Army Mule vs War Horse, a Fight to the Death

John Hartwell

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A sad but revealing story today of "the fiercest battle between animals ever known in Virginia," between a ferocious army mule and a maddened war horse. As always, the blame for the ensuing tragedy lay squarely with the humans.

Tom Jones had entered service in Company D, 3rd Vermont Volunteers during the summer of 1861, and served with that hard-fighting unit through the battle of Gettysburg. Soon afterwards, “believing I could serve my country equally as well, and my comrades better, I secured a detail in the Ambulance Corps.” Writing in 1891, he recalled the incident:

mule.jpg
One of my first requisitions for transportation, after being assigned to this corps, I received a large white mule. From his general make-up, length of ears and heel I was sure that I had drawn a prize, and the additions to national cemeteries of those who tried to break and drive him fully confirmed my first impression; and his deeds of blood were not confined to humans alone. All that approached him from the rear was sure of a free pass to that “bourne, from which no traveller e’er returns.”
In the winter of 1863-4, we were in camp near Brandy Station, Va. At one Sunday morning inspection it was discovered that one of the teamsters had lost a halter. To make this deficiency good he, the same night, visited a distant part of the army, and strange to relate, on arriving in camp with the halter, he found a horse attached to the other end of it. On further examination it was recognized as a very valuable animal, which had been given to a certain general by admiring friends. As it was a black stallion, with a white star on its forehead, easy of identification, [things] began to have rather an ugly look. “Nil desperandum” being our motto, we sent for the Tonsorial Artist and all the manipulations known to the profession were immediately applied to the horse; his mane was roached, tail docked, Cheney’s Hair Dye applied to the white star, and sooner than it takes me to tell it, the horse was but a shadow of its former self. But, it was a poor investment. The loss of his beautiful mane and tail broke his heart, and before the week was out he went stark mad, kicked a big hole in the side of the stable, broke his halter, and went out to the corral where the white mule was softly sleeping; but asleep or awake, he was equally ready, and stood his ground.
Then followed the fiercest battle between animals ever known in Virginia; indeed, the dumb beasts fought like true Southern gentlemen. The mule was smaller than the stallion, but he was “gritty.” The battle lasted fifteen minutes; they fought with their teeth, heels, and fore feet, and probably if there had been any other possible way they could have fought they would have employed it. Finally the mule succeeded in biting off part of one of the stallion’s ears. The stallion retaliated by snatching a piece out of the mule’s neck. The mule then saw that there was no use in trying to arbitrate any longer, and seized the stallion’s throat with his teeth and severed the windpipe. The stallion saw that he was done for, and as he turned he gave the mule one terrific kick which knocked off one of the mule’s hind legs, then gave up the ghost, while the victor gave one loud, long bray, and hopped round the corral on three legs.
When I left for the seat of war, like all other soldiers, I [had been] supplied by dear friends with certain appliances of immediate need … I gave my patient a thorough drenching with “Ram Sal’s Pure India Tea,” [and] was pleased to note a great improvement, and in just twenty-four hours he again reported for duty.
[as told in the Essex County Herald (Vt.) 14 February 1891]
 

War Horse

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A sad but revealing story today of "the fiercest battle between animals ever known in Virginia," between a ferocious army mule and a maddened war horse. As always, the blame for the ensuing tragedy lay squarely with the humans.

Tom Jones had entered service in Company D, 3rd Vermont Volunteers during the summer of 1861, and served with that hard-fighting unit through the battle of Gettysburg. Soon afterwards, “believing I could serve my country equally as well, and my comrades better, I secured a detail in the Ambulance Corps.” Writing in 1891, he recalled the incident:

One of my first requisitions for transportation, after being assigned to this corps, I received a large white mule. From his general make-up, length of ears and heel I was sure that I had drawn a prize, and the additions to national cemeteries of those who tried to break and drive him fully confirmed my first impression; and his deeds of blood were not confined to humans alone. All that approached him from the rear was sure of a free pass to that “bourne, from which no traveller e’er returns.”
In the winter of 1863-4, we were in camp near Brandy Station, Va. At one Sunday morning inspection it was discovered that one of the teamsters had lost a halter. To make this deficiency good he, the same night, visited a distant part of the army, and strange to relate, on arriving in camp with the halter, he found a horse attached to the other end of it. On further examination it was recognized as a very valuable animal, which had been given to a certain general by admiring friends. As it was a black stallion, with a white star on its forehead, easy of identification, [things] began to have rather an ugly look. “Nil desperandum” being our motto, we sent for the Tonsorial Artist and all the manipulations known to the profession were immediately applied to the horse; his mane was roached, tail docked, Cheney’s Hair Dye applied to the white star, and sooner than it takes me to tell it, the horse was but a shadow of its former self. But, it was a poor investment. The loss of his beautiful mane and tail broke his heart, and before the week was out he went stark mad, kicked a big hole in the side of the stable, broke his halter, and went out to the corral where the white mule was softly sleeping; but asleep or awake, he was equally ready, and stood his ground.
Then followed the fiercest battle between animals ever known in Virginia; indeed, the dumb beasts fought like true Southern gentlemen. The mule was smaller than the stallion, but he was “gritty.” The battle lasted fifteen minutes; they fought with their teeth, heels, and fore feet, and probably if there had been any other possible way they could have fought they would have employed it. Finally the mule succeeded in biting off part of one of the stallion’s ears. The stallion retaliated by snatching a piece out of the mule’s neck. The mule then saw that there was no use in trying to arbitrate any longer, and seized the stallion’s throat with his teeth and severed the windpipe. The stallion saw that he was done for, and as he turned he gave the mule one terrific kick which knocked off one of the mule’s hind legs, then gave up the ghost, while the victor gave one loud, long bray, and hopped round the corral on three legs.
When I left for the seat of war, like all other soldiers, I [had been] supplied by dear friends with certain appliances of immediate need … I gave my patient a thorough drenching with “Ram Sal’s Pure India Tea,” [and] was pleased to note a great improvement, and in just twenty-four hours he again reported for duty.
[as told in the Essex County Herald (Vt.) 14 February 1891]
In all this I feel sad for the Stallion. A cruel twist of events lead to this proud animals death. His death was the result of simply being admired. :frown:
 

8thFlorida

First Sergeant
Joined
Nov 27, 2016
Interesting share. I had an ancestor that was a teamster in the 4th GA cavalry and I rarely ever read stories regarding animals in service. Except for the cost of the use of the horses/mules and equipment or cargo etc.
 

John Hartwell

Major
Forum Host
Joined
Aug 27, 2011
Location
Central Massachusetts
Interesting share. I had an ancestor that was a teamster in the 4th GA cavalry and I rarely ever read stories regarding animals in service. Except for the cost of the use of the horses/mules and equipment or cargo etc.
Check out our Four Footed Friends of the Civil War forum for hundreds of threads regarding animals at war.
 
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