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ESSAY Equine Relies ofthe Civil War by Drew QiIpIn Faust ? the first battle of the Civil War, the only casualty was a horse. When the smoke lifted after the bombardment of Fort Sumter in April 1861, southerners hailed the "bloodless victory" that had yielded the federal fort into Confederate hands without the loss of a single human life. The death of an army horse in the shelling all but escaped notice. In the years of conflict that followed, horses played a critical military role, as mounts for officers and cavalry, as transport for artillery, and as all-purpose conveyance for the wide variety of army movements. Present in every Civil War camp and on every batdefield, horses suffered and died in numbers that rivaled even the Civil War's high rate of human devastation. An estimated 1,500,000 horses and mules were wounded or killed, or died ofdisease in the war, as compared with 970,000 military casualties.1 Civil War soldiers both noticed and ignored this slaughter, just as we ourselves have at once remembered and forgotten the Civil War horse. In the aftermath of the war's great battles, care ofthe human wounded and dead took obvious priority . As Confederate general Richard Ewell once explained to a distraught civilian horrified by a horse rotting near her house, he "had more important business on hand just then than burying dead horses." Yet soldiers' commentary on battlefield scenes almost inevitably included remarks about the dead animals strewn across the ground. After Shiloh, as one soldier observed, it was possible to walk from one side ofthe field to the other stepping only on horse carcasses.2 Disposal of horses' remains was of course a real problem. After the battle of Gettysburg, for example, as many as five million pounds ofhorse flesh had to be removed from the field. But dead horses represented more than simply a logistical challenge. Soldiers sentimentalized horses, often projecting onto them feelings they suppressed about the human cost ofwar. One Union soldier remarked after the 2July 1 863 fighting at Peach Orchard, "The poor horses had fared badly and as we passed, scores of these ungazetted heroes stood upon their maimed limbs regarding us with a silent look of reproach that was almost human in expression ." A Georgia officer regarded the death ofhis beloved mount Barnaby at *3 General Robert E. Lee, portrayed in a visibly agitatedstateperhaps because the soldier behind him isfooling with thegeneral's horse. From A Popular Life of Gen. Robert Edward Lee. Chickamauga as a symbol of the injustice and irrationality ofwar: "He had done no one any harm, but his faithful work for man was now to be rewarded with a grape shot from a cannon's cruel mouth. His fate breathes a reproach and cries out against this inhuman war." As a Union chaplain observed about a horse brutally killed at Chancellorsville, "I hardly remember a sight that touched my heart so keenly during the entire battie. The innocent animal had no part in the fight, but he was a silent victim."3 24 southern cultures, Spring 2000: Drew Gilpin Faust 7he battlefield aftermath nearAbraham Trestle's home, which was directly in thepath ofa Confederate advance. Photo by Timothy O'Sullivan, courtesy ofthe Civil War Library andMuseum, mollus-Pennsylvania. A lifelikepose belies this horse's battlefieldfate. His rider also was killed during Hooker's attack. Courtesy ofthe Library ofCongress. The horse's innocence has remained an important part of twentieth-century memory. But the Civil War horse lives on as more than a victim. The best known of the animals have been glorified as soldiers and campaigners, themselves honored as veterans of the war. Americans of the second half of the twentieth century have in a quite literal sense been able to come closer to the Civil War horse Equine Relics ofthe Civil War 25 than to any ofthe conflict's other veterans. Dead soldiers, Union or Confederate, privates or generals, heroes or bounty jumpers, were interred or entombed, hidden from sight, memorialized in statues or in photographs that for all their realism are clearly just representations on paper or in stone. But real Civil War horses—or at least...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 23-49
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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