BAGLEY: The Horse at Gettysburg (2021)

The Horse at Gettysburg: Prepared For The Day of Battle by Chris Bagley. Gettysburg Publishing, LLC, 2021. Paper, IBSN: 978-0999304969. $26.95.

An estimated 80,000 horses and mules accompanied the opposing armies to Gettysburg. The Union and Confederate forces relied upon them to pull miles of supply wagons and hundreds of cannon, limbers, and caissons; they also brought cavalry units to the battlefield. These animals formed an integral part of the fabric of the armies, an aspect of Gettysburg that has been seldom detailed by historians.

In this new study, author Chris Bagley, a horse owner and Licensed Battlefield Guide at Gettysburg, offers the first detailed work on the subject. The author recognizes that a relatively miniscule number of contemporary Americans either own a horse or mule—or understand the necessary care of the animals. His book is as much of a primer on horses as it is an account of their roles during the battle.

The author provides a diagram of a horse’s anatomy and a definition of terms related to the animal. He describes six breeds of horses—Morgan, Thoroughbred, Quarter, Saddlebred, Standardbred, and Belgian. All of these breeds were common in Civil War armies. Nine horse colorations are described.

One of the best aspects of the book is a chapter on the requirements, procedures, and care of Civil War cavalry and artillery horses. Bagley devotes another chapter to the training of these naturally skittish animals. He details the steps in the training, which begins with unbroken horses and ends with them able to perform their duties amid the deafening clamor of a battle. Both chapters provide very informative material on the constant attention that had to be given to by cavalrymen and artillery crews.

While most students of the Civil War are familiar with Robert E. Lee’s Traveller, a saddlebred, and George G. Meade’s Old Baldy, the author provides the names of other mounts: John Buford’s Grey Eagle; John Reynolds’s Fancy; James Longstreet’s Hero; Alfred Pleasanton’s Slicky; John Sedgwick’s Handsome Joe; Richard Garnett’s Red Eye; and Strong Vincent’s Old Jim. During the Pickett-Pettigrew Charge on July 3, at least eleven officers are known to have been mounted, despite Lee’s orders to the contrary.

The author recounts the armies’ advances north from Virginia to Pennsylvania, as well as each day’s fighting. The summaries are solid while avoiding the many controversies that remain vibrant today. He also includes vignettes about specific horses or teams and their roles throughout the narrative. The author dispels the myths about the horses’ hooves on the equestrian monuments.

Ample photographs, both historic and modern, enhance the work. This is a solid study with its appeal lying in the detailed and enlightening information on horses during the four-year conflict.

Jeffry D. Wert is the author of The Heart of Hell: The Soldiers’ Struggle for Spotsylvania’s Bloody Angle (2022).

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