Ignorance and carelessness waste our horses


As I work on concluding a series of posts focused on the cavalry in the Second Manassas Campaign, I thought I would highlight two cavalry inspection reports. The first report, from mid-August, is from General Benjamin Roberts, Pope’s Chief of Cavalry, and pertains to General George Bayard’s brigade. I included part of the report, concerning Bayard’s horses, in an earlier post. Today I include the entire report. Exactly one month after Roberts filed his report, Lt. Andrew Alexander inspected the horses in the three brigades from Pope’s former Army of Virginia, including Bayard’s. Alexander’s report provides a nice comparison. All emphasis is from the original reports.

Benjamin Roberts, Chief of Cavalry to Col. Ed Schriver    8-16-62

I…enclose inspection reports of the brigade of Brig Gen Bayard’s cavalry, consisting of the 1st Pennsylvania and 1st New Jersey Regiments…with remarks suggestive of the sad state of arms, clothing, horses, etc.  The sore-backed horses are unconditioned for any service and should be sent to pasturage in the rear to recruit.  The other horses low in flesh are for the present unserviceable & would only be in the way of efficient service, and Gen. Bayard would do well to send away for the time being some one hundred of the poorest of them.  These regiments have been on very hard service the past six weeks in weather extremely hot, but I cannot doubt that the miserable condition of the horses is consequential on culpable neglect of duty by company officers.  Company officers are also negligent of the condition of arms and ammunition, and for such negligence there is neither palliation or excuse.

Many men are without shoes and stockings and are in the ranks bare-footed.  The clothing was sadly worn out on great numbers.  Measures have been taken to remedy this mischief.

I did not hesitate to reprimand the officers of every grade of this Brigade and to assure them that in the future there would be no toleration of neglect of any cavalry duties.  The cartridge box for cavalry ammunition is intended to carry but twenty rounds and carbine cartridges are so made up that they are broken and wasted by being carried on the person.  I therefore recommend that each company carry all excess ammunition above twenty rounds required to be carried on the person of infantry soldiers, packed safely on a led horse.

1st PA – effective strength = 398.  228 carbines “Sharps” in effective force.  Regiment very much in need of clothing, several entirely without boots or shoes.  229 horses unfitted by sore backs for any service and 50 unconditioned by fatigue and low flesh

1st NJ – effective strength = 349.  180 carbines “Burnsides” in effective force.  Regiment very much in need of clothing, several entirely without boots or shoes, without slings for carbines and without cartridge boxes for carbine ammunition.  Horses recently received broken down, 156 horses unserviceable by sore backs and about 60 by low flesh and sore legs

Provost Guard = effective strength 23.  Detachments from the two regiments

770 is the number of effectives in the saddle, all the arms of the Pennsylvania regiment were exceedingly foul and there is a gross inattention to duty on the part of the company officers – the arms in the New Jersey regiment were somewhat better, but company officers in that regiment are culpably negligent of details and care of horses and arms.  I ordered every company from the ground, with orders to spend the day in the police of arms and equipments, preparatory to an evening inspection by company officers.”


Over a period of three days in mid-September 1862, Lt. Andrew J. Alexander, then attached to the Defenses of Washington, inspected the three battered cavalry brigades that had been attached to General John Pope’s Army of Virginia. Although still conducting picket and patrol duty since reaching the fortifications earlier in the month, the brigades had been on relatively light duty compared to the service demanded of them through July and August.

            Lieutenant Alexander had served as an aide to General George McClellan during the Peninsula Campaign. Arriving in Alexandria with McClellan, Alexander was assigned to General Nathaniel Banks, then commanding the Defenses of Washington. Impressed by Alexander’s talents, Banks asked Alexander to accompany him to New Orleans. Alexander, however, saw little chance for promotion in New Orleans and in October 1862, opted to stay in the Eastern Theater, accepting a position with George Stoneman, then commanding the III Infantry Corps. Alexander’s decision paid off, as he received a promotion to lieutenant colonel. A few months later, Stoneman accepted command of the newly formed Cavalry Corps at President Abraham Lincoln’s request. Stoneman took Alexander with him, and, for Alexander, the rest is history as he spent a year at Cavalry Corps headquarters, working for Stoneman and then Alfred Pleasonton.

