The Civil War as seen through the eyes of a horse in the Confederate Calvery
THE EARLY YEARS
The ranch was much larger in those days following the "Cruel War" of brother against brother. It contained many a different breed of horses. It had old horses that were scarred and showed signs of great wear. And it had new horses, the young, restless ones. A new generation and breed. It was one such colt that related to me the story I am about to tell.
“When I was young and reckless, I made fun of an old horse that just went to the same pasture every day and gazed out across the same old wood fence,” related the now middle-aged horse. It was this old horse who taught the horse relating the story the uniqueness of the human language.
“One day I was out in the same pasture as the old horse, known as Arab, and began my usual callous shenanigans. Ever since the day that I began heckling and taunting Arab nothing was ever said to me from the old horse. Now, he looked over to me and said, “Come here, boy. I want to tell you a story. A story about horses and war.
I was born on the 11th of March 1857, on the plantation of Dr. E.R. Henderson, in the District of Colleton, South Carolina. The doctor’s second son, Prioleau, owned my mother. My mother, Pocahontas, who was known throughout the entire District for her sagacity, as well as her speed and endurance, educated me. The hardest part of my education was learning the human language, which I will impart to you, but my mother was very patient and kind. She insisted that any colt of hers, with blood from her side of the Burrell Sanders stock of horses, and my father's side from the famous Bonaparte stock of South Carolina and Virginia, could learn anything and everything, as she had done. I persevered and by the time I was two-years-old, I could understand the human language thoroughly. I remember it was a daily lesson.
The pasture where my mother and I grazed was a beautiful lawn, extending on both sides of the avenue leading from the dwelling house to the public road, which was much traveled, for it was the main road from Charleston to Columbia. My mother kept me feeding constantly close beside this road. We could hear distinctly every word uttered by travelers passing to and fro.
My first three and half years passed very peacefully and quietly, with plenty to eat and drink, and no more hard lessons. At this time I experienced my second love -- my master. He had been away at school most of the time since my birth; but during his vacations he petted me a great deal, and I learned to love him -- next to my dear old mother. Just a few days before I was four-years-old, he made his servant boy, Ben, break me to the saddle, and soon commenced riding me himself. My master was very fond of deer hunting and more so for fox hunting. I soon began to enjoy myself, particularly following the hounds through the woods at full speed, and soon got quite a reputation for myself as a woods horse.
It's late and I'm growing tired. We'll continue this tomorrow, if you're here.” "Of course, I'll be here," I said without thinking. “Good,” he continued, “tomorrow I'll tell you the story of the beginnings of the Civil War. At least for me and my master.” With that last statement he sauntered along the old wood fence gently gazing to and fro.
With a renewed exhilarence, I pranced back to the barn where all the young colts were stabled. I couldn’t wait to relate the conversation with the old horse to all the other colts. They knew of his eccentricities, but had never dreamed that he had been through the Civil War. What a horrible ordeal that must have been.
The next day, late in the afternoon, I went up to the pasture where I saw Arab already there, staring out across the fields over the old wood fence. “I’m here,” I said. He slowly turned his head as to acknowledge me and turned around. I walked up to the old wood fence and gazed out across it. What a panoramic view this was. He started to speak. “Let’s see. Where did I leave off? Oh, yes, I remember now. War was upon us. The State Convention of South Carolina, of which my master's father was a member, had signed the Ordinance of Secession on the 20th of December 1860 declaring South Carolina out of the Union.
I had already learned the cavalry drill, for my master had quit college and joined his brother's company, The Marion Men of Combahee. The company was raised and officered by Dr. E.R. Henderson, Captain; D. Blake Hayward, 1st Lieutenant; Dr. Frederick Blake, 2nd Lieutenant; and T.E. Boynton, 3rd Lieutenant. We all waited for hostilities to commence. Uniformed, drilled and ready -- man and horse.
Fort Sumter is bombarded and taken.
Soon after the bombardment of Fort Sumter and its eventual surrender, companies were leaving South Carolina for Virginia. Governor Pickens had refused to allow Captain Henderson's company to leave the State. He said he wanted the company for a Coast Guard. That would not suit our young blood. Wade Hampton was raising a Legion to go to Virginia; but it was filled before we heard of it. The only chance to go as cavalry was for the men to join the Beaufort District Troop, from Grahamville, Beaufort District; which had been promised a place in the Legion by Colonel Hampton, if they could raise eighty-five men, rank and file. That was our opportunity to get to the front, and see the flashing of the guns. Luckily for us, the Men of Combahee joined them.
