New Review of “War Horse”

A Recent and I believe fair review of War Horse in Michigan War Studies Review byGervase Phillips, Manchester Metropolitan University :

A one-volume history of mounted warfare is a bold undertaking, for the scope of the topic is immense. As Louis DiMarco remarks in the introduction to this new study, “the war horse and rider was a viable military system for more than 3,000 years, far longer than any other military system” (ix). It is a challenge that has largely defeated the handful of historians who have attempted the task thus far: G. T. Denison, in the late nineteenth century, wrote what was, essentially, a polemic advocating the then current “mounted rifleman” school rather than a history;1 in 1961, James Lunt, a former cavalryman, published an elegy for his arm, too episodic to serve as a general history.2 In the 1970s, two works, one a collection of essays,3 the other a monograph by John Ellis,4 attempted a more comprehensive coverage, but these slim volumes provide only superficial treatment of their topic, and Ellis’s work is marred by his ideological prejudices against those social classes who (in the west at least) traditionally dominated the cavalry branch. DiMarco’s work is different: in his history, the horse itself provides the strong, central, unifying theme. The physical characteristics of the horse, breeds and types, horse equipment, equitation and horse mastership (care of horses) in the field—these are DiMarco’s concerns as he takes his reader from the earliest years of man’s blossoming relationship with equids, up through their use by American special forces in Afghanistan today.

I can recommend DiMarco’s work as the best single-volume history of cavalry….

Read the complete Review Here.

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“History of the Horse” Coming Soon

Above is the trailer for a six part documentary entitled “The History of the Horse” that will be on most PBS stations later this year (dates and times TBD).  I helped out some with the episode on the horse warrior.  I have no idea what the final product looks like but the trailer promises a pretty interesting project.

See below for more information.

Saddle Up with Dennis Brouse is a television series airing on public television stations across the nation

The show celebrates the relationship between horse and human. Whether you own a horse or just love to watch them in the movies, we have a storied partnership with this magnificent animal. This series showcases everything from training tips for horse owners to trail destinations for recreational riders. We visit ranches and other locations where our bond with horses is illustrated in countless ways.

Click here to follow to the webpage.

New Book: Led by the Grey

One of my blog Readers just alerted me to this relatively new novel by Peter DeCosemo which looks to be very entertaining.  If you like science fiction and fantasy (which I do), military history (which I do), and horses (which I do), this looks like the perfect spring / summer read!

You can find out more about the book at this website: Led By the Grey. 

Right now the book is not available in the US but can be ordered directly from the UK through the website.

Another major attraction of the novel is that all procedes from sale of the Hardback will be to the Household Cavalry Casualty Fund.

I’ll post a review after I’ve read it.

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.

War Horse: Sefton, British Army

Some times my various interests collide in interesting and unusual ways.  Recently I was discussing IRA bombing tactics as an example of the militant wing of an insurgent group dominating its political wing.  Nothing probably demonstrates this better than the July, 1982 bombing by the IRA of the British Household Cavalry guards.  The below is the report from the BBC as to what happened. 

Sefton, Lifeguard Cavalry Horse

One of the survivors was the Household Cavalry horse Sefton.  See his story here

The interesting aspect of this bombing is that it is really a major tactical mistake by the IRA.  Not in the sense that it didn’t achieve their objective of bring publicity to their campaign.  That was a tactical success.  But it was  a mistake in the strategic sense.  Killing horses and bandsmen had a huge public backlash against the IRA.  Even among the Catholic community of Northern Ireland, a bastion of IRA support, few could have sanctioned killing horses and bandsmen.  Especially when many of the horses were Irish breed.  

This attack makes the point that terrorism is really about information operations.  The side that manages the message the best wins.  Attacking bandsmen and horses is a terrible message.  In the years after 1982 the British army and government became expert at turning such IRA attacks against the terrorists.  The British were able to make such actions a net loss to the terrorists among their own supporters by carefully exploiting the negative images of the attack while avoiding an overt response to the bombing which would have increased support for the terrorists. 

See this discussion to see how the British strategy against the IRA changed over time. 

Many Americans were too young or have forgotten how savage the battle between the British and IRA was.  This might be a reminder.  

For additional reading on the time of troubles see: 

 

  

For more informaton on the Sefton story see:

British Army Horses Traveling

The Army have decided to reward their loyal horses with an off-duty trip to Blackpool.

Read Complete Article Here.

Another article Here.

