Major Hitchcock's Jumper, "Don" (132nd Pa)

John Hartwell

Forum Host
Aug 27, 2011
Central Massachusetts

The following, together with the above photograph, is from pp. 170-172 of the memoir, War from the Inside (1904), by Frederick L. Hitchcock (Major, 132nd Pennsylvania, later Colonel, 25th U.S.C.T.).
I mounted and started for division head-quarters, about a half-mile away, in ample time to reach there a little before the appointed time—eight o'clock, but reaching the outer edge of our camp my horse balked, and in answer to my efforts to move him began to kick, rear, and plunge. He tried to throw me, and did nearly everything except roll over. Every time I headed him forward, he would wheel around and start back for his stable. I coaxed him, then tried the spur, all to no purpose. I was losing valuable time, besides having a very uncomfortable kind of a fight on hand. I realized I must make him obey me or I could never handle him again. An orderly from General French came galloping over with the expected peremptory message. One minute's delay with him was almost a capital offence. I could only return word that I was doing my best to get there. The general and his staff then rode over to see my performance. He reassured me with the remark, "Stick to him and make him obey you, or kill him." Well, it took just about one hour to conquer him, at the end of which time I had ploughed up several acres of ground, my horse was in a white lather, and I was in the same condition. When he quit, he did so at once, and went on as cleverly as though nothing had happened. The cause of this freak I never understood, he never having done so before, and never did again.​
May I digress long enough to speak a little more of this remarkable horse. Dr. Holland says there is always hope for any man who has heart enough to love a good horse. Army life was well calculated to develop the sterling qualities of both man and beast. Hence, I suppose every man who had a good horse could safely regard him as "most remarkable." How many such have I heard cavalrymen talk about, descanting on the "remarkable" qualities of their half-human favorites, whilst the tears wet their cheeks.​
I had named this splendid animal "Don Fulano," after that superb horse in Winthrop's John Brent, not because he was a magnificent black charger, etc.; on the contrary, in many respects he was the opposite of the original Don Fulano. Raised upon an unromantic farm near Scranton, an unattractive yellow bay, rather too heavy limbed and too stockily built to be called handsome, yet powerful, courageous, intelligent (he could almost talk), high spirited, with a heavy, shaggy mane and forelock, through which gleamed a pair of keen, fierce eyes, he had many of the qualities which distinguished his noble prototype.​
He had not the high honor to die carrying a slave to liberty, but when the final accounts come to be squared up in the horses' heaven, it is possible that the credit of having passed unflinchingly through the battles of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, and of having safely carried a wounded soldier off each field may prove to be a little something in favor of my splendid "Don."​
As a saddler, he came to me practically unbroken. He was sold from the farm because he would jump all fences, yet under the saddle, when I took him, he would not jump the smallest obstacle. This is really as much of an art on the part of the rider as with the horse. An unskilled rider is liable to seriously injure both the horse and himself in jumping. If he is unsteady, the motion of the horse as he rises to make his leap is liable to pitch him over his head. On the other hand, if he clings back, a dead weight in his saddle, he is liable to throw the horse backward. I have seen both done. The secret of successful jumping is to give the horse his head as he rises, feel your knees against his sides firmly, rising with him as he rises and be again in your seat before his feet reach the ground. This helps him and saves both a killing jounce. I finally trained him so that as a jumper he was without a peer in our part of the army. I have had the men hold a pole fully a foot higher than my head, as I stood on the ground, and have jumped him back and forth over it as readily as cats and dogs are taught to jump over one's arm. And the men insisted that he cleared the pole at least a foot each jump.​
This jumping of horses was considered quite an accomplishment in the army, it being often a necessity on the march in getting over obstacles. One day I saw our general's son, a young West Pointer, attached to his father's staff, trying to force his Kentucky thoroughbred to jump a creek that ran past division head-quarters. The creek was probably ten to twelve feet wide and, like all Virginia creeks, its banks seemed cut vertically through the soil and the water at the edges was about a foot deep. After repeated trials the best the young man's horse could do was to get his forefeet on the opposite bank. His hindfeet always landed in the water. Mr. West Pointer was way above noticing in any way a poor volunteer plebeian like myself mounted on an old plug like Don. But Don had taken in the situation as well as I, and when I said, "Come, Don, let's us try it," he just gathered himself and sailed over that creek like a bird, landing easily a couple of feet on the other side, and swung around for another try. The young fellow gathered up his thoroughbred and with an oath of disgust retired.​
Don and I became great friends, and after our fight, above mentioned (Fredericksburg), in all our practice jumping or on the march, or riding about, I never had occasion to use the spur,—indeed, I seldom wore one. A simple "Come, Don," and he was quick to obey my every wish. He was kind and tractable with others, but it was a singular fact that, as for jumping or any other favors, he would do nothing for anybody but me, not even for my man who took care of him. Others, including horse-trainers, repeatedly asked to try him, thinking they could improve his work, but he drew the line on all; not even a little jump would he make for any of them. I had been jumping him, one day, to the delight and admiration of the men. Among them was a horse-trainer of the Fourth New York, who asked the privilege of trying him. He mounted and brought him cantering up to the pole as though he was going over all right, but instead of making the leap he suddenly whirled, almost dumping the trainer, to the infinite amusement of the men; nor could he induce him to make the leap. I mounted again and he went over, back and forth, without the slightest hesitation. I brought him home from the war, and it was a great grief to me that I was unable to keep him as long as he lived. I secured him a good home, where he lived to a dignified old age. One of my household gods is a photograph of Don and myself, with a section of the camp of Hancock's division of the Second Corps for a background, taken at this time, whilst we lay back of Falmouth.​

JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Feb 14, 2012
Central Pennsylvania
I always read horse and dog stories from between my fingers- they generally die just as you, the reader are getting attached to them. This IS a great story AND he lived through the war!

Just tried to look up mention of an old war horse named Don, in Pennsylvania? They tended to make news, " Old War Horse Dies At 26 ", etc. Don may be there somewhere but ' old war horse ' searches brings up around a 1,000 mentions of elderly generals.