Jackson and "Little Sorrel"

william42

First Sergeant
Joined
Feb 20, 2005
Location
Evansville, Indiana
A tribute to Stonewall's steed, Little Sorrel
In military histories, the contributions of the horses are often overlooked, although these mounts carried their commanders into battle with the same bravery as the humans around them. By Michael Aubrecht


p166969-Clarksburg_WV-Stonewall_Jac.jpg

Clarksburg, WV, birthplace of Thomas J. Jackson


0909Sorrel1.jpg

By Mort Kunstler


'Stonewall Jackson on Little Sorrel,' a painting by Civil War artist Mort Kunstler, depicts the general riding what became the Confederacy's second most-famous horse (after Gen. Robert E. Lee's mount, Traveller). With his remarkable endurance, Little Sorrel quickly became Jackson's favorite. The commander was riding the 15-hand mount when he was mortally wounded at Chancellorsville.

THROUGHOUT the course of military history, generals always have relied on the faithful obedience and service of their troops. The fulfillment of one's duty is the prime directive of every disciplined soldier, and executing orders under fire is crucial in achieving victory on the battlefield. Members of the armed forces are often called upon to follow their commanders blindly into desperate and dangerous situations without question--and without hesitation. Thus is the nature of man in war.

Another loyal servant to the high command, whose contributions are overlooked, is the horse. Completely unaware of the politics, protocol and hypocrisy of war, this animal is more than just a mount. It is a faithful friend and follower who carries its commander into battle with the same bravery and patriotism as the humans around it.

Many of the generals whom we study today enjoyed the companionship of one of these steeds. And in many cases, the horse's name has become almost as famous as its owner's. This was especially true during the Civil War. In the Confederate army, Robert E. Lee's horse Traveller quickly became a Southern icon. In the Union army, it was Philip Sheridan's mount Winchester who captured the hearts and minds of the North.

Another horse that ultimately became as beloved as its rider was Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson's mount, Little Sorrel. No other horse, it seems, has been honored with such grace and dignity as this undersized steed. Like his commander, the story of Little Sorrel is one of both triumph and tragedy.

In 1861, Col. Thomas J. Jackson was deployed to the most northern point of the Confederate states, at Harper's Ferry. His orders were to take command of troops from the Valley District who were stationed there and secure the U.S. armory and arsenal. During this time, Jackson focused on training his army, as well as the logistics required to supply and maintain it. Acquiring the horses essential for mobilization required his immediate attention.


Luckily, a few days after his arrival, an eastbound train full of livestock was seized. On board was a herd of domestic horses that was instantly recruited into the Confederacy. Obviously spooked and weary from their journey, the horses were led out of their railroad cars and taken to the nearby river for water. Jackson, without a mount at the time, approached the animals and selected two candidates with the help of Maj. John Harmon. One was a large, muscular stallion; the other was a smaller and rounder Morgan. At first, Jackson planned to present the little Morgan as a gift to his wife. But he grew frustrated with the larger animal, which proved to be difficult and ornery.

Within a day, the colonel had made his decision, as the bigger and more powerful horse remained skittish, while the smaller sorrel had an easy gait and a pleasant temperament. Appropriately, Jackson named the horse "Little Sorrel"--creating one of the Civil War's most recognizable duos.

Jackson's most famous attribute was his unflinching bravery, which won him the nickname of "Stonewall" at the Battle of Manassas (aka First Bull Run.) A devout Presbyterian, Jackson believed that the time of his death had already been determined, thus no space on the battlefield was any safer than the next. He said, "My religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed. God has fixed the time for my death. I do not concern myself about that, but to always be ready, no matter when it may overtake me."

His unwavering faith and dedication to God and country inspired his troops (later christened the "Stonewall Brigade") to charge with reckless abandon into victory over the most dire of circumstances. It is often forgotten, but important to remember, that every time Jackson entered the battlefield, he was atop his faithful horse.

For every musket ball and exploding shell that Jackson faced, his mount also stayed the course. Little Sorrel's service record, even for a horse, was extraordinary. Some of his milestones included the Battle of Manassas, the Seven Days Battle, the Battle of Fredericksburg and the tragic Battle of Chancellorsville. As a testament to the animal's strength of will, Henry Kyd, Jackson's staff officer, once remarked that he never observed a sign of fatigue in Little Sorrel.

Throughout the war, Jackson's horse, like his men, remained cool under fire. His troops' loyalty to their commander was second to none, and his bravery became infectious throughout the ranks. Due to a successful defensive campaign on Southern soil, the Confederacy seemed well on its way to acquiring accepted independence.
All that changed after the sudden and accidental death of the man they called "Stonewall."

On May 2, 1863, during the Battle of Chancellorsville, Jackson's own men accidentally fired upon him. He suffered three wounds and had to have an arm amputated. Initially, Jackson looked to make a full recovery, but he later developed an incurable case of pneumonia. In the end, he clearly accepted his fate as part of God's divine plan and resolved to spend his last hours, before delirium set in, reading from the Bible.

