It is important to recall that during the American Civil War horses and mules were the main means of transport for both the Union Army 1 and the Confederate Army 2. At the Battle of Gettysburg on 1-3 July, 1863, the Union Army had more than 20,000 horses and 10,000 mules. The Confederates had more than 16,000 horses and mules.
While the common rank and file soldiers were obliged to march, most officers of the rank of captain and above in both armies were mounted. Generals often had several horses which they would alternate so that their favourites would not become too fatigued.
Some generals and their horses became so intertwined in legend that one cannot imagine one without the other. Such was the case at the Battle of Gettysburg where the commanding generals had two of the more famous horses of the war.
Perhaps the most famous horse in American history is Confederate General Robert E. Lee's faithful mount 'Traveller'.
Lee purchased Traveller from one of his subordinates in February 1862 for $200. The horse was grey with black from the knees and hocks to the ground, a long black mane and tail, and was 16 hands3 tall. The general and his horse were inseparable for the rest of Lee's life.
After his defeat at Gettysburg, Lee sat atop Traveller as his men marched past, telling them 'All this has been my fault. It is I that have lost this fight'. And it was a statue of Lee atop Traveller that was the first Confederate monument to the Southern cause at Gettysburg4.
Lee and Traveller survived the war without being wounded by enemy fire and they retired together to Washington College5 in Lexington, Virginia. When Lee died in 1870, his faithful mount walked behind the hearse. Traveller died a year later.
After its death, Traveller's skeleton was put on display in the college chapel. Its remains were finally buried on the school's grounds in the 1970s.
Union General George C Meade's horse is one of the most famous in the federal army. Meade purchased his horse from one of his subordinates in September 1861 for $150. He named his mount 'Old Baldy' because of the horse's white face.
Both the general and his horse were wounded at the Battle of Antietam in 1862 - the general was struck by a spent round, bruising his thigh and the horse was shot through the neck but quickly recovered.
Old Baldy was wounded at least five times during the Civil War6. During the Battle of Gettysburg, he was hit in the stomach by a bullet and refused to continue any further. Apparently, this was the first time the horse ever refused to advance into battle.
In 1864, Old Baldy was struck in the ribs by a shell near Petersburg, Virginia. After this wound, Meade mercifully retired the horse to a farm near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Old Baldy was only called upon for one last military duty - for the funeral of Meade in 1872.
The horse lived for another decade and was eventually euthanized and buried. However, two of Meade's former soldiers exhumed Old Baldy's remains a week after the burial and chopped off its head. The head was taken to a taxidermist and mounted on a special plaque.
The head is still on display in a glass case in the Meade Room of the Civil War Library and Museum in Philadelphia.
Related h2g2 entries
Check out some of the other h2g2 entries relating to the American Civil War Battle of Gettysburg:
- Confederate Occupation of Carlisle, Pennsylvania - American Civil War
- The Burning of the Columbia-Wrightsville Bridge - American Civil War
- Colonel Fremantle - An Englishman at Gettysburg
- Pennsylvania's Bucktail Regiment