Thursday, August 13, 2009

Civil War Horses and Mules

It is almost impossible to think of the logistics required during the Civil War without thinking of horses and mules. These beasts of burden did the dirty work for both North and South. Horses and mules pulled supply wagons that kept the armies fed, clothed, and armed. They lugged artillery for miles on end, and many died a soldier's death on the battlefield. One estimate places the number of horse and mule deaths during the Civil War at well over a million.

Often when one considers horses and mules in the Civil War, it is in the glorious role of the cavalry. Indeed, numerous chargers sped famous horsemen in combat during the four years of conflict. Phil Sheridan, JEB Stuart, Wade Hampton, John Hunt Morgan, George Armstrong Custer, and many others won their laurels mainly on steady and proven steeds. Nathan Bedford Forrest claimed to have had 29 horses shot from under him during the war-and claimed to have personally killed 30 enemy soldiers in close combat....and as he said, that left him one ahead.

But, it was the common horses and mules that never got the glory. Those that pulled their hardest in belly-deep mud; those that stood steady and ready to pull a cannon to safety while all around men, and other horses and mules fell and had to be cut from harnesses. It was those that were especially targeted by enemy troops to make it easier to capture artillery and wagons. It is these horses and mules that deserve more recognition. Justly so and in recent years they have started to received their own monuments. I personally know of one in Richmond, Virginia at the Virginia Historical Society, one in Kansas, and another in Middleburg, Virginia at the National Sporting Library. Their service is finally getting the appreciation it deserves.

One of the many soldiers that paid homage to the army mule was artilleryman John Billings in his famous book Hardtack and Coffee. He wrote, "It has often been said that the South could not have been worsted in the Rebellion had it not been for the steady re-enforcement brought to the Union side by the mule. To just what extent his services hastened the desired end, it would be impossible to compute; but it is admitted by both parties of the war that they were invaluable."

Of course mules were not always cooperative with their drivers and mule teamsters were known army-wide for their great swearing ability, which was viewed by them as necessary to get any assistance from their long-eared charges. On this fact Billings wrote, "The theory has been advanced that if all of these professional m.d.'s [mule drivers] in the trains of the Army of the Potomac could have been put into the trenches around Petersburg and Richmond, in the fall of 1864, and have been safely advanced to within ear-shot of the enemy, then, at a signal, set to swearing simultaneously at their level-worst, the Rebels would have either have thrown down their arms and surrendered then and there, or have fled incontinently to the fastness of the Blue Ridge."

Just as surely as an army marched on its stomach, it relied on its horses and mules and the men that drove them to get the job done. Here's to the horses and mules of the North and South; well done.


  1. Pardon me for randomly commenting on a post to tell you this. I found you googling for Laurence Keitt and sort of lost a couple hours reading. I'm blogging over at, and have added you to the links on my sidebar... if that's not all right, please let me know and I'll take it down.

  2. No problem, and thanks for adding me to your list. I look forward to reading your posts.