In May, the Beaufort District Troop rendezvoused at Gillisonville and was received and mustered-in the Hampton Legion. We were then allowed to return home, to be ready at a moment's notice to start for the seat of war. How quickly those bright sunny days of May and June 1861, passed. Everyone then had a kind word for us -- man and horse -- for, of course, the horse is the most important part of a cavalry soldier's outfit. What would the rider be without a steed?
My mother had long, earnest talks with me, in those happy days of June on the old plantation. I could almost imagine, from her talk, that she had been a warhorse; but I suppose it was from what she had read of different battles, as I am almost certain she could read. Her talks and advice, indeed, proved to be a blessing. I solemnly believe it was from obeying and following my old mother's council that I am now alive. How sad it is for me to think, even at this distant day, of my final parting from her. For after I kissed her good-bye, the morning I left for Virginia, I never saw her again.”
Arab gazed out across the fields with abandonment. The silence that had suddenly befallen lay thickly all around. It seemed like hours before the old horse even acknowledged that I was still there. Staring. Wondering. He looked up at me and said, “I’m sorry. We’ll have to continue some other time. I need to be alone with my thoughts and remembrances.” "Shall I see you tomorrow?" I asked. "Sure. About late afternoon. If you can?" Arab replied. "I'll try," said I, walking away toward where the other colts were playing.
I wondered what thoughts had provoked so sudden a break in the story he was telling. Perhaps it was the reflections of mother. I now looked forward to grazing next to the old horse. If only the others could see what I have seen, here, next to Arab as I listened to his story and gazed across this peaceful landscape and thought of the Great War days.
It had been several days since I'd gone out to the pasture Arab had the habit of grazing in. The weather had not been good. Now that the sun again shone I was more than eager to see the old horse. Trotting along the wood fence, I found myself once again seeing Arab lazily gazing out across the old wood fence. "Hi! How are you?" I asked. He turned his head and looked at me. Somehow he looked a lot older than the last time I saw him, and he seemed to droop his head a little. "Ah! You came back, huh!" Arab said. "I guess you want to hear some more stories of this old war horse." I didn't reply; I just looked out across the fields.
“It was on the 5th of June, 1861,” he began. “My master and his brother received orders from Captain T.E. Screven, of Beaufort District Troop, to meet with the company at Green Pond Depot, on the 19th of June. The train would leave Grahamville Depot at 8:00 AM and will arrive at Green Pond Depot at 11:00 AM to take us to Charleston and then to Columbia, to be inspected and mustered-in. What a memorable day it was, that 19th day of June 1861. Everyone weeping -- men, women, and horses -- at saying goodbye. Such a hand shaking of human beings and patting of horses, I have never seen the like of before or since.
Well, we finally started for Green Pond Depot, a distance of nine miles. Everyone we met had some kind word for us all. We soon arrived at the Depot; the train steamed up, with the Beaufort District Troop aboard. After a speech from my master's father, we were put aboard, and off for Charleston we started.
What a strange sensation it was to me, my first ride on the cars. I, who was used to being ridden, was now riding. We had a pleasant trip, with the exception of some hard thumps occasionally. All the talk was of war -- man and horse. We arrived at the New Bridge (for the road was not completed at that time) sometime before the sunset, and each horseman led out his steed. We were bridled and saddled in a few moments, all eager to cross the New Bridge, and see Charleston, The City by the Sea.
We were met by three cavalry companies from Charleston to escort us to the city. The Charleston Light Dragoons; Rutledge Mounted Riflemen; and the German Hussars. They escorted us across the New Bridge, down to the Battery, up Broad Street to Meeting, then to Armory Hall, where a splendid supper awaited the men; to the horses -- nothing!
After the speech making by different company officers, we horses were taken to the Pavilion Hotel stables, where we had our supper. I was glad of it, for in those days I was not used to late hours and no rations. Bright and early the next morning, the men were busy getting their new uniforms, etc. Then came the shoeing. Here I experienced wearing my first pair of shoes, and they felt very awkward and strange to me at first; but I soon found out their use on the Charleston rocks.
