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Gaited Horses in Civil War


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Gaited Horses used in the Civil War

Gaited Horses used in the Civil War

First of all, what is a ‘Gaited Horse’, you ask?  I asked the same question.  Gaited horses are horse breeds that have selective breeding for natural gaited tendencies, that is, the ability to perform one of the smooth-to-ride, intermediate speed, four-beat horse gaits, collectively referred to as ambling gaits.  Such breeds include the American Saddlebred, Tennessee Walking Horse, and the Standardbred, to name only a few.

These gaited horses were popular as the trusted steeds for many Civil War generals that lead their men into combat on horseback!  Did you know that?

General Ulysses S. Grant had two gaited equines during the Civil War, a pony named “Jeff Davis” was taken from Joe Davis (the brother of Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy) at the siege of Vicksburg.  General Grant had suffered from back trouble and his pony Jeff became a favorite due to his easy and steady gait.   When Jeff needed a little r & r, a gift, Cincinnatti, a Kentucky Saddler type, took his place on the battlefield with a mounted General Grant.

US Grant with Cincinnatti

General Phillip Sheridan, rode a Morgan Black Hawk type horse named Rienzi, then renamed Winchester, serving him and the army with great distinction. Next to General Lee’s Traveler, Winchester is probably the most well-known horse of the Civil War.  A stately horse, he was 17 hands of pure power on hooves…and ‘flew’ over the battlefields to deliver the General to join his troops on many occasions.   The sight of General Sheridan atop Winchester, inspired poetry, sculptor and other artists during the Civil War and well after.

General Sheridan’s horse, Rienzi, later called Winchester.

General William T. Sherman’s horse Lexington, a Kentucky Saddler type became a bit more famous than Sherman’s other horse Sam, because more was recorded about him.  Both were described to have extraordinary ‘action’ and for that reason, termed to be gaited by the era’s application of the term.  Sam was the horse General Sherman rode during the historic and heroic march from Vicksburg to Washington, DC…through the South (Atlanta, Savanah, Columbia, and Richmond).

General Sherman on Lexington

General Stonewall Jackson’s favorite mount during most of the war, until his death at Chancelorsville, was Little Sorrel (later called Fancy).  This pony was a ‘gift’ he took from a captured Union supply train.  Little Sorrel was short in stature, but the steady, reliable gait won the general over and became his trusted companion.  Upon the pony’s death, he was sent to a taxidermist and then to the Solider’s Home in Richmond, VA, to be remembered forever for his diligent service.

General Stonewall Jackson’s Horse, Little Sorrel

General Robert E. Lee was mostly depicted on horseback for many of his portraits on his almost as famous gaited partner, Traveler! Traveler is considered to be the all time, quintessential officer’s horse of America. He was typical of the American/ Kentucky Saddlers of Virginia and Kentucky. Lee was loyal to Traveler as Traveler was loyal to Lee.  The bond broken not even in death.  Traveler escorted General Lee’s casket during his funeral parade, and then died a short time after.  The two were inseparable in life, and rarely seen apart.  It seems as if they were two souls joined together, comrades in arms.

General Lee with Traveler

Think about it.  These famous generals of one of the most monumental wars in our history depended on these gaited horses with their very lives.  It was an era of great industrial change, yet, these men fought on the fields and lead their troops into battle on the backs of these majestic, dependable creatures.  Trust between man and horse, a historic bond that was forged long ago, and continued onto the not so distance past…will forever be nurtured into present day.

Sources: Website, American Morgan Horse Breeders; American Saddlebred Breeders; The American Heritage New History of the Civil War, James M, Mc Pherson, Viking 1996; Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, University of Illinois Press, 2002; The Photographic History of the Civil War, Portland House, 1997; Gaited Magazine, A History of Gaited horses in the Civil War, Sue Sherman, 2006.