Sunday, December 13, 2015

War Horse

The number of dead horses was high. They lay, like the men, in all attitudes. One beautiful milk white animal had died in so graceful a position that I wished for its photograph. Its legs were doubled under and its arched neck gracefully turned to one side, as if looking back to the ball-hole in its side. Until you got to it, it was hard to believe the horse was dead. This horse belonged to a Confederate Colonel at Antietam. Both horse and rider were killed.

  It is estimated that 1.5 million horses died during the Civil War. Some estimates are as high as 3 million when you count donkeys, mules and confiscated ponies of children. Horses were a primary target of the opposing armies. All three military arms could not function without horses. The infantry, cavalry and artillery. All three arms of the military depended on supply wagons pulled by horses. If you could kill enough horses the army was pretty much immobilized. You read accounts all the time of officers, especially cavalry officers, having horses shot out from under them during combat. Nathan Bedford Forrest holds the record for having the most horses killed. Forrest lost 31 horses but killed 30 men in personal combat. He always said that he was a horse ahead. At Fort Donelson a cannonball passed through the body of his horse, barely missing his leg. Once during a battle Forrest was riding one of his favorite horses named Highlander when it's carotid artery was cut by a bullet. Forrest plugged the hole with his finger until he was out of danger. After removing his finger the horse fell dead. At Stones River Colonel Peter Garasche, the adjutant to General William Rosecrans was decapitated by a cannon ball while riding near the Nashville and Chattanooga railroad near the present day National Cemetery. The same cannonball took off the legs of a soldier,  finally passing through the neck of a horse.
Maryes Heights Fredricksburg

  Like humans, most horses died of disease. Many were literally worked to death pulling heavy loads like artillery and wagons. When they could no longer function or were suffering from battle wounds a soldier would shoot them to put them out of their misery. In a famous drawing by a newspaper artist named Henry Lovie at Stones River a soldier can be seen shooting a horse. Soldiers would kill or disable the artillery horses of the enemy. Without horses artillerymen were unable to save their guns if their position was overrun. The guns would have to be spiked or they would be captured by the enemy. The following is an account of horses enduring fire at Gettysburg. One thing which forcibly occurred to me was the perfect quiet with which the horses stood in their places. Even when a shell, striking in the midst of a team, would knock over one or two of them or hurl one struggling in its death agonies to the ground, the rest would make no effort to struggle or escape but would stand stolidly by as if saying to themselves, "It is fate, it is useless to try to avoid it."After a battle, especially in warmer weather, the horrible stench of rotting human and horse flesh was almost unbearable. The people of Gettysburg dealt with this in the middle of July. There were 1,500 horses killed at Gettysburg. The people of Gettysburg carried bottles of peppermint oil and pennyroyal around with them to mask the stench. 
Trostle Farm -Gettysburg


  The following is an account of a wagon train destroyed by Confederate General Joseph Wheeler at Lavergne in his famous ride around the Union Army. Owing to the depredations committed upon our trains at Lavergne, and the known disloyalty of its population. Gen. ROSECRANS ordered the place destroyed, and but one house -- that an hospital -- marks the spot where stood this village. The indications of rebel outrages upon our trains are visible along the road from Lavergne to Murfreesboro. Two hundred wagons were burned near the former place by WHEELER, and the road is strewn with half-buried wheels, axles, tires and mules; many of the latter were burned while in harness. This ruffian, WHEELER, destroyed everything designed for our army; even hospital stores were not respected. Ambulances were destroyed, and the occupants pitched out upon the road. The following is an account of the battlefield at Stones River after the battle.  On one spot one hundred and fifty dead rebels were counted, lying in heaps, as they had been shot down by our artillery. The field is strewn with dead horses; on one spot the horses of an entire battery were killed. Horses were generally burned on huge funeral pyres to lesson the chance of disease and to cut down on the stench of decaying flesh. As late as World War II the horse was regularly used in combat. As mechanized as the German Army was they depended greatly on the horse right up to the end of the war. 

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