            But in mid-September 1862, with the Maryland Campaign racing to a climax, Alexander performed rather mundane inspection duty. He began by inspecting the brigade recently led by General John Buford and now commanded by Col. R. Butler Price. From his reports, Alexander had been asked to inspect just the horses in the three brigades. He produced the following reports.

“In compliance with the instructions received…this morning…I made a hasty inspection of the Regts comprising the Brigade of Cavalry commanded by Col. R. B. Price.

I take the following from the Brigade Morning Report of this date.

2nd Pennsylvania Cavalry

562 men for duty

555 serviceable horses

5th New York Cavalry

286 men for duty

55 serviceable horses

1st Michigan Cavalry

472 men for duty

467 serviceable horses

1st Vermont Cavalry

476 men for duty

346 serviceable horses

1st [West] Virginia Cavalry

368 men for duty

252 serviceable horses


2171 Men for duty

1675 serviceable horses

Upon examination I find that a large number of the horses reported as serviceable are very much reduced in flesh and have sore backs rendering them unfit for present use. With a rest of 10 days or two weeks, however, they will have recruited sufficiently to take the field. There are in my opinion about one thousand horses in the Brigade fit for active service. Say –

250 in the 2nd Pennsylvania

300 in the 1st Michigan

100 in the 1st [West] Virginia

50 in the 5th New York

300 in the 1st Vermont

1,000 – Total serviceable horses

As you will see…there is a large dismounted force. This includes all the information on these points but I would call your attention to the fact that I saw at least a hundred cavalry soldiers belonging to the different Regts, riding about without arms, running races and otherwise abusing the Government horses. I consider it my duty to call attention to this matter, as it is an abuse which is particularly unpardonable in the present condition of these Regiments.”


As a note to the above, the 2nd Pennsylvania was the newest of the five regiments and had been assigned to guard duty after joining the brigade. One might expect the horses for the regiment to have been in better shape. On the other side of the coin the high number of men and horses with the 1st Michigan is also a bit surprising following their pounding at Lewis Ford on August 30 and the number of men and horses captured. The captured men had been paroled within a matter of days but I do not believe they had yet been exchanged.

Lieutenant Alexander inspected General George Bayard’s Brigade the following day.

1st Pennsylvania Cavalry

729 men for duty

670 serviceable horses

1st New Jersey Cavalry

519 men for duty

403 serviceable horses

10th New York – 4 companies attached

216 men for duty

242 serviceable horses

2nd New York – Harris Light

400 men for duty

285 serviceable horses


1864 men for duty

1600 serviceable horses

In these Regts with the exception of the 10th New York there are a number of horses reported serviceable which are really not fit for present use, having sore backs etc., which would be cured by a rest of 10 days or two weeks. In my opinion there are 1117 horses ready for active service as follows –

300 – 1st Pennsylvania

325 – 1st New Jersey

242 – 10th New York

250 – 2nd New York Harris Light

1117 – Total serviceable horses

I find two squadrons of the 10th New York encamped near Ft. Corcoran. I was unable to ascertain what duty they were on as the officers were out drilling but from the best information I could gain they are on none.

One squadron of the 1st Ohio Cavalry are at Arlington mostly dismounted.

The horses of these regiments show good grooming & attention. In conclusion, I consider it my duty through you to call the attention of the General Commanding again, to the abuse of the public animals by soldiers who are permitted by their commanding officers to ride their horses upon their own business and pleasure. Today I saw numbers of the 10th New York galloping and racing their horses.”

A note regarding the 10th New York – The four companies Alexander refers to were A, B, D, and E. They did not participate in the campaign but had just moved into Northern Virginia from Maryland around August 28. Regimental historian Noble Preston tells us the new regiment received a final issue of horses on August 26, “completing the regimental mount.” The recent issue of animals and the regiment’s lack of service in the campaign probably explains the surplus of horses in the four companies.