We were to leave for Columbia by the South Carolina Railroad at 4:00 PM. About 3:00 PM, the company was formed at the corner of Meeting and Hasell Streets, in front of the Pavilion Hotel. The hotel balcony was crowded with ladies. They asked our riders to throw them their hats, which they did, and on each they sewed a palmetto cockade. We horses were entirely overlooked. We then proceeded to King Street, via Wentworth, and up King to the South Carolina Depot, where we embarked for Columbia.
We reached Columbia the next morning and were taken off the cars, then marched out to Camp Hampton, a distance of three miles. After being here a few days, a day was appointed for the inspection of the horses -- for, according to Army regulations, there is a maximum and minimum in regard to height. The eventful day soon came. The men were ordered to fall in by Orderly Sergeant James W. Moore, of Gillisonville, South Carolina. Each man was to lead his horse, and pass in front of the Inspecting Board, consisting of three officers -- Colonel Wade Hampton, Lieutenant-Colonel Ben Johnson, and Colonel John S. Preston.
It was a sad day for some of my brother horses, for the two who preceded me were both rejected for being under the minimum height. I could see and hear all that was done and said from where I was, and I must confess my hopes of going to Virginia fell, for I was only four-years-old and small at best. Still, when my time came to be led by, I stepped as proudly forward as if I were twenty hands high.
When I was in front of the inspectors, where the preceding horses had been halted for examination, one of the inspectors, Lieutenant-Colonel Ben Johnson said to my master, ‘Take your horse on, Sir;’ and turning to the other inspectors said, ‘Did you ever see a better muscled horse, for a small horse? Mark my words, that horse will stand the service, if any of them do.’ What praise, coming as it did from one who, from my earliest colt days, had heard termed one of the best judges of horse-flesh in South Carolina, a State where every other man is a horseman, and a judge of horse-flesh. With all my elation of spirit and pride at the praise, how sad indeed, I would have felt, if I could have foreseen that in a few short weeks, he who uttered this praise, would be filling a soldier's grave -- killed on the 21st day of July, on the battlefield of the First Manassas.
It was at this inspection that I got a close view of our Colonel, Wade Hampton. That matchless soldier and courteous gentleman, who I had the honor to follow many a day when he gave his well-known command, ‘Draw sabres! Follow me!’ I love and trusted him in those war days and will continue to do so to the end of life.
The Hampton Legion consisted of seven companies of infantry; four of cavalry; and a battery of artillery. The cavalry companies were: Edgefield Hussars, Edgefield District, Captain M.C. Butler commanding; Brooks Troop, Greenville District, Captain John Lanneau commanding; Congaree Troop, Richland District, Captain Thomas Taylor commanding; and Beauford District Troop, Beaufort District, Captain T.E. Screven commanding.
The up-country companies had all large, fine-looking horses, but before we left Columbia, we proved to them conclusively that they could neither out-jump us, nor even out-run us. Our Colonel had a ditch and bar arranged where the cavalry were to practice, and if I am not very much mistaken, the Beaufort District Troop horses bore off the palm, jumping the ditch and leaping that bar -- myself making second to the highest jump made.
We were soon ordered to be ready to start for Virginia, and left by the Charlotte Railroad. After a rather uneventful passage, with the exceptions of the hard thumps in the boxcars, we arrived at Petersburg, Virginia. The person of Petersburg seemed delighted to greet us, and gave men and horses a nice dinner at the fairgrounds. We were then marched to Richmond, a distance of nineteen miles. We passed through the principle streets and were greeted and cheered by everyone. We then went into camp, at a place called The Rockets, where we found the infantry and artillery of the Legion encamped.
On the first Sunday after we arrived at Richmond, the Legion was ordered out for Dress Parade, to be inspected by the President of the Southern Confederacy -- Jefferson Davis. As you can well imagine, we were all eager to see him, both men and horses. We were formed about 4:00 PM, to be seen and to see. The President soon appeared, followed by a numerous staff, dressed like himself, in citizen's dress. I well remember, he was mounted on a beautiful white horse, and sat as erect on his steed as a young man of twenty years. The man on my master's left, Moses Boynton, said to him, ‘He rides as if he were a cavalry soldier himself. Look how straight he sits in his saddle.’ My master replied: ‘Why, don’t you remember he is an old Mexican War soldier, and commanded a Mississippi regiment under ‘Old Rough and Ready.’
