- Jul 19, 2016
- Spotsylvania Virginia
Petersburg, Virginia. Camp of companies, C & D, 1st Massachusetts Cavalry; Courtesy Library of Congress
This posting is the last of a three-part series on the bond between a cavalryman and his horse. The first two in this series were posted in February in Soldiers Who Fought On Horseback; Cavalry, forum.
In the first two series, I used descriptions from Captain George Baylor’s memoirs. Part One tells the story, in Baylor’s own words, of the loyalty between rider and his mount. In Part Two, I tapped Baylor once more to tell the story of losing one of three horses killed from under him in battle. For this third, and last story, I relied on Captain Charles F. Adams Jr. to illustrate an account of keeping his horses ready for daily service
Captain Baylor served most of the war in the 12th Virginia Cavalry Regiment. Captain Charles F. Adams served as an officer in the 1st. Massachusetts Cavalry Regiment. He was a descendent from the President John Adams family. Following the battle of Chancellorsville, Captain Adams wrote:
Camp of the 1st Mass. Cav’y
Potomac Creek May 12, 1863
It is by no means a pleasant thought to reflect how little people at hone know of the non-fighting details of waste and suffering of war. We were in the field four weeks, and only once did I see the enemy, even at a distance. You read of Stoneman’s and Grierson’s cavalry raids and of the dashing celerity of their movements and their long, rapid marches. Do you know how cavalry moves? It never goes out of a walk, and four miles an hour is very rapid marching, - “killing to horses” as we always describe it. To cover forty-miles is nearly fifteen-hours march. The suffering is trifling for the men and they are always well in the field in spite of wet and cold and heat, loss of sleep and sleeping on the ground. In the field we have no sickness; when we get into camp it begins to appear at once.
But with the horses it is otherwise, and you have no idea of their suffering. An officer of Cavalry needs to be more horse-doctor than soldier, and no one who has tried it can realize the discouragement to Company commanders in these long and contentious marches. You are a slave to your horses, you work like a dog yourself and you exact the more extreme care from your Sergeants and you see diseases creeping on you day by day and your horses breaking down under your very eyes and you have but two resources, one to send them to reserve camp at the rear and thus strip yourself of your command and the other to force them on until they drop then run for luck that you will be able to steal horses to remount your men and keep up the strength of your command. The last course is the one I adopt. I do my best for my horses and am sorry for them, but all war is cruel and it is my business to bring every man I can into the presence of the enemy and so make war short. So, I have but one rule, a horse must go until he can’t be spurred any further, and then the rider must get another horse as soon as he can seize on one. To estimate the wear and tear on horseflesh you must bear in mind that in the service in this county, a cavalry horse, when loaded carried an average of 225 pounds on his back. His saddle when packed and without rider in it weighs not less than fifty pounds. The horse is in active campaign, saddled on the average about fifteen hours out of the twenty-four. His feed is nominally ten pounds of grain a day and in reality, the average eight pounds. He has no hay only such other feed as he can pick up during halts. The usual water he finds is brook water so muddy by the passage of the column as to be of the color of chocolate.
Of course, sore backs are our greatest trouble. Backs soon get feverish under the saddle and the first day’s march swells them; after that, day by day the trouble grows. No care can stop it. Every night after a march, no matter how late it might be, or tired or hungry I am, if permission is given to unsaddle, I examine all the horses backs myself and see that everything is done for them that can be done, and yet with every care, the marching of the last four weeks disabled ten of my horse, and put ten more on the high road to disability, and this out of sixty-one horses in three. Imagine a horse with his wither swollen to three times the normal size, and with volcanic, running sores pouring matter down the side, you have a case with which every cavalry office is called upon to deal with, and you can imagine a horse which has still to be ridden until he lays worn in sheer suffering under the saddle. Then we seize the first horse we come to and put the dismounted man on his back. The air in Virginia today is literally burdened with the stench of dead horses, federal and confederate. You pass them on every road then in every field while from their carrions you can follow the march of every army that moves.
On this last ride, dying horses lined the road on which Stoneman’s division passed, and we marched over a road made pestilent by the dead horses of the vanished rebels. Poor brutes! How it would astonish and terrify you and all others at home with your sleek, well-fed animals, to see the weak, gaunt, rough animals, with each rib visible and the hipbones starting through the flesh, on which these “dashing cavalry rides” were executed. It would knock the romance out of you. So much for my cares as a horse-master, and they are cared of all. For, I can safely assure you my horses are not the worse in the regiment and that I am reputed no unsuccessful chief-groom. I put seventy horses in the field on the 13th of April, and not many other Captains in the service did as much.
From Bull Run To Bull Run Or Four Years in The Army of Northern Virginia (1900); by George Baylor; Reprinted by Kessinger Publishing LLC 10/17/07.
A Cycle of Adams Letters 1861-1865; Chauncey Ford Washington Flliquarian Publishing LLC/Qonitro; originally published Boston and New York. Houghton Mifflin Company. The Riverside Press, Cambridge 1920.
A Cycle of Adams Letters 1861-1865 Library of Congress