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.


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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I know nothing about the process of taxidermy (by choice, just not my thing) but it is interesting how different the horses look from their pictures especially in the neck (they all seem to be thinner in the neck, which must be the lack of plump water-filled muscles there).

    From a historical point of view it is neat to see the actual body of the horse, but for me all the majesty is lost, they look as alien as if they were made from papier-mache or something.

  2. Though my feelings are mixed, I tend to feel the same way. Horses to me are not trophies to me. As a historian however, there is no substitute for seeing something that is close to the real thing.

  3. My feelings,too, are that the trophy style preservation while good intentioned is degrading.

  4. It’s important from a historical viewpoint to see these guys and I am glad they were mounted. Photos were not in color back then; we can learn a lot of other information about these horses by seeing them ‘in color’. Certain genetic color characteristics can really ONLY be seen in color, for example; and the taxidermists, though appearing crude by today’s standards, may carefully preserve a particular aspect of the horse (like a specific way he held his head when alive) that would otherwise have been lost to time. They had no ‘forms’ to mount these animals on and the taxidermist had to construct the body himself. I don’t know for sure, however it may be possible to get DNA from the hides/hair, always interesting to know genetic heritage of them (either previously or down the line to today). The Baldy mount also looks unsettling I agree; but the ‘trophy’ aspect may not have been what they saw in the 19th century–that’s probably a purely modern inference. As for only having Baldy’s head: he had been buried and dug up again by some of Meade’s former soldiers in the dead of winter. His head and front hooves was likely all they could get!

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