Famous "Horse Whisperer" reports on the Horses of the Army of the Potomac

John Hartwell

Forum Host
Aug 27, 2011
Central Massachusetts

John Solomon Rarey (1823-66) was perhaps the most celebrated "Horse Whisperer" of all times. He wrote several books describing his "Rarey Technique" for taming and breaking wild horses, and for rehabilitating broken down animals, and demonstrated his system before audiences in America and Europe (including divers "Crowned Heads"). Late in 1862, Gen. Halleck asked him to examine the condition of the horses of the Army of the Potomac. I have not been able to locate a full copy of his report, but The Dollar Newspaper (Phil.), January 2, 1863, outlines his conclusions, besides adding some curious suggestions of its own:

[The Dollar Newspaper (Phil.), January 2, 1863]​
Attached is John S. Rarey's obituary from the N.Y. Tribune.


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John Hartwell

Forum Host
Aug 27, 2011
Central Massachusetts
Text of John S. Rarey's full report, FromMoore's Rebellion Record, vol. VI, pp. 275f:

Report on an Inspection of the Union Army’s Horses
by John S. Rarey to Commander in Chief of the Union Army,

Major-General H. W. Halleck

December 19, 1862
GENERAL: Pursuant of your orders, I visited the army of the Potomac, on the twelfth instant, to inspect the horses and mules in the cavalry, artillery and teams of the army.
The movement of troops on that day, and the engagement at Fredericksburgh that followed during the six days that I remained with the army, gave me but little opportunity to see the management of the horse department in detail, though I had the opportunity to see them on duty.
Having gone there very unfavorably impressed with accounts drawn from the dark side of the picture by those taking the rejected and disabled horses of the army as their stand-point, I found these animals in better condition than I had expected. The mule teams, with some exceptions, were in good condition, and I doubt if ever an army under similar circumstances was better provided for in this respect.
The cavalry horses suffer most, and many of them were scarcely fit for service. The duties that they have to perform -- excursions that sometimes require twenty-four to thirty-six hours without food or rest -- the heavy weight they have to carry, and the unskilled manner in which they are ridden, makes it almost impossible to be otherwise, except they were treated with greatest care. The artillery horses suffer much, but are a grade better than the cavalry.
The greatest abuse and destruction of the horses in the army is, I believe, in the want of skill, judgment, and care of the individual man to his individual horse. A more diligent looking-after of this detail by the officers in charge would be highly beneficial; the good effect of which has been seen, in some instances, where diligence has been exercised with judgment by officers attending to this important but much neglected duty.
The manner in which food is given, where only a sufficiency is allowed, is highly important, as much is wasted and trampled under foot.
I believe for cavalry service on a winter campaign, a saddle-blanket to cover the back and the loins of the horse, to be left on when the saddle is removed, would be of great service. The Arabs, who live more with the horse than any other people, and who are older in horsemanship than any other nation in the world, never remove the saddle from the horse when they are on a long journey. Their saddles always have blankets attached that cover the back and loins of the horse. They argue that the vital part, when heated by riding, should never be made to feel the effects of cold.
As one who loves the horse, who appreciates his intelligence and keen sensibilities, and can anticipate his wants, I do most deeply deplore the dejection of spirit, suffering and loss of life consequent upon the exigencies of war; but while war rages this law must continue.
In an army of fifty-thousand horses, subjected to the service and exposure of the army, there must necessarily be a large percentage of disabled and diseased horses constantly accumulating. It is ever so with soldiers of the army, who are gifted with intelligence and reason, and whose first law of nature is self-preservation, and for the comfort and welfare of whom the greatest energies of the people and the officers of the army are exerted.
How can it be otherwise with the horse? He is not invincible to exposure, which he can scarcely bear as well as man, and with whom he must suffer alike, in time of war.
I am happy to see the extensive hospitals lately erected in this city to restore disabled horses. I believe they are conducted on the best and most economical principle, and will, I have no doubt, be the means of restoring thousands of horses to the army, that will be better on their second service than they were on their first.
Hoping that the Government will, as an act of humanity, as well as economy, use every effort in its power for the protection of this noble animal, I remain, General, your obedient servant,

To Major-General Halleck
Commander-in-Chief United States Army, Washington, D.C.

Mrs. V

2nd Lieutenant
May 5, 2017
I suspect that many were simply plunked on the horse and told how to steer…those who knew horses would have strived to care for them the best they could. I doubt even the most fit horse would have been able to maintain the brutal pace expected of them. Even with the best of care. Becaue of their strength, we do not typically think of them as fragile. But they are! Colic, sprains, fractures, hooves that rot in the wet. They are very complicated to work with and care for, which doesn’t lend itself to prolonged use in warfare.