caring for wounded horses


Sergeant Major
Aug 4, 2011
Everett, Washington
I can't recall the specific sources, but I recall that there were multiple references to the high attrition rate upon horses in the ACW. A good number of them were initially leased horses, with the idea that they would be returned to the owner in suitable (workable) condition after the war. But most horses were dead or ruined during the war due to over-work or poor care - most were either dead or considered "used up" within a year, especially if used on wagon or battery teams.

Remember that there was a difference in the Union and Confederate cavalry supply of horses. Union horses were normally supplied to the cavalry for that purpose, albeit their condition and degree of training could be inconsistent, at best. Although cavalry did a better job than most in taking care of their horses (they didn't want to lose the use of their horses at an inconvenient time), the horses didn't belong to the rider, and the amount of care reflected that fact.

Confederate cavalry men were expected to bring their own horses. If they lost their horses for whatever reason, they were expected to replace them. On the plus side, a Confederate cavalryman was probably the best at taking care of their own horse. On the negative side, cavalarymen had to be given furloughs to go home and secure a replacement, and many of them never found their way back to the army again - especially if the lines had changed in the interim. Bragg was enraged at the number of cavalrymen missing from roll call - some were deserers, some were on "French Leave", other were merely back home to put in get a replacment horse, and to help with the farm for a couple of weeks or so before returning back to service.

Cavalry on both sides during raids paid special attention to the prospect of acquiring new horses, especially those already broken and trained for government work. This, of course, deprived the enemy of their services, but it also was very useful in fulfilling their own army' s needs. During a raid being able to abandon a fatigued horse and replace it with a fresh one would allow a cavalryman to avoid his pursuers.

By the middle of the war, the Confederate cavalry (and other horses & mules) would be rather widely dispersed for forage, as it was very difficult to bring in straw and grain. Union cavalry had more resources available, so felt less of a need to do so (Chattanooga being a notable exception). This caused Lee considerable heartburn - he had to keep the horses and mules dispersed a considerable distance from the ANV headquarters so they could feed upon whatever new grass was available, but make sure it was back with the ANV by the time the spring campaign begins.