“Traitorous” Horses at Gettysburg

Tom Elmore

2nd Lieutenant
Member of the Year
Jan 16, 2015
Just as some soldiers switched sides, so did some horses:

“Some one of our company had captured an old horse on the road, and we conceived the idea of turning him into a baggage wagon, so we hung and tied all our shelter tents and blankets on him, and gave him in charge of Uncle Dan Cole while on the march. Cole was a member of the company, but for some reason was off duty at the time. He came on the field just after the charge [of the Pennsylvania Reserves from Little Round Top], riding the old horse. The rebels, taking him probably for an officer, began firing at him in a lively manner, upon which Uncle Dan slid down to the ground to seek shelter, and let the horse go. The old fellow went on in a trot right into the rebel lines, amid yells of laughter from all who witnessed it from either side, and we had to admit that the rebs had captured at least one baggage train at Gettysburg, but had the satisfaction of knowing that the driver escaped unhurt.” (Silas W. Crocker, Co. I, 6th Pa. Reserves, National Tribune, October 15, 1885, p. 4)

“One of their [Federal cavalry] horses, a good bay, with black mane and tail, Vermont Morgan horse, by some strange freak, entirely unhurt, broke away from them and galloped toward us, probably attracted by the artillery horses tethered near. I ran out and caught this horse. Being only a Captain in line, of course I needed a mount, and this horse came in quite handy. And I remark here, that the officers in the regiment above me, those of whom who were not killed, were so badly wounded that it was three months before any of them returned, and during that time I continued in command of the regiment, and made good use of that horse, until I turned him over to Capt. Holliday, regimental quartermaster.” (Battle of Gettysburg, by George W. Hillyer (Company C, 9th Georgia), Address Before the Walton County Georgia Confederate Veterans, August 2nd, 1904, p. 14)

At Fredericksburg the previous December (1862), a bay horse swam away from the Union army across the Rappahannock River and thus became the mount of Brigadier General William Barksdale. The Federal officer who had owned the horse sent word that he was private property and should be returned, but Barksdale refused, claiming that he had been used against Confederate forces. Barksdale rode this horse into battle on July 2. It was mortally wounded, probably about the same moment as its rider, but unlike Barksdale, the horse made it back to Confederate lines before expiring. (2nd Lieutenant Judge E. Woodruff, Company A, 13th Mississsippi, Confederate Veteran magazine; Letter of Adj. E. P. Harman, 13th Mississippi dated August 16, 1866, C. A. Richardson Papers, Ontario County Historical Society)

At Chancellorsville, “three horses without riders came dashing from within the Federal lines, and swept at full speed between the armies. … One of these horses trotted into our battery and was caught and ridden by Sergeant Strickler, under the name of ‘Sedgwick,’ to the close of the war.” Just a few weeks later, near Winchester, three artillery horses dashed from the Federal fort. “On reaching the battery they were caught, and one of them, which we named ‘Milroy,’ was driven by James Lewis at the wheel of my gun, and restored with ‘Sedgwick’ to his old associates at Appomattox.” (The Story of a Cannoneer Under Stonewall Jackson, by Edward Alexander Moore, First Rockbridge Artillery, Lynchburg: J. P. Bell Company, Inc., 1910, pp. 178, 187)

It seems the horse of Brigadier General George Doles planned to defect, but had second thoughts: “Gen. Doles was riding a very powerful sorrel horse, and before he could realize it the horse had seized the bit between his teeth and made straight for the Federal line as a bullet, and going at full speed. We thought the General was gone, but when in about fifty yards of the line he fell off in the wheat. The Federals, being in a wavering condition, did not seem to pay any attention to him. The horse ran up apparently to within ten of fifteen feet of the Federal line, wheeled, and came back around our brigade; and, strange to state, he had no sign of a wound about him.” (Private Charles D. Grace, 4th Georgia, Confederate Veteran magazine, vol. 5, p. 614)

Gettysburg Guide #154

Member of the Month
Dec 30, 2019
Tom, Thanks for these stories!

George Hillyer's mention of a "Verment Morgan horse" especially caught my eye. Several years back, my wife and I were driving around Vermont just to get away. We came across the birthplace of the Morgan Horse. It was a fascinating visit. The Morgan is apparently far stronger than its size would suggest, and yet gives up little in speed. We were told that it was commonly used by the U.S. Cavalry, although a bit later in time that the Civil War, as they would not have had the numbers needed to supply the army during war time.

Morgan Horse.jpeg


Sergeant Major
Forum Host
Apr 18, 2019
I love these stories. The horses seem to have more sense than the men, choosing sides based on personal safety. I imagine some of the soldiers were a bit jealous.

And @Gettysburg Guide #154 you make me jealous - my husband and I have often wanted to go to that farm in Vermont. Maybe when the pandemic is over...

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