Mules dressed as reindeer

Kurt G

Sergeant Major
May 23, 2018

Oborseth, CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

- ehhhh close enough

I have read several times about what happened near Savannah on Christmas Day 1864. Several men from a Michigan regiment loaded up wagons with food and supplies and gave them to the civilians near Savannah. They strapped tree branches to the mule's heads to make them look like reindeer. I have never found out which Michigan regiment did this . The 10th , 13th , 14th, 15th , 19th and 21st were all with Sherman. Does anyone know which regiment did this ?
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Retired Moderator
Feb 13, 2011
Howard County, Maryland
View attachment 384188
Oborseth, CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

- ehhhh close enough

I have read several times about what happened near Savannah on Christmas Day 1864. Several men from a Michigan regiment loaded up wagons with food and supplies and gave them to the civilians near Savannah. They strapped tree branches to the mule's heads to make them look like reindeer. I have never found out which Michigan regiment did this . The 10th , 13th , 14th, 15th , 19th and 21st were all with Sherman. Does anyone know which regiment did this ?
Did a search online and found a half dozen sites that mentioned this incident. Guessing that was what you found. And they repeat the exact same thing "90 Michigan men and their Captain". Great story though.


2nd Lieutenant
Aug 6, 2016
A few years back I did this as a trivia questions and tried to find the regiment and had no luck so had to leave that portion out and only asked what state they were from. - It looks like none of the other players linked to any specific unit.



Sergeant Major
Forum Host
Thread Medic
Jul 23, 2017
Southwest Missouri
I believe this is where the story originated - long version from 1922 - Belknap had been a private in the 21st Michigan Infantry and politician when he wrote this - so keep a grain of salt handy.


IN All the Christmas lore for ages past, Santa Claus comes from the land of ice and snow with high-headed reindeer adorned with many pronged antlers. Who has not seen in the frosty air of Christmas night in the North the reindeer sledge and heard the music of the bells and the voice of the ancient mariner of the air?

But who has seen the reindeer of the South? Only a few of the soldier boys of Sherman's Army, for who but the " bummer boys' would have thought of putting a pair of antlers on a pack mule's head and driving about an enemy's country filling the stockings of hungry babies. It was nearing Christmas day of 1864 when the Captain , with ninety men in command received instructions to proceed at once to the relief of the citizens of a little village north and west of Savannah . Both armies had foraged the place and its people were without food .

The orders were concluded with the information,

“ Straggling bands of the enemy are pillaging. Caution and promptness are important."

One hundred mules were packed with hard bread, pork, coffee and sugar and, guarded by the ninety mounted men , filed up from the harbor wharfs through the congested streets of Savannah where fifty thousand refugees from the surrounding country, as well as most of Sherman's Army, and its own town people were assembled.

The road leading out into the country passed over wide marshy rice fields or along palmetto bordered sandy roads, where having to travel single file made the train half a mile long. Great flocks of rice birds came out of the marshes . Wild ducks whirled over head . Lazy alligators slipped about on the muddy banks. At times wewound through the forests of live oak where long sprays of gray moss in festoons waved dreamily about in the wind . In places groups of magnolias with clusters of white blossoms gave out a fragrance under the clear sun of the Southern winter. All this was so new to the men of the North who led the column in advance with their carbines ready for action against a possible enemy who might be sheltered in the great stretches of palms upon either side.

Many of these men had missed for three years the Christmas in the North . Said one, “ I am singing to drive away the homesickness that is eating the heart out of me" ; and the Captain answered , “ Sing a song for me, for I am thinking of the stockings hanging by the chimney at home. Drop out by the side and tell the boys as they come along to sing . **** them if they don't ." And soon the trailing line with the clank ofthe bell on the lead animal, the shouts of the drivers, the crack of whips and the chants of the soldiers, were filling the air with their medley.

The shades of night were falling when we reached the village in the pines. The voices of mothers soothing their hungry children came from many a home where roses were blooming in the gardens, but there were no lights in the windows. The tramp of animals and the voices of the drivers marked another invasion of hungry soldiers and in alarm the doors had been closed. There were no welcome greetings, their last bit of food for man or beast had disappeared.

The corral and camp were made in the village square. Fires were soon lighting up all about, the odors of frying pork and boiling coffee filled the air and , as the Captain had expected, mothers were soon coming with their children and grouped about with the soldiers, sharing in the rough fare.