Household Cavalry arrives in the Middle East.  Read Article Here.

Traveling Household Cavalry

 

The horse detachment blog below brought to the fore the continuing role of the ceremonial horse cavalry units around the world, especially in nations at war.  An interesting article was published in the British press a couple of weeks ago on the household cavalry musical ride doing an exhibition in the Middle East.  I have planned a more complete description of the mounted Household cavalry in a future blog.  For now, check out the article, and especially the excellent photos.  Also enjoy the below youtube video of the world’s most famous mounted ceremonial formation.

Note:  Moving in this formation are about 105 mounted troops, counting officers, colors, and buglers (but not the band).  This basically shows you four troops (American platoons) of horse cavalry –roughly the equivalent of a squadron (American company) of traditional European cavalry.  Look at how much physical space this unit occupies and imagine it moving at a gallop across country at 30mph.  That’s one tenth of a regiment!  Now imagine a thousand (a full regiment) or four thousand (a division).  At Waterloo the French cavalry charge consisted of about 9,000 cavalry.  Makes the point of the powerful physical and physiological effect of cavalry on the historic battlefield.  Something that few if any individuals alive today have experienced.

Horse Cavalry Detachment

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One winter morning many years ago, I was driving into work at Fort Hood Texas in a very dense fog.  It was about seven AM and still pretty dark.  I was coming in the eight lane main gate; traffic was very light and going slow because of the fog when a single horseman appeared out of nowhere in the middle of the eight lanes of traffic.  He was on an excited and jittery mount but was keeping  him under control with short pulls on the big army curb bit.  The horseman was in full Indian wars era winter cavalry field regalia:  long medium blue overcoat with cape thrown back and the yellow cavalry lining revealed; blue trousers with a yellow cavalry stripe tucked into tall black boots; dark Stetson with a yellow cavalry cord; black horse equipment including McClellan saddle, saddle bags, bed roll; and a saber and carbine hung from the saddle. 

The trooper held up his gauntleted arm signaling the traffic to stop and we all slowly came to a halt.  I was stopped at the head of the traffic line as the fog continued to swirl around us and the trooper settled his horse and watched the traffic impassively.  Suddenly, to our right, an entire detachment of cavalry came out of the fog in column of twos.  An officer and bright red and white guidon led the unit as it moved through the fog at a trot.  They quickly and noisily clattered across the hard surface road –about twenty troopers followed by a covered wagon drawn by four mules.  In a few seconds they were across the road and lost to sight in the fog and darkness.  Before I could reflect on what I had just seen, the road crossing guard, who was the trooper stopping the traffic, spun his horse and followed the trail of the column.  He too disappeared into the fog as quickly and suddenly as he had appeared.  It was a surreal introduction to the U.S. Army’s ceremonial 1st Cavalry Division Horse Cavalry Detachment at Fort Hood Texas. 

The Horse Cavalry Detachment is a ceremonial unit that represents the Army’s cavalry tradition.  They recreate the cavalry as it appeared on the American plains in the 1870s and 1880s.  Though their look is somewhat “Hollywood,” as opposed to the authentic living history of many reenactor groups, they are very effective at evoking the spirit of the horse cavalry.  They are also unique in that they are all full time soldiers who train, maintain, and care for their horses and equipment on a full time basis very much in the time-honored tradition of horse cavalry.  It’s a positive statement of the value of tradition and history to U.S. Army that the unit continues to operate given the operational deployment tempo of the army.  In the last few years the 1st Cavalry Division  has completed three one year deployments to Iraq.  The detachment has a pretty nice website up and running which explains their purpose, equipment, and the variety of ceremonies in which they participate.

Book Announcement: Horse Soldiers

New Book coming out next month: Horse Soldiers: The Extraordinary Story of a Band of US Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan, by Doug Stanton, describing the operations in Afghanistan by U.S. special operations and the Northern Alliance horse mounted forces against the Taliban.  Interesting how this all comes together with the final chapter of my book, and the last part of the Corb Lund song of the same title. 

Good thing I didn’t choose Horse Soldiers as my title –but I didn’t want to compete with the Randy Steffen classic series of reference books by the same name –not to mention the John Ford movie mentioned in a previous blog.

Anyway, it looks like an interesting book and if I get a chance to get to it this summer I will post a review.  Also, Disney has bought the movie rights and so we might see it on the big screen in a year or two.  In the meantime, check out the PBS interviews which was one of the sources I used in my writing on the subject.