An Excerpt From Horses in Gray
Here is another excerpt from my nonfiction book, Horses in Gray: Famous Confederate Warhorses. This one describes the origins of General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s horse, Little Sorrel. I hope you enjoy it!
No one knows the exact origins of a small chestnut horse that came to be known as “Old Sorrel,” or “Little Sorrel.” His story, both tragic and triumphant, made him one of the most famous and beloved horses in history.
On May 1, 1861, Colonel Thomas J. Jackson was deployed to Harpers Ferry, Virginia nine days after the Federals had set fire to the arsenal and armory.1 He was ordered to secure those buildings and command troops from the Valley District who were stationed there. His top priority was training and outfitting his troops with equipments, which meant procuring horses for the army. Fortunately for Jackson, a few days after his arrival, an eastbound train on the Baltimore & Ohio line was seized containing five carloads of cattle and horses. Upon inspection, Jackson chose two horses based on the advice of his quartermaster, Major John Harmon. One horse was a large, muscular stallion, which Jackson named “Big Sorrel.” The other was a small Morgan gelding thought to be eleven years old, gingerbread in color, with no white markings. Jackson named him“Fancy,” and intended to give him to his wife. He then paid the quartermaster for an estimated worth of the animals.
It didn’t take long before Jackson discovered that Big Sorrel was too much horse for him. He was not a good horseman, and the stallion was flighty and gun-shy, so Jackson decided to keep the Morgan for his own instead, and re-named him “Little Sorrel.” Although the scruffy gelding was only fifteen hands high, Jackson took to him because of his pleasant personality and easy gait. Certainly the horse was no beauty, but
1.The Washington Times, “Bones of Warhorse Will Be Interred Near Jackson” by Martha M. Boltz, July 19, 1997
perhaps Jackson sensed in him some of the qualities that he demanded of his soldiers and of himself; courage, a willingness to obey orders under any circumstances, and extreme endurance.2
According to Jackson’s wife, Mary Anna Morrison, “… he was well formed, compactly built, round and fat (never “raw-boned, gaunt, and grim,” as he has often been described), and his powers of endurance were perfectly wonderful. Indeed, he seemed absolutely indefatigable. His eyes were his chief beauty, being most intelligent and expressive, and as soft as a gazelle’s.”
Little Sorrel amused his master by lying on the ground like a dog when he slept. He would also supposedly roll over and lie on his back with his feet up in the air. Jackson treated his horse like a pet, and constantly gave him apples for treats.
Little Sorrel’s appearance seemed to match that of his master’s. One of his soldiers, volunteer William Andrews, wrote that Jackson was “a very ordinary looking man of medium size, his uniform badly soiled as though it had seen hard service. He wore a cap pulled down nearly to his nose and was riding a rawboned horse that did not look much like a charger, unless it would be on hay or clover. He certainly made a poor figure on horseback, with his stirrup leather six inches too short, putting his knees nearly level with his horse’s back, and his heels turned out with his toes sticking behind his horse’s fore-shoulder.3
Jackson also had a tendency to slouch over in the saddle when he rode. Even though he was considered eccentric because of his odd habits, such as raising his arm above his head to improve circulation and sucking on lemons, his men adored him because he didn’t put on airs. He ate what they ate, suffered along with them, and prayed openly.
2. His Kingdom for a Horseby Wyatt Blassingame, Books for Libraries Press, © 1957, p. 128
3. Stonewall Jackson’s Book of Maximsby James I. Robertson Jr., Cumberland House, ©2002, p. 49