How did horses behave in battle? - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 23 Old 02-27-2019, 12:54 AM Thread Starter
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How did horses behave in battle?

Hello, I am doing some research about a specific Civil War battle in which the behavior of riders and horses was pivotal. I have no experience whatsoever with horses.
Does anyone know:

1) Do non-panicked horses tend to not want to step on fallen/wounded horses? Or on humans, fallen or otherwise? What about panicked ones?
2) How do horses behave, when in a tight formation (such as column of twos or fours, with other horses close behind an din front of them), as opposed to in loose single file? If a horse in front panics, will those behind tend to panic and follow as well? If a horse ahead drops, will those behind panic or just keep going, under the rider's control?

Any thoughts from those of you with a lot of experience would be great! Experience with horses I mean, I don't suppose anyone has any experience in battle with horses!

Regards,

David
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post #2 of 23 Old 02-27-2019, 04:05 AM
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Horses, being herd animals, have flight as their primary survival instinct.

Training for any cavalry regiment consists of being ridden in pairs, fours and single file so they accept that as routine.

In a battle situation horses would not be in pairs of fours but much more likely to be in a line with following lines behind.

Horses do not like treading on something squishy so will avoid it if possible. With many fallen horses and riders there would be trampling because the fallen would not be seen or may be unavoidable.

Being in a line it becomes a controlled panic, horses will want to stay with their own and would stick together. In that controlled panic they would go forward together regardless of what was in front of them.

Probably the best one to help you with this is BSMS who has read many many books on cavalry regiments and training.
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post #3 of 23 Old 02-27-2019, 07:32 AM Thread Starter
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Explanation

Thank you for your reply. I should have specified that the incident I am studying is the battle of Greenland Gap (now West Virginia), in which over 1,000 cavalry entered a literal gap between two mountains. This required charging down a path only wide enough for about 2 riders in column, fording a creek, then crossing a space of about one acre, then crossing the creek again to exit the gap on the opposite side. On this acre ware buildings next to the path, including a two-story church and a cabin, from which less than 100 defending troops fired on the attacking cavalry. They turned the charging cavalrymen several times, with the horses turning to the left or right and/or panicking, causing a delay of over 4 hours and several dead cavalrymen and countless dead horses. The cavalrymen eventually had to attack the buildings at night, dismounted, and burn them out or blow them up, in order to get through. It was a sort of Thermopylae, only with horses.

One of the leaders of the cavalry later stated that if only they could have charged in column of fours, and stayed in tight formation, they would have easily and quickly made it through and defeated the defenders. But the path was only wide enough for column of twos.

I find this incident fascinating and am trying to find behavioral reasons (on the part of the horses as well as riders) to explain it. Apparently, both riders and horses were “freaked out” to one degree or another, by horses ahead of them going down, or veering off to one side or turning around on the acre of land, causing mass confusion that broke up the too-loose formation. Only about 200 riders were able to get through at first, out of almost 2,000.
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post #4 of 23 Old 02-27-2019, 09:06 AM
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Wha idiotic commander would send cavalry into such a fatal situation?

Very different to what I thought was the usual cavalry charge.

Horse would spin and turn and bolt in the opposite direction especially if there were a pile of dead bodies, human and Equine, in front of them that they couldn't get through without having to either jump or stand on them.

In turning and bolting they would panic those coming behind. This would obviously make it much harder for the rider to maintain control let alone use a weapon.

Animals can smell fear where it is from the same species or another. It would also, I assume put the fear of God into the troopers.

A bolting horse is different from a runaway horse. The latter is just running away, a bolting horse is practically impossible to stop and is running blind, not seeing rocks, trees or fences in front of it.
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post #5 of 23 Old 02-27-2019, 10:31 AM
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Cavalry horses AND men would get very excited. Sometimes that was good. One Civil War vet said a charge was as different from a gallop as a hurricane was from a breeze, with both horses & men mad with excitement.

"Custer had grown into manhood during the Civil War, when the frantic, all-or-nothing pace of the cavalry charge came to define his life. "The sense of power and audacity that possess the cavalier, the unity with his steed, both are perfect," remembered one Civil War veteran who attempted to describe what it was like to charge into battle. "The horse is as wild as the man: with glaring eye-balls and red nostrils he rushes frantically forward at the very top of his speed, with huge bounds, as different from the rhythmic precision of the gallop as the sweep of the hurricane is from the rustle of the breeze. Horse and rider are drunk with excitement, feeling and seeing nothing but the cloud of dust, the scattered flying figures, conscious of only one made desire to reach them, to smite, to smite, to smite!" - "The Last Stand" by Nathaniel Philbrick, pgs 46-47

The Bible mentions it too:

Do you give the horse his might?
Do you clothe his neck with a mane?
Do you make him leap like the locust?
His majestic snorting is terrifying.
He paws in the valley and exults in his strength;
he goes out to meet the weapons.
He laughs at fear and is not dismayed;
he does not turn back from the sword.
Upon him rattle the quiver,
the flashing spear, and the javelin.
With fierceness and rage he swallows the ground;
he cannot stand still at the sound of the trumpet.
When the trumpet sounds, he says ‘Aha!’
He smells the battle from afar,
the thunder of the captains, and the shouting.
- Job, Chapter 39

There were many cases of horses bolting and racing mindlessly across battles. At the Little Big Horn, one horse bolted and carried his rider a couple miles, through the big Sioux camp, then turned around and raced all the way back. Amazingly, his rider held on and was reunited with his unit, although a few others were last seen (by whites) headed toward the camp - and THEIR riders were never seen again!