Following the death of his master, Little Sorrel became a symbol of Southern pride and survived to a ripe, old age. Jackson's widow, Mary Anna, cared for the horse until dwindling finances forced her to send him to the Virginia Military Institute, where the cadets looked after their ex-instructor's mount until he relocated once again to the Confederate veterans' home in Richmond.

He toured as an attraction at country fairs and attended many reunions for Civil War veterans. It has also been written that Southern ladies would sometimes clip hairs from his mane and tail to make wristlets and rings. At the tender age of 33, Little Sorrel was a bona fide celebrity sideshow. In 1884, he was photographed with an 85-year-old Confederate soldier named Napoleon Hull, who was said to have been the oldest surviving veteran of Jackson's army.

Unfortunately, like "Stonewall," the retired horse would also suffer a tragic demise at the hands of "his own men."
After the horse's deteriorating health became crippling, Confederate veterans rigged a makeshift sling to hoist him to his feet whenever visitors arrived. One day, the sling accidentally slipped off and the poor horse fell to the floor, breaking his back. Death came shortly thereafter.

After the passing of Little Sorrel in 1886, CSA veterans had his hide mounted and preserved, where it remains on display in the VMI Museum. He is one of only two horses ever to be preserved from the Civil War. The other is Sheridan's Winchester.

On July 20, 1997, 111 years later, the animal's skeleton was finally cremated and his ashes were scattered beneath the famous bronze statue of his master at the entrance to VMI. The reburial and ceremony were due to the efforts of the Virginia Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy and echoed the pageantry of days gone by.

Complete with mounted cavalry and infantry, a fife and drum corps, a bagpiper, and ladies in period dress, Little Sorrel's bones were escorted to his grave in a special 18-inch-tall walnut casket created for the event.

As Jackson would have wanted, the invocation, blessing and benediction were offered by the Rev. William Klein, pastor of Lexington Presbyterian Church, where Jackson and his wife, Mary Anna Morrison, had worshipped. Other prominent speakers included Dr. James I. Robertson, author of the recently published definitive biography of Little Sorrel's master, and Col. Keith Gibson, director of the school's museum.

To this day, Little Sorrel remains a symbol of bravery and service, not only to the cadets at VMI, but to all who pay tribute to the men who fought in battle--and the animals that carried them there.



MICHAEL AUBRECHT of Spotsylvania County is the author of "Onward Christian Soldier: The Spiritual Journey of Stonewall" and "Christian Cavalier: The Spiritual Legacy of J.E.B. Stuart." Visit his Web site at angelfire.com/ny5/pinstripepress.

Fredericksburg.com - A tribute to Stonewall's steed, Little Sorrel
 

spacecoast06

Cadet
Joined
Mar 8, 2008
Location
Palm Bay, FL
Very interesting. I never really took the time to find out what happened to Little Sorrel after Jackson's death. Thank you for the information.
 

tackitt27

Private
Joined
Oct 11, 2006
Location
Flora, IL
After Stonewall was shot, didnt Little Sorrel run away to the Federal lines. The horse was returned back to Southern troops six weeks later. Anyone know if it was a trade, and what was traded for the horse? How did they know it indeed was Jackson's horse?
 

M E Wolf

Colonel
Retired Moderator
Joined
Feb 9, 2008
Location
Virginia
Dear Tackitt27;

Here are two links, to which may be a good read on the horse "Little Sorrel'

http://users.erols.com/va-udc/sorrell.html

http://users.erols.com/va-udc/times.html

Little Sorrel was Jackson's favorite from among four horses that carried him over hundreds of miles and through numerous battles up and down the Shenandoah valley. When Jackson was mortally wounded by troops from the 18th North Carolina Infantry at Chancellorsville, Little Sorrel was spooked momentarily, almost unseating the wounded general as the terrified horse ran through underbrush until he was finally halted. He was captured briefly by Union troops and retaken by the Confederates the next day. The saga repeated until Little Sorrel graciously was allowed to return to the Confederacy permanently.

The soldiers and officers would know Little Sorrel by the saddle blanket that the horse had; as officers had a distinct saddle blanket called a Shabraque, that noted the 'rank' of the horse's rider, by heraldry and or lines of ribbon sewn into the edge of the blanket.

With soldiers knowing their enemy officers as well as the officers from the other side, with their 'eye glasses'--they would have picked up on the Shabraque as well as the color of the horse. In addition, most military saddles assigned to the general, would have his identification mark on it.

I can only assume the Union officer in charge, was a 'gentleman' to whom graciously returned "Little Sorrel" out of courtesy. Perhaps there was a 'gentleman's agreement' between officers. I haven't personally come across the portion of time when General Jackson was wounded and the tug of war over Little Sorrel and how it came to be Little Sorrel was returned to Jackson's widow.

There is a section, within the A-Z portion of the forums, that is dedicated to horses and identifying their riders.

Just some thoughts.

