The Cavalry Horse
by Clark B. Hall
Bud Hall on the Cavalry Horse
An old friend, "Bud" Hall, one of the founders of the Civil War preservation movement, almost single-handedly saved the magnificent Brandy Station battlefield. Some years ago, Bud was one of the speakers at the dedication of the faithful cavalry horse monument in Middleburg, Virginia. He was invited to speak at the dedication of the monument. Bud's comments were posted on Eric Wittenberg's fine blog, www.civilwarcavalry.com, and I am reposting them here for you to enjoy. Credit and thanks to Bud and Eric.
Here they are: an appropriate tribute to the cavalry horses who sacrificed so much during the Civil War.
“Here lies the steed with his nostrils all wide,
But through it there rolls not the breath of its pride.
The foam of his gasping lies white on the turf,
And as cold as the spray of the rock-beaten surf.”
Ah! The horses—the blacks and bays, the roans and grays, the sorrels and chestnuts that pulled Lee’s army from the Rappahannock to Gettysburg and back, and all the other horses that pulled and tugged at the wagons, at the batteries of artillery; the horses that carried the men, the unstabled horses and the half-fed horses.
Let my right hand forget its cunning if I forget to pay proper tribute to those noble animals that suffered so much for their masters. How often my mind goes back to that horse my mind’s eye saw coming across the field from the front at Bull Run with his sides all dripping with blood. He was a hero and coming back home to die.
The cavalryman and his horse got very close to each other, not only physically, but also heart to heart. They ate together, slept together, marched, fought and often died together. While the rider slept, the horse cropped the grass around him and got as close up to his rider’s body as he could get. The loyal steed pushed the trooper’s head gently aside with his nose to get at the grass beneath it. By the thousands, men reposed in fields fast asleep from arduous campaigns with their horses quietly grazing beside them, and nary a cavalier was trod upon or injured by his steed.
They were so faithful and unfaltering. When the bugle sounded, they were always ready to respond, for they knew all the bugle calls. If it were saddle up, or the feed, or the water call, they were as ready to answer one as the other. And they were so noble and so brave in battle. They seemed to love the sound of the guns. The cavalryman might lie low on the neck of his horse as the missiles of death hissed about him. But the horse never flinched, except when struck.
Lo! As we should, we build monuments for our dead soldiers, for those we know, and for the unknown dead. So with the ultimate sacrifice of our lamented fallen honored upon their noble deaths, is it not also just that we recall their valiant steeds? What would you think of a monument some day, somewhere in Virginia, in honor of Lee’s noble horses?
What could General Lee have done had all his horses balked in unison? Nothing! Then all honor to Lee’s horses, which pulled and hauled and fought and died that this might be a very great nation.
“The good black horse came riderless home,
Flecked with blood drops as well as foam;
See yonder hillock where dead leaves fall;
The good black horse dropped dead—
That is all.
‘All? O, God! It is all I can speak.
Question me not; I am old and weak;
His saber and his saddle hang on the wall,
And his horse is dead—
I have told you all.”
With eternal thanks (and apologies) to Trooper George Baylor, his poignant lines have been somewhat revised.
Clark B. Hall