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The Horse and The Civil War

As the armies marched mile upon mile and approached, engaged and withdrew from the battles of the war, the horse was an unheralded ally. Horses gave mobility to commanders enabling them to observe and control their units from a high vantage point and from various perspectives. The mount was also clearly a large target or at least was near the center of the enemy focus.

Horses pulled the artillery guns and caissons. They drew the supply and ration wagons and they towed the ambulances filled with the unfortunate wounded from the battlefield to the infirmaries and hospitals.

They provided the mobility for the cavalry to be able to reconnoiter and to deliver messages from commanders to subordinates. Confederates joined the cavalry with their own mounts and when something happened to the mount they had to find a replacement or revert to the infantry, which for the horse soldier was a fate worse than death.

General Sherman valued the horses of his command, as did all commanders, and he is quoted as instructing his army in the care of the mounts as follows: “Every opportunity at a halt during a march should be taken advantage of to cut grass, wheat, or oats and extraordinary care be taken of the horses upon which everything depends.”

General Thomas’ Union attack on Hood’s army at Nashville was delayed, much to the chagrin of General Grant,due to lack of horses and mules to draw the artillery.

Some statistics on horses are interesting. The North had 3.400,000 horses at the beginning of the war. The South had 1,700,000. Missouri and Kentucky, border states on the periphery, had an additional 800,000.

The South had more mules because of its agricultural economy, some 800,000 while the North had 100,000. Mules could pull more weight than horses. Kentucky and Missouri had an additional 200,000 which were srongly coveted by both sides. One of the strategic reasons Vicksburg was so important was the ability of the South to move horses and mules east from the Trans-Mississippi are of Texas and Arkansas.

During the war the Union used 825,000 horses and mules valued at $150 each or $123,750,000. Losses were dramatic as exemplified by Gettysburg losses of 1500 horses and mules from both sides.

The Union cavalry, initially at a disadvantage, was restructered by Gen Joseph Hooker and from that point on developed a dominance in that arm.

Larger horses were requisitioned for artillery and drayage uses than for infantry or cavalry.

A new development that appeared during the war was the McClellan saddle which was developed by the famous Union general and toward the end of the war the Confederacy adoped this as well. This saddle took into account the needs of the mount for the first time in military history.


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