I heard afterwards the cavalry was ordered to Ashland, the once-famous racetrack of Virginia. I heard one of the soldiers say we were ordered there to be drilled by some of the old West Point officers, who had resigned from the United States Army and linked their fortunes with the young Confederacy. Once there, we were drilled by the two Lee's: W.H.F. Lee, General Robert E.Lee's son; and Fitzhugh Lee, the General's nephew; also Lomax and Fields. I think they were Colonels at the time. I remember we all, horses and men, were amused by their West Point drawl; so the men called it. A command given by one of them during drill, Colonel Lomax, I think, and never forgotten by us, was this: ‘Move out there, you, man on the gray horse -- move out briskly!’
We had good quarters at Ashland. We had plenty to eat, in those early days of the war. So with good quarters and food, we did not mind the severe drilling, morning and afternoon. Still, we had time to try the old racetrack. I was taken out several times, to contend with some horse, supposed to be fast, for a half-mile dash. I sustained my reputation. And from this fact came my first real notice from officers and privates of the four cavalry companies. It was here at old Ashland we got the first news of fighting at the front.
We soon received orders to march to Manassas. What a day that was. Raining in torrents and, although it was July, the rain was like ice. We passed through a small village, called Goldensville, and a family, the Taylor’s, originally from South Carolina, brought out something in water buckets for the men. I don’t know what it was, but I’m certain it wasn’t water. It seemed to help the men a great deal. To my surprise, nearly everyone was singing and laughing.
We passed through Fredericksburg on the third days march, after camping the second night at old Massaponax Church, in sight of the old railroad cut, where the following winter Stonewall Jackson's corps were stationed; and where the Gallant Pelham of the Stuart Horse Artillery, filled the cut with Federal dead, literally mowed down by his pieces. It was there the brave Alabamian gained the name of ‘Gallant Pelham’ bestowed on him by that peerless soldier, without stain or reproach -- Robert E. Lee. We arrived at Manassas on the 22nd day of July, the day after the battle. That was the only battle of the war that we had the good luck to arrive too late to participate in. At that time we were all terribly disappointed at missing the battle. My first ride over a battlefield, how well I remember each incident connected with that ride. How I grieved for the dead horses and men, the wounded and mangled. My heart was very tender in those days. The Legion infantry and artillery were in the battle, and though they suffered severely, they covered themselves all over with glory -- so I heard everyone saying, from General Beauregard down to the lowest private. Our Colonel was wounded, and, as I said before, our gallant Lieutenant Colonel was killed.
Late that afternoon I was saddled-up, to bear my master over to the field hospital. He, with others of the Beaufort District Troop, was going to see some wounded friends from Colleton District. One of the most severely wounded was Willow Green, of the Washington Light Infantry, Hampton Legion, Captain James Conner commanding. I heard one of the men of our party say as they came out of the hospital, ‘Poor Green, he can never get over his wound, for he is shot through and through.’ None of us knew in those days of July 1861, that a man or horse could be shot nearly in half and then recover. In fact, I came to know some men and horses that it seemed to me neither shot nor shell could kill.
The Legion went into camp at Bull Run, very near the battlefield. In fact, the doctors said that was the reason so many of our men was sick with the typhoid fever. We horses, you see, could not be affected. From the Beaufort District Troop alone there were a great many sick, three dangerously ill -- Lieutenant Wilson Broughton, Plato Searson, and my master. The latter was taken to a house near Brentsville, owned by Mrs. Foster, or as she was commonly called by her neighbors and friends, ‘Aunt Peggy Foster,’ an old-time Virginia lady, noted for her kindness of heart and generous hospitality to everyone, especially Confederate soldiers.
Aunt Peggy, God Bless Her, took all three of us in, man and horse -- my master's brother, who was detailed to nurse him; Ben, the servant; and all three of us horses. So I had a short period of home life once more, for Aunt Peggy fed us on the best; and her two nieces, who lived with her, vied with their aunt to let us want for nothing. Their names were Miss Sally and Maggie Williams. They were sisters to the dashing Captain of the Prince William Cavalry, 1st Virginia Regiment of Cavalry.
Oh! Those Virginia people, who bore the brunt of the war, how hospitable and kind you were to the Confederate soldiers, man and horse. You were all kind, especially the women. I don't believe a Virginian ever refused a Southern soldier a meal or his horse a feed of corn and hay.