Alexander then inspected Col. John Beardsley’s Brigade, which had been attached to General Sigel’s Corps during the campaign. In his report, he counted –

“1315 men for duty

753 horses fit for duty

Horses distributed among the Regiments as follows –

260 – 9th New York

119 – 4th New York

222 – 1st Maryland

152 – 6th Ohio

753 – Total

The commanding officers complain of want of forage. I have to call your attention to the following details by which list you will perceive that the Regiments are very much crippled by the unusual number of men detailed for orderly duty and body guards.

13 – with General Stahel

34 – with General Schurz

11 – with General von Steinwehr

8 – with General Sigel

5 – with Col. Beardsley comd’g Cavalry Brigade

9 – driving cattle

1 – with the Medical Director

81 – Total

1 Company 6th Ohio with the Provost Marshal

1 Company 6th Ohio with Quartermaster Loomis at Georgetown

4 Companies 1st Connecticut with wagon train

3 Companies 1st Virginia with General Milroy

I would call your attention particularly to the detail of one company with Quartermaster Loomis, and 4 companies as guard to wagon train – as being unusual duty for cavalry, particularly at this time when in so much demand. All the cavalry I have inspected are in bad condition and will not be fit for hard service without a remount.”


The army never solved, at least in my view, the destructive practice of detaching large numbers of cavalrymen away from their regiments to other duties. At the end of January 1863, 19 individual companies and two entire regiments were serving at army and corps headquarters.

On April 5, 1863, 199 men from just one regiment, the 17th Pennsylvania, were detached from the regiment, including 35 men serving as teamsters. The regiment had only reached the army the previous December, and such detachments led the colonel to write, “The whole regiment has not been together one entire week since it left Washington, consequently affording very little opportunity for drill.”  

At the end of July 1863 at least 15 companies from different regiments remained detached as escorts and couriers, the entire 2nd Pennsylvania served with the Provost Marshal, and the entire 6th Pennsylvania remained attached to army headquarters.

The old story is, that when General Hooker formed the Cavalry Corps, he ended the practice. His order, however, said nothing about limiting such detachments. Rather, he left the matter with General Stoneman, who tried to reduce but did not eliminate the practice. He authorized one squadron (two companies) to serve at each corps headquarters, but he did not address the number of men to serve at army headquarters.

Another common theme, beyond hard service, runs through these reports. Abuse by the men, to include racing, unnecessary galloping around camp, or otherwise misusing their horses while in camp persisted. Officers who ignored or condoned such problems had been threatened with dismissal, but the problems continued.

In November 1862, the War Department issued General Order 192, which stated:

“Commandants of corps, divisions, and brigades are hereby required to have a special inspection of the cavalry of their respective commands within ten days from the date of this order, and report to this Department the names of all officers whose cavalry horses appear to have been neglected, or be unfit for duty, to the end that such officers may be promptly dismissed from the service.”

I am only aware of one instance in which this order served as the basis for dismissing officers. In January 1863, President Lincoln signed an order dismissing three lieutenants and one captain of the 1st [West] Virginia, for neglect of duty, specifically, for not properly caring for the Government horses under their charge. That is the horses in their respective companies, rather than their personal animals.

In a rush to set an example, the army conducted a hasty, slipshod investigation and three of the officers were quickly restored to their rank. The fourth officer, despite a plea from Governor Pierpont on his behalf, did not have his rank restored until 1914.

Abuses continued, however, and on May 25, 1863, Col. Thomas Devin, in temporary command of the 1st Division, issued the following:

“A mounted guard will be established in the vicinity of each brigade & regimental HQ in this division and all enlisted men found galloping or [running] their horses unless with dispatches marked gallop will be forthwith arrested and handed over to the division provost marshal. 

No trooper will be allowed to take a public horse from camp except on duty or with a pass signed at Regiment & Division Headquarters…

Regimental commanders will see that Comd’g officers of companies enforce the provisions of the above order.”

In December 1863, General Wesley Merritt issued a similar order.