Then the Captain said to them and it was the first speech he ever made “ Uncle Sam is not making war upon women and children and has sent us with the best he had in store that you may have a Christmas dinner and will fill your tables with enough to carry them over until you can be cared for in other ways .”

There was such a touch of home about it all the women and children and the campfires, the Christmas spirit — that those bummer boys fairly bubbled over with happiness. Men joined in with the songs who had never tried a note before in their lives. When the fires burned low , the town people trailed away to their homes and the soldiers and mule packers rolled up in their blankets under the trees . Along toward the first rays of morning light , when sleep is so sweet, especially to the weary soldier, the camp was startled by a new order of Christmas music, by the loudest and most space penetrating bray they had ever heard.

A moment passed and the bray was repeated in a deeper key ; then another and another, each with a different modulation . Then all the mules in the corral volunteered in the operatic role and the morning air quivered with notes. Sometimes all the mules but one would cease and he would execute the solo part, the rest coming in by way of chorus. We had the soprano, the first and second tenor, the baritone, the basso profundo and the falsetto. One would attempt a florid passage and the others would come in with applause or ridicule.

All the rest of that Christmas night the bell mule with a shake of his neck gave out the key, or, as Big Hank , the boss packer, said , “ Set the chune."

We knew from experience that mules were vicious, but were now convinced they were totally depraved, that they had not the true Christmas spirit, but were possessed of a devil and they let him out through their mouths. These reindeers of the South were on strike for corn and their Christmas chimes kept agoing until they got their rations.

The particular reindeer that started that concert had once before made a record with the command and we loved him not, but needed him in our business. I remember well when we drafted him into the Army. We were making strenuous marches through the hill country, over rough trails where wagons could not be used and all equipage was transported on mule back . The boss mule packer was a contraband, known as Big Hank, who was drafted into the army from a plantation where he had inherited much mule training. One night, while in camp near the " Acorn Boys," he came in with a roan mule about seventeen hands high , a wild-eyed , long-eared animal, with a tail full of burs. That was a bad mule sign , but as we were in great need of pack animals we felt obliged to keep him , although he kicked down a company line of shelter tents before he was anchored to a tree for the night.

The command had made camp the evening before in a side hill forest , near the banks of a creek, not knowing just where they were, but it happened a part of Joe Wheeler's confederate cavalry were camped on an opposite hill about a mile away . At daylight next morning Hank tried to pack that mule and there occurred an interesting dispute . The animal's head was well anchored to a tree, but his fighting end was busy — the score standing two to one in favor of the mule, as against the packer, who, armed with a club, was kept busy dodging heels. He had the advantage in the use of cuss words, but they made no impression on the animal's sense of military discipline.

This disturbance aroused the enemy on the opposite hill and they came out to investigate and that led to a fight. Finally the pack was made up, blankets, coffee pots, frying pans, a music box that played four tunes, and last, but not least, three game cocks which were champions. One, known as Sheridan, had licked everything in the 14th army corps. Another was called Kilpatrick, because he would sooner fight than eat corn.

If it had not been for that roan mule we would have gotten away from the camp without a fight, but just about the time the last hitch was made, the music box grinding out, “ Jordan's a hard road to travel” and the game cocks crowing defiance at each other, the first shell from the enemy's guns came crashing through the tree tops. It exploded near the pack mule and he, being a new recruit, tried to climb the tree to which he was tied . Not succeeding in that, he slipped his halter, charged down the hill into the creek, where, under an overhanging tree, the pack saddle with its load was dumped into the water . Half the command were at once in pursuit and , lined up behind trees, were fighting with the Johnnies for possession of the duffle in the crook. Those game cocks , the music box and the coffee pots were salvaged . In the confusion, the mule, under full head , braying that forlorn and penetrating air that had wakened us on Christmas morning , went away into the forest to escape for a time the terrors of war .

So now on Christmas morning in the little Southern village Big Hank and his aides cinched his pack saddle, trimmed his halter with pampa grass plumes and loaded him to the limit with army rations. To the music of a cowbell they led a parade from house to house with their gifts until every woman and child was cared for.

These reindeer of the South have faded out with the trials and homesickness of long ago and the Bummer Captain with his great grandchildren at his side joyfully awaits old Santa Claus and his reindeer coming in on glistening paths of ice and frost." - Michigan Tradesman .

As published in Michigan Military History 1922
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