As soon as my master could get in the saddle, we bade goodbye to this hospitable family and joined the command at Bacon Race, much to my regret, about twelve or fourteen miles below Manassas. We stayed there for some weeks and then joined the balance of the Legion at Dumfries. It was here I came to know Captain Theodore C. Barker, personally. He was the Adjutant of the Legion. His gallantry was proverbial, and his black horse only second to me.
While at this camp, I heard my first ‘long roll alarm’ (for we were camped very near our Legion infantry). It was done, I heard, to try us by order of General Wigfall, in command of the forces in this vicinity. It took us some time to get ready, in the dark; but when we did get ready, were disappointed that it was a false alarm, and had no foe to face. We stayed here a month or so, doing picket duty at Keart's Farm and Evans Fort, on the Potomac River. We then moved to Camp Wigfall, near the village of Occoquon, and went into our first and last winter quarters.
From this camp we did picket duty at Powheick Church. This is the church where George Washington worshipped, for it was not more than twelve miles from Mount Vernon. Can time or memory ever blot out those days of the winter, 1861? No! Nothing but death will ever erase them from my mind. The snow storms while at Mrs. Violet’s, our reserve picket post; the crossing to and fro of that rocky ford -- Selectman’s; the dances I bore my master to, at George Davis’ at Davis Ford; the different scouts Colonel Hampton took us on, beyond the Powheick Church, in front of Alexandria.
I'll try to give the roll call of the Beaufort District Troop, as well as I can remember it at this distant day. In those days I knew the roll by heart, as it originally was in July, 1861, for I had heard our gallant little Orderly Sergeant call it so often, at reveille and tattoo, as I stood, covered with snow and icicles, hitched to my tree or stake. Now if I should omit the name of any of that gallant old Troop, deem it forgetfulness and not intentional.
Roll of the Beaufort District Troop:
Captain Thomas E. Screven
1st Lieutenant Jack Ferrebee
Senior 2nd Lieutenant W.E. Proctor
Junior 2nd Lieutenant W.W. Broughton
Chaplain Richard Johnson
1st Sergeant James W. Moore
2nd Sergeant Dr. W.L. Henderson
3rd Sergeant A.M. Ruth
4th Sergeant T.E. Bessellieu
1st Corporal John C. Davant
2nd Corporal E.P. Henderson
4th Corporal Joe Ferguson
Josiah Beck Jacob Berg C.M. Bessellieu
Thurston Bessellieu Tom Bolan Dick Boyd
M.M. Boynton S.D. Boynton Aleck Bowie
Billy Bull John Campbell Jack Mew
Dr. H.W. Moore Wiley W. McTeer Bill Miller
W.A. Mickler W.T. Norwood Daniel Oglesby
Callie Pelot Frank Porcher Thomas Rooney
Dr. Whitmarsh Seabrook Nat Cannon Jim Clifton
Jim Davis Bill Doe Davant Theodore Dehon
Ned Drayton Tom Dudley Ned Willingham
Winnie Joe Willingham Jim Wiggins Josh Woods
John Dupont W.E. Dupont John Fairley
Eldred Fickling E.P.Ford Jim Garvin
Rawlins Grimes R.S. Williams Jim Halford
Sam Heape Fletcher Hughes O.P. Law
John Lewis R.P. Searson D.W. Sanders
Bill John Verdier Bill Youmans S. Shoolbread
Clarence Speaks W.H. Speaks Archie Speights
W. Strobart Nelson Terry
Seeing the look on the old horses face and the way he just sort of looked away -- far away, I knew this would be the end of his story. He casually looked over at me and said: “It’s getting late and reflection of the roll call of my old Troop has brought back some profound memories. Please don’t feel slighted if I end the story here for today. Perhaps we can continue tomorrow. I will recount some of the scouts that I went on with my master.”
Hearing that he wanted to tell me more of his story set my young blood racing, especially since he was going to tell me about his battles. “I’ll look forward to seeing you tomorrow then,” I said. He was already lost in his thoughts of a bygone time. Standing there watching him staring out across the fields, I slowly turned away and started heading back to the barn. What a most unusual horse this Arab was. I slept restlessly, more anxious than ever to see the old warhorse again.