Comanche, Old Baldy and their Buddies

There is a little known group of distinguished horses that to my knowledge has never been documented or recognized in any formal way as a group.  That group is the war horses whose remains have been preserved and are on display.  To my knowledge, there are only four American military horses that belong to this group:  Commanche, Winchester, Old Baldy, and Little Sorrel.

Old Baldy, General George Meade’s Civil War mount at the battle of Gettysburg and throughout most of the war was recently recovered and in the news.  He will soon be on display again.  Only Old Baldy’s head was preserved after his death.   See the story here.  Baldy’s display seems to be somewhat half-hearted and makes me a bit uncomfortable. 

Actually, I’m uncomfortable with the whole idea of perserving the remains of these fine horses.  But at least, if its going to be done it should be done completely as an honor, not partially, like a trophy.  The other three horses that I know of in this group are displayed with significantly greater care and honor.

Commanche was the mount of Captain Miles Keogh of the 7th Cavalry.  The horse was the only known survivor of Custer’s command at the Little Big Horn.  Commanche is displayed at the University of Kansas Museum of Natural History.  The museum has recently invested significant effort to ensure the integrity of the display and its preservation. 

Little Sorrel was the mount of Confederate General “Stonewall” Jackson.  Jackson was killed by friendly sentry fire in 1863 and was riding Little Sorrel at the time.  Little Sorrel lived a long life, dying in 1886 at the age of 36.  His hid was mounted and is on display at the Viriginia Military Institute.  His bones were cremated and buried on the grounds at VMI.

The final of the four horse warriors is Winchester, the mount of Union Civil War General Phil Sheridan.  Winchester is the mount that Sheridan rode in the counterattack against Confederate forces at the Battle of Cedar Creek in 1864.  Union forces were surprised and in retreat.  Sheridan galloped twenty miles on Rienzi, the horse’s original name, and arrived just in time to rally the troops and lead the successful counterattack.  Winchester was a black Morgan and stood 16 hands.  Sheridan said of him: ““an animal of great intelligence and immense strength and endurance. He always held his head high, and by the quickness of his movements gave many persons the idea that he was exceedingly impetuous. This was not so, for I could at any time control him by a firm hand and a few words, and he was as cool and quiet under fire as one of my soldiers. I doubt if his superior as a horse for field service was ever ridden by any one.”  Winchester died after the war at the age of nineteen.  He was immortalized in a poem entitled “Sheridan’s Ride.”

Excerpt from “Sheridan’s Ride.”

And there, through the flush of the morning light,
A steed as black as the steeds of night
Was seen to pass, as with eagle flight;
As if he knew the terrible need,
He stretched away with his utmost speed.
Hills rose and fell, but his heart was gay,
With Sheridan fifteen miles away.

If you know of any other American or international warhorses that are on display let me know.

Age Old Issue of Stallions vs Geldings in Military Use

For centuries the armies of Asia, Central Asia, and the Middle East used Geldings and Mares as their primary military horses. European armies, however, persisted in using Stallions until the early modern period. The obvious advantage of the Gelding/Mare was their calm in large groups and their trainability. European knights, however, preferred stallions because of their fighting ability. European knights believed that it was dishonorable to go into battle on anything other than a Stallion. Some new insights into this issue are gained from the news report below on the Terracotta Army:

Expert: Horses in terracotta army ‘castrated’

(Xinhua)
Updated: 2010-03-01 16:20

XI’AN – Most of the clay horses unearthed from the mausoleum of Qinshihuang, the first emperor of a united China, had been “castrated”, a Chinese archeologist said after studying more than 600 of the life-sized animals.

All the 520 horses that pulled chariots in the terracotta army, unearthed from the mausoleum on the outskirts of Xi’an, capital of the northwestern Shaanxi province, had penises but no testes, said Yuan Jing, an archeologist with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

The situation varied, however, with the 116 cavalry horses, he said. “Some of them were castrated but many others were not.”

Read the rest of article here.