“The frightful expenditure of horses in the cavalry service has excited much comment and [censure].  The fact that animals in this command are necessarily exposed to much hard work and severe weather at times with short feed, only renders more apparent the necessity for giving them greater care and more attention when possible.  It is enjoined upon brigade and regimental commanders to see that proper shelters are prepared for the horses of their respective commands, even though the opportunity to use them be only temporary.  It is positively forbidden that any cavalry soldier in this command shall take his horse from the picket line save when on duty or go at a faster gait than a slow trot, except when ordered by an officer.  The pernicious and inhuman practice of galloping horses until overheated, when they have to stand in the cold without shelter or covering thus becoming diseased and disabled must be discontinued.  Guards & patrols and officers are hereby ordered to arrest all soldiers of this command found disobeying this order and turn them over to brigade or division HQ where they will be summarily & severely punished.”

As a last word regarding horses in the Second Manassas Campaign, the War Department reported purchasing 37,000 horses between June 30 and September 30, 1862. But the department based the figure on the statements of just 30 purchasing agents and admitted the actual number would be much higher. “The consumption of horses has been very great,” officials admitted, citing “Ignorance and carelessness of raw soldiers,” as a primary cause. The report closed with the following:

“After every battle and every considerable march great numbers of horses are turned into the depots as disabled, and urgent requisitions are made upon the department for remounts as essential to the efficiency of the troops. Of the disabled horses many die; many prove on inspection to be incapable of recovering in such time as to be worth the expense of keeping them, these are sold. Those which, by good feeding and careful attention, can be recruited are kept in the depots and issued for use in the army when again fit for the service.”



National Archives

Official Records

Noble Preston, History of the Tenth Regiment New York Volunteer Cavalry

James H. Wilson, The Life and Services of Brevet Brigadier-General Andrew Jonathan Alexander

2 thoughts on “Ignorance and carelessness waste our horses

  1. Thanks, Bob, for sending this along. I continually feel amazement at the fact that the cavalry men failed to keep their horses’ in better condition. It would seem intuitively obvious that a cavalryman would need a horse to function and the better shape the horse was in the better he could do his job, Were not many of these men from a rural background with some knowledge of what the basic requirements would be to keep the horses in good condition? Any idea on why the company officers seemed to be unable or unwilling to control their men? Did this improve towards the final year to 18th months of the war when the Union Cavalry seemed to gain the upper hand?

    Sad news about Bruce Liddic.

    Thanks again,


    On Sun, Sep 27, 2020 at 1:04 PM Small But Important Riots wrote:

    > roneillmt posted: ” As I continue to conclude a series of posts focused > on the cavalry in the Second Manassas Campaign, I thought I would highlight > two cavalry inspection reports. The first report, from mid-August, is from > General Benjamin Roberts, Pope’s Chief of Cavalry,” >


  2. Thanks John,
    You have, in my opinion, hit on the million dollar question. Veterans and historians focus on the formation of the Cavalry Corps, and battles like Kelly’s Ford and Brandy Station, as to the reasons the Union cavalry improved in 1863. In doing so they ignore the larger problem – volunteers had to learn to be soldiers.
    Soldiers had to learn to accept and adhere to discipline and rules and officers had to learn to lead, train and mete out discipline. But for officers who owed their rank to popularity contests or influence back home this was very difficult to do. Such problems did not change until 1863. More than generals, the problems for the cavalry were lousy lieutenants and captains. Men of good intentions but unwilling to accept the challenges of being good leaders and making their men adhere to the rules.
    And, there were always going to be, as the man says in the movie, “slovenly soldiers,” the lazy and the malcontents who knew abusing their horse and putting him out of commission meant getting off of front line duty and going to a dismount camp in many cases. All of these problems and more had to be corrected before the cavalry could succeed.
    Lousy colonels bred lousy junior officers and your very question is why I’ve written stories on lousy colonels, not to denigrate veterans from another era but to highlight the very problems you mention.
    I will have additional posts on this question soon but until then I’m happy to hear other opinions.

    Liked by 1 person

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