Respectfully submitted for consideration,
M. E. Wolf
 

M E Wolf

Colonel
Retired Moderator
Joined
Feb 9, 2008
Location
Virginia
Dear Tackitt27;

You are welcome :smile:

Glad to be of help sir.

Respectfully submitted,
M. E. Wolf
 
Joined
Nov 18, 2008
Location
Chattanooga
I recently read in a book entitled 'Civil War Curiosities' that Somers, Connecticut has a street called "Little Sorrel Lane" named in honor of General Jackson's horse.

Is anyone else aware of this tidbit?

Highest regards
dml
 

ole

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Retired Moderator
Joined
Feb 20, 2005
Location
Near Kankakee
A little puzzle for you horsey people. 15-hands is not exactly little, is it?

Ole
 
Joined
Nov 18, 2008
Location
Chattanooga
A hand is 4 inches. A 15-hand horse stands 60" at the withers. (Where the neck and back meet)

So the answer to your question all would depend on the build of the rider, and how tall a horse they prefer. I think a tall man looks more suitable with a tall horse, but that's just me.

Highest regards
dml
 

M E Wolf

Colonel
Retired Moderator
Joined
Feb 9, 2008
Location
Virginia
Dear Ole;

A 14.2 hand horse is the smallest horse measurement in the equine standards of height. 14.1 or shave under 14.2 hands; is considered a large pony. 15 hands is a fairly decent sized horse actually. However, if a man is blessed with long legs--he will definitely have heels below the underbelly line.

A hand was a measure of a man's knuckle from fore finger to little finger, before there was such a thing as a ruler or tape measure. Men's hands were much smaller and Lincoln was approximately 6'1" and that was rather tall for a man; as you can see from the old photos of Lincoln at Gettysburg; he is a might taller. Also, when you look at Lincoln at the CW photos visiting his generals--he is a might taller.

If you scare up a picture of Grant's horses, with Cincinnati, Egypt and Jeff Davis (the pony). Jeff Davis (the pony) was approximately 14.1-2 hands. The others are considerably taller. Mid way between Jeff Davis and Cincinnati would be the height of "Little Sorrel."

Few horse are above 17.0 hands, where you get into the taller Thoroughbreds, Warmbloods (Coaching horses) and Draft Horses.

Another thing to mention, is the style of riding in the Civil War, is with long stirrups, to which balance in a dragoon seat and or cavalry seat (riding style and posture) is long legged and sitting straight. Unlike the more modern seat, where the rider's legs are more bent, bringing the leg up approximately 3 inches.

The ideal 'fit' for the dragoon seat, would be where the rider's calf would be on the widest part of the horse's belly. The rider's muscle in tensing up would apply pressure as to push the horse. The horse moves away from pressure--so either the horse goes faster or away from the leg; where the horse moves sideways. The bit; would regulate the forward motion by closure of the hand would halt the horse or make the horse back up or move sideways as the bit tells the horse to stop, leg presses so moves least resistance.

The spur was a back up to the leg--where strength in the command of the leg was needed, such as under fire, when the horse resisted moving. The rider should be able to turn his toe out, which causes the heel to go against the horse's side. The arch of the spur was designed to accommodate the rider's leg--longer the spur was flipped as to reach higher, if perfect- to point downward as turning the leg does raise the leg a bit...putting the spur at the belly.


The best 'Civil War' dragoon/cavalry seat I've seen an actor strike; was the gentleman actor to whom played Major General John Reynolds in the movie "Gettysburg," when he is riding with Sam Elliott, who is playing the part of Brig. General John Buford. The reins are held perfectly to the training of the US Cavalry regulations, as well as the seat. And, if you listen, as he speaks his voice does not quiver. Very important when an officer needs to command while a horse is in motion.

Just some 'equestrian' thoughts.

Respectfully submitted for consideration,
M. E. Wolf
 
Joined
Jul 21, 2008
Location
Cradle of the Confederacy
After Stonewall was shot, didnt Little Sorrel run away to the Federal lines. The horse was returned back to Southern troops six weeks later. Anyone know if it was a trade, and what was traded for the horse? How did they know it indeed was Jackson's horse?

Jackson didn't fall off of Sorrel. He was miraculously able to slow Sorrel down with one arm and he fell way back in the saddle after being shot. Jackson's men came over and pulled him from Sorrel. This is in all the literature that I've ever read and the park ranger at Chancellorsville (Robert Chapman) also presents this same account in the very moving presentation that he does at the visitor center.
 

ole

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Retired Moderator
Joined
Feb 20, 2005
Location
Near Kankakee
Well. I've certainly learned more than I asked for. Lincoln was 6' 4". And a horse that's 5' 5" at the whithers, I can't readily see over. That's a big horse.

Sometime back there when we were both more mobile, we signed onto a trail ride into the Absarokas just a bit outside of Cody, Wyoming. My horse was Doubletree and I was instructed to not try to master him. (I did anyway.) Dear One rode Babe, who was more docile. The three days were irreplaceable, and did absolutely nothing to improve my distaste for the horse. But I was glad that I didn't have to walk.

Ole
 
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