Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Horses of a Different Color

Most of the fun of combing through shelves of binders and books of research and memoirs is finding new information that one hadn’t known before. Quite often in my case, it also involves realizing that something I thought to be true simply isn’t so. On this particular occasion, it happens to concern some of my thoughts on cavalry mounts during the war.

In a post back in March (found here, to save those interested in reviewing it), I scoffed at the idea that companies and squadrons in a functioning cavalry unit during hostilities would be concerned with obtaining horses of the same color. It simply seemed frivolous given the difficulties of keeping troopers mounted and in the fight. Subsequent incidental research (I didn’t go looking for it, it just kept hitting me in the face during reading) has since shown me the error of my ways.

When the 2nd Cavalry Regiment formed in 1855, it was mounted very well by the standards of the time, with the highest price per mount yet seen in the US Army. Many of these mounts were well-bred Kentucky and Tennessee horses. Despite the fact that the regiment was headed for Texas to fight Comanches immediately after it was formed, all companies were mounted on horses of the same color. Company A was mounted on grays, Companies B and E on sorrels, Companies C, D, F and I on bays, Companies G and H on browns, and Company K on roans (Arnold, Jeff Davis’ Own).

This is relatively logical, I thought. They were just forming the unit, and were not yet in combat, so I suppose matching mounts would be consistent with good order and discipline, etc. But when the same regiment reached Carlisle Barracks after leaving Texas in 1861, something similar occurred again. According to then-Captain Richard W. Johnson in his memoirs, “When enough (horses) had been received they were distributed among the companies, as far as possible making the color in each company uniform.” (Johnson, A Soldier’s Reminiscences, pg 160) Since they were the only cavalry in the area at the time, they should have had their pick of what was available.

Nor was this limited to the 2nd Cavalry. According to George Sanford, when the 1st Cavalry Regiment remounted at Giesborough Point following the Gettysburg campaign, “a capital mount was secured, each battalion of four troops receiving horses of one color. One battalion was bay, one black, and one chestnut. The trumpeters and band rode grey horses.” (Sanford, Fighting Rebels and Redskins, pg 211)

I’m sure this is not to say that a trooper wouldn’t be accepted back into his company if he showed up with the wrong-colored remount, but I did think it interesting that the attempt was made.

1 comment:

throwback said...

units accepted horses sorted by color not only to present a (relatively) uniform appearance, but to make reforming a unit in combat easier. colors were genrally restricted the "hardy" colors, dark bays, light bays, blacks, sorrels, and grays. light colors were for buglers/messengers (same thing) so you could see them coming or find yours.

all this would go by the board during wartime combat, long marches, starvation, glanders epidemics, etc. anything and everything with hooves, mules, blind, pregnant, nursing, draft, stallions, ancient, 2-year old, enormous, tiny, etc., was liable to be pressed IF TROOPERS COULD FIND THEM.

then color would be the last of the considerations!