The stuffed head of Old Baldy, General George Meade’s favorite horse, can be found mounted on the wall of the Grand Army of the Republic Museum in Philadelphia. General Robert E. Lee’s horse, Traveler, received gifts and international adoration even after the war’s end, and General Ulysses S. Grant’s three war mounts, including one pony stolen from a plantation belonging to Jeff Davis’ brother, rested comfortably in fame and verdant pastures until the ends of their lives.
Ignoring blissfully the morbidity of Old Baldy’s taxidermization, I might speculate that these heroic animals and their dedicated riders demonstrate an ideal camaraderie between soldier and mount in the American Civil War: respect, trust, compassion. But unfortunately, it is just so: an ideal, not a reality. The truth behind the war horse is that its wartime life was a hellacious one; it fell victim to a systematic neglect, and the unspoken bond, the one that every equestrian shares, was abandoned in the desperation of the war. Continue reading “Say “Neigh” to Abuse: On the Treatment of Horses and Mules in the Civil War”