The Elusive Civil War Morgans, by Merideth M. Sears

“The Elusive Civil War Morgans”
by Merideth M. Sears
Written records of individual Morgan horses serving in the Civil War are scarce. Horses were rarely identified unless they were ridden by the principal Generals of the era, like Sheridan Rienzi. Civil War Morgans are noted in the first volume of the American Morgan Horse Registry. Among those mentioned are: Clifton AMHR #457 (killed in 1864), Bemis Horse (killed in battle), Young Gifford (Rifords) (survived), Massachusetts Morgan(used in musters), Gen. Sheridan (Shelburne Morgan) (survived), and Morgan Rattler (captured at Murfreesborough).

In the Middlebury Register in 1886, F. A. Weir identifies two more Morgans as Civil War veterans. Regulator was a line-bred Gifford and sold to a Mr. Johnson in Cincinnati in 1857 or 58. This horse was taken west to Ohio after the war where he died.

Weir also says Morgan Horse (Hunter); a full brother to Regulator was taken to Richmond, Virginia. After the war, Weir received information that this horse had sired many good cavalry horses.

Other documented Civil War Morgan horses include Pink, Col. Hammond’s mount of the Fifth New York Cavalry. Pink survived 88 skirmishes and 34 major battles. When he died from old age, Hammond erected a marker over Pink’s grave inscribed: This horse carried his Master 25 years and was never know to show fatigue, while other horses of cavalry and flying artillery were dying from want of food and exhaustion.

Also surviving from the Fifth New York cavalry were Major Eugene Hayward’s Mink, Lt. Barker’s Prince and Col. James Penfield’s Billy. Morgan horses were often referred to as ‘Billies’ by troops of this era.

Early in the civil war, both the North and the South relied upon individual soldiers to provide their own mounts. The boys of the Fifth New York Cavalry had Captain John Hammond’s father hand-pick and pay the extra charge over the government allowance for their purebred Morgan mounts. Hammond was also a Morgan breeder. No wonder they were mounted solely on Morgan horses!

Very quickly, other procurement officers learned that the best mounts were Morgans and Canadians. While neither breed was large in stature, both had thriftiness and hardiness in their favor. By the fall of 1862, ten thousand Vermont Morgans had been sent to the war. More followed and most never returned. Of the original 1,200 Morgans in the First Vermont Cavalry only 200 survived the war.The South quickly drained themselves of horseflesh after the Union captured the big horse breeding states of Virginia and Kentucky early in the war. They were never able to re-supply the number of horses they required. Lee pointed out most poignantly at the Appomattox surrender that the only horses the South had were all being ridden by his troops.

The North was plagued more by dishonesty than a shortage, often finding horses they had purchased to be unsuitable or unsound for service. A board of survey found only 76 horses in one group of 416 to be fit for service. The recruits were quickly learning the North was long on draft horses but mighty horse-poor when it came to suitable riding stock.

Most of the horses used in this war never returned, lost to disease, famine, or injury. Many were lost to the simple ignorance of the raw recruits who simply did not know the basic fundamentals of horse care. The number of horses wasted during this period is astounding. One unit of 60,000 men in the field was supplied over 240,000 horses. It was common for a new recruit’s horse to colic when it was watered while hot after an extended march. Such ignorance claimed far more horses of the Northern troops than actual battle fatalities. The experienced horsemen of the South had a decided advantage by knowing how to care for their horses.

Trying to identify individual Morgan horses among the million+ horses used during this period is difficult through photographs or written records. Photos of Civil War horses are scarce except in group shots. Even in the few photos that do exist of horses with their riders, the horse is seldom identified.

A good source for the historian is “The Photographic History of the Civil War, The Cavalry, Volume 4” originally published as a 50th anniversary celebration in 1911. All of the photos that follow are from this book.{mospagebreak}


Rienzi. This horse was of the Black Hawk lineage and General Sheridan devoted a page to his memories of this horse when he penned his memoirs. The photography methods of the day did not readily lend themselves to taking photographs of restless animals. Often, a horse will appear to have a ‘phantom’ leg or head movement due to the long exposure time required. Such is the case in this photo in which Rienzi’s rear leg and lower portion of his tail appear to have been ‘retouched’ from the photo. The more logical explanation is that Rienzi was restless and moved, creating a double exposure in that portion of his photograph.


Figure 2: Little Sorrel. This is a very rare photo of Little Sorrel taken shortly after Stonewall Jackson was shot from his saddle with a mortal wound. The negative of this photo was destroyed during the fall of Richmond in 1865. The horse is identified as “Old Sorrel” in this photo and was called “Fancy” by Jackson himself. Historically, this horse has been said to be a Morgan but this picture reveals he was probably a type identified as a “Virginia Riding Horse”; mostly thoroughbred.


Figure 3: Jeff Davis. This horse on the right was captured near Vicksburg during a raid on the plantation of Joe Davis, brother to the President of the Confederacy. He was presented to Ulysses S. Grant who kept him until the end of the war along with his two thoroughbred war-horses, Egypt and Cincinnati.


Figure 4: Jeff Davis. This photo is the one that is more commonly seen of this Morgan horse although not as flattering as the previous photo.



Figure 5: Baldy. This horse was the mount of General Meade from 1861 until the end of the war. Wounded twice at Bull Run, Meade found him convalescing at a remount station. Impressed with the horse after riding him, General Meade personally purchased the horse at the government price. Baldy had a peculiar rocking walk that was so fast Meade’s staff officer’s often had to trot to catch up. Nothing is known of this horse’s background.

Figure 6: This horse, the mount of General Rufus Ingalls, is undoubtedly a Morgan. Unfortunately, nothing else is known about this horse other than he was present at Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.

Figure 7: General Butterfield was a chief-of-staff and corps commander of the Army of the Potomac. The horse seen in this picture is not identified.


Figure 8: This photo was taken three months before Gettysburg and shows the not-yet-General Custer mounted on a Morgan horse. Along with General Pleasanton, Custer was responsible for stopping Stuart’s charge on the third day of battle at Gettysburg. It’s not known if he was riding this horse.

Figure 9: In repose and resting his hind leg, this horse is enjoying his rest. He was ridden by Captain Harry Page, the quartermaster of the Headquarters of the Army of the Potomac. This was a very arduous job and the three shown here are enjoying a rare moment of rest while awaiting a supply train.

Figure 10: Not only popular as riding horses, Morgans were also appreciated as artillery horses. This group is waiting their turn to be shod.

wpe36.jpg (15526 bytes) Figure 11: Shown early in the war, Federal soldiers pose with their horses at the Confederate winter quarters shortly after it's capture.


Figure 12: These photos show an artillery officer's horse on the left and a quartermaster's horse on the right.  Nothing further about these horses is identified.

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Figure 13:  Horses at the Geisboro Remount Depot that belong to the Provost Marshall

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Figure 14:  The camp of the First Massachusetts Cavalry.   Unfortunately, the trees obscure many of the horses seen in this view.

Figure 15:  A horrific view of the casualties from one battle.  While the mounds of dead horses seem staggering, many more mounts were lost to starvation, exhaustion, and disease than to actual wounds from battle.. wpe3A.jpg (9302 bytes)


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Figure 16:  A picketed horse stands ready at the evening bivouac.

Figure 17:  Troopers and horse from the Tenth New York Cavalry. wpe3C.jpg (5274 bytes)

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Figure 18:  A rare photo of lancers in the Federal Cavalry taken shortly before Gettysburg.

©2000, Merideth M. Sears, all rights reserved.

Merideth Sears
PO Box 241
Edgerton, WY 82635
AFS Morgans