[5] Ibid
[36] Longacre, The Cavalry at Gettysburg, p 108
[46] Conrad and Alexander, Where War Passed this Way, p 140
[65] Vol Fritsch, A Gallant Captain of the Civil War, p 84
[90] Crumb, The Eleventh Corp Artillery at Gettysburg: The Papers of Thomas Ward Osborn. Pp 44-45
[92] Bennett, Days of "Uncertainty and Dread": The Ordeal Endured by the Citizens at Gettysburg, p 73
[94] Vertical Files, GNMP
[95] Bennett, Days of "Uncertainty and Dread": The Ordeal Endured by the Citizens at Gettysburg, p 75.
[97] Unidentified periodical, Scrapbook, Vol 1, p 155 Verticle Files GNMP

Officer Horses of Gettysburg

E. Porter Alexander   -   Dixie
William Blackford   -   Magic
John Buford   -   Grey Eagle
Joshua L. Chamberlain   -   Charlamayne
George Armstrong Custer   -   Lancer, Don Juan, Harry, Roanoke
Henry Kyd Douglas   -   Dixie
Richard B. Garnett   -   Red Eye
John Gibbon   -   Fanny
John B. Gordon   -   Milroy
David McM. Gregg   -   Pretty
Wade Hampton   -   Captain
Frank Haskell   -   Billy, Dick
Alexander Hays   -   Dan, Leit
John B. Hood   -   Jeff Davis
Henry J. Hunt   -   Bill
Patrick Kelly   -   Faugh-a-Ballagh
Judson Kilpatrick   -   Old Spot
Fitz Hugh Lee   -   Nellie Gray
Robert E. Lee   -   Traveller, Lucy Long
James Longstreet   -   Hero
George G. Meade   -   Old Baldy, Old Bill, Blackie, Gertie
Alfred Pleasonton   -   Slicky
John F. Reynolds   -   Prince, Fancy
Robert E.Rodes   -   Firefly
John Sedgwick   -   Rambler, Handsome Joe, Cornwall
Daniel Sickles   -   Tammany, Grand Old Canister and Grapes
George H. Steuart   -   Pocohontas
J.E.B. Stuart   -   Virginia, Highfly, My Maryland
Walter H. Taylor   -   Fleetfoot
Isaac Trimble   -   Jinny
Strong Vincent   -   Old Jim
Charles Wainwright   -   Billy

Vital Statistics

Number of Horses at Gettysburg

  Army of the Potomac     Army of Northern Virginia
Army Headquarters     81     ~
Corps Headquarters     296     ~
Division Headquarters     644     ~
Brigade Headquarters     1,098     Total ANV Headquarters 900
Regiments     6,750     6,000
Quartermaster Trains     9,048     7,200
Battery Support     3,426     3,000
Ambulances     2,400     1,200
Artillery     3,960     3,240
Calvalry     15,000     7,000
Officers, aides     600     400
Total     43,303     28,940 (estimated)

Approximate total number of horses at Gettysburg = 72,243
Approximate number of horses killed at Gettysburg = 3,000 to 5,000

Physical Data

Each horse consumes ten gallons of water per day: 72,243 x 10 = 722,430 gallons per day

Each horse consumes twelve pounds of grain (oat preferred) and fourteen pounds of hay per day:
     Grain: 72,243 x 12 = 866,916 pounds per day
     Hay: 72,243 x 14 = 1,011,402 pounds per day

Each horse produces twelve to fifteen pounds of manure per day
(using a average of thirteen and one half pounds per day):
     72,243 x 13.5 = 975,281 pounds per day.

Each horse produces two gallons of urine per day: 72,243 x 2 = 144,486 gallons per day

So over the course of the approximately four days that the two armies were in Gettysburg, the horses consumed or produced:

Water:  2,889,720 gallons       Urine:  577,944 gallons  
Hay:  4,045,608 pounds       Manure:  3,901,124 pounds  (imagine the roses you could have)
Grain:  3,467,664 pounds        


Federal standards for Artillery horses: 5 to 7 years old; standing 15 to 16 hands high (1 hand = 4")
Federal standards for Cavalry horses: 4 to 9 years old; standing 15 to 16 hands high
Confederate standards were similar.