Another Five-Star Review for Horses in Gray
I just received another five-star review for my nonfiction book, Horses in Gray. The review is as follows:
“Excellent book, particularly if you love history and pet love (horses).”
Short but sweet! Thank you, Russell C., for your kind review!
Here is another excerpt from the book. Hope you enjoy it!
Crucial to the infantry, cavalry soldiers served a special purpose, as they were the eyes of the army. Cavalry units could easily cover thirty to seventy miles a day, and scouting units could travel as much as one hundred miles a day.
Throughout the course of the war, the Confederacy raised an estimated 137 mounted regiments; the North, nearly twice that many. The US Army supplied mounts to their cavalry, while Confederate soldiers provided their own.
The Confederate cavalry consisted of regiments containing eight hundred to one thousand men. Regiments were made up of ten brigades of one hundred men each and were commanded by a colonel, a lieutenant colonel, three majors, and a lieutenant. Regiments also included a surgeon and his assistant, a quartermaster sergeant, a commissary sergeant, a saddler sergeant, a blacksmith, a wagoner, hospital stewards, and musicians.
Equipment used by officers was usually non-regulation. Saddles were flat or English style, and Confederates of all ranks often used imported types, as well as McClellan and Jennifer saddles. A cavalryman’s gear also included iron stirrups, breast and crupper straps, a running martingale, a bridoon or snaffle bit, and a curb bit. Saddlebags had straps attached for tying on bedrolls, cooking utensils, ponchos, and other necessities.
When a horse threw a shoe, blacksmiths, or farriers, as they later came to be known, were called upon to remedy the situation. But sometimes the farriers were inaccessible. In these instances, the trooper had to shoe his own horse by nailing on one of the two spares he carried in his saddlebags. The South had much less iron than the North, so when shoes became scarce, cavalrymen were compelled to wrench shoes from dead horses.13
For the first two years of the war, the Confederate cavalry was far superior to its Northern counterpart. This was because Southern soldiers came from rural upbringings, and their horses were generally more agile compared to the draft horses used up north. Many Confederate officers were experienced foxhunters, so they were well-versed in jumping ditches and fences and galloping through woods.
Some soldiers who were not as learned around horses were taught tricks by their seasoned comrades. Lt. Col. William Willis Blackford, Stuart’s aide-de-camp, wrote in his memoirs: “I recollected a thing Von Borcke14 had once told me. He was taught in the Prussian Cavalry schools for this very emergency, and I made a courier twist the horse’s ear severely and keep it twisted while he led the horse off the field with Von Borcke on him, the horse becoming perfectly quiet immediately.”15
Tactics during the war changed. Instead of staging direct attacks, cavalry officers learned to use their horses for swift mobility to bring soldiers closer to the enemy. Once the soldiers reached a close proximity, the horsemen dismounted and fought on the ground, with one man in each group of four holding the reins of his comrades’ horses.
Horses were valuable, sacred commodities. Blackford explained it this way: “To a cavalry officer in active service, his horse is his second self, his companion and friend, upon whom his very life may depend.”16 Because of this, cavalrymen put the needs of their horses before their own.
Horse killed with its owner, Col. Henry B. Strong, 6th Louisiana, at the Battle of Antietam, September 1862
As the war progressed, Southern cavalrymen found it more challenging to replace their mounts. In the summer of 1862, the Union army captured and cut off the great horse-breeding states of Kentucky, Missouri, parts of Tennessee, and western Virginia. This forced Gen. Robert E. Lee’s men to scour the South, where remounts became more and more scarce. There were plenty of mustangs in Texas, but most of them were too small for military service.17
Whereas Confederate infantrymen were paid eleven dollars per month, cavalrymen were paid forty cents per day, or thirteen dollars a month; the two extra dollars could be used to provide for their horses. The men were also given horseshoes when they were available. If a horse was killed in the line of duty, the government compensated the trooper for his loss. But if the horse was captured, disabled, or lost, the trooper was not paid anything. 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.18
While on furlough to find a horse, a trooper was considered to be on “horse detail.”19 Horseless soldiers were said to belong to Company Q, a nonexistent company composed “not only of good soldiers, but no-goods, malingerers, and inefficients as well.”20 Blackford wrote about a flaw of this arrangement: “We now felt the bad effects of our system of requiring the men to furnish their own horses. The most dashing trooper was the one whose horse was the most apt to be shot, and when this man was unable to remount himself, he had to go to the infantry service and was lost to the cavalry. Such a penalty for gallantry was terribly demoralizing.”21
When soldiers were riding Shanks’ Mare, it meant that they were on foot. This was the most common means of transportation used for getting home after the war. “You place your feet on the ground and move,” one Tennessean described. “Walk in the direction you are going. You are now riding Shanks’ Mare.”22