In one battle, Gen Nathan Bedford Forrest's horse was shot multiple times. He switched horses and returned to the battle. The badly injured horse broke free and ran after Forrest, following him for the rest of the battle. My guess is the horse associated "safety" with his rider and followed him in the belief that was the safest thing to do.

In another example, a cavalryman found himself surround by Sioux. He figured he was a dead man. He leaned over and kissed his horse goodbye. As the Sioux closed in, the horse exploded forward, carrying the surprised cavalryman through the Sioux. The horse raced across open country, pursued, and got back to the man's original unit. I'm guessing THAT horse ate well for a long time!

I read an account last night of a battle prior to Cold Harbor. As evening fell, the horses got nervous, The men got nervous. The cycle continued until all heck broke loose, with the horses (and men) running away - from nothing. Made a big mess and humiliated the cavalry unit once it was known nothing was there.

There are endless accounts of how horses tried to avoid stepping on bodies. It wasn't always possible, particularly since sometimes the ground was covered in bodies. But more than one wounded man had hundreds of horses race over where he lay wounded without being stepped on.

Then there was the Charge of the Two Hundred Mules. In the Battle of Wauhatchie (October 28–29, 1863), "A rumor circulated through the Union camps that Union mules stampeded by the fight had made the Confederates believe they were being attacked by cavalry, causing the Southern retreat; the Union soldiers joked that the mules be "breveted as horses". - Wiki Grant's aide Porter wrote about it, IIRC, saying Grant actually laughed out loud.

"‘Geary had been engaged for about three hours against a vastly superior force. The night was so dark that the men could not distinguish one another except by the light of the flashes of their muskets. In the darkness and uproar Hooker’s teamsters became frightened, and deserted their teams. The mules also became frightened, and, breaking loose from their fastenings, stampeded directly towards the enemy. The latter no doubt took this for a charge, and stampeded in turn. By 4 o’clock in the morning the battle had entirely ceased, and our ‘cracker line’ was never afterwards disturbed.’ - General Ulysses S. Grant, U.S.A., Battles and Leaders, Book 3 Page 690."

The Battle of Wauhatchie, or The Charge Of The Mule Brigade.

The following poem was written at the time as a parody:

Half a mile, half a mile,
Half a mile onward,
Right through the Georgia troops
Broke the two hundred.

"Forward the Mule Brigade!
Charge for the Rebs," they neighed.
Straight for the Georgia troops
Broke the two hundred.

"Forward the Mule Brigade!"
Was there a mule dismayed?
Not when their long ears felt
All their ropes sundered.

Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to make Rebs fly
On! to the Georgia troops
Broke the two hundred.

Mules to the right of them,
Mules to the left of them,
Mules behind them
Pawed, neighed, and thundered.

Breaking their own confines
Breaking through Longstreet's lines
Into the Georgia troops
Stormed the two hundred.

Wild all their eyes did glare,
Whisked all their tails in air
Scattering the chivalry there,
While all the world wondered.

Not a mule back bestraddled,
Yet how they all skedaddled
*Fled every Georgian,
Unsabered, unsaddled,
Scattered and sundered!
How they were routed there
By the two hundred!

Mules to the right of them
Mules to the left of them,
Mules behind them
Pawed, neighed, and thundered;

Followed by hoof and head
Full many a hero fled,
Fain in the last ditch dead,
Back from an ***'s jaw
All that was left of them,
Left by the two hundred.

When can their glory fade?
Oh, what a wild charge they made!
All the world wondered.
Honor the charge they made!
Honor the Mule Brigade,
Long-eared two hundred!

Riders ask "How?" Horsemen ask "Why?"

Last edited by bsms; 02-27-2019 at 10:40 AM.
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post #6 of 23 Old 02-27-2019, 10:52 AM
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From Porter's account (Campaigning with Grant):


Riders ask "How?" Horsemen ask "Why?"
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post #7 of 23 Old 02-27-2019, 12:55 PM
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The Last Stand is a fascinating historical account and a great read. The photos are great.
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post #8 of 23 Old 02-27-2019, 07:27 PM
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You want to learn horse behavior but you'll also need to learn the military aspect and the training. Example, horses are taught not to kick, and most horses do not kick unless startled or aggressive.. a military horse may be taught to kick a living target on command. My LIMITED understanding of the civil war era was in the cavalry horses were mostly a means of transportation vs a weapon (as some other cultures used them as) this may be worth looking into as it would effect training and effect how a horse might act about say stepping on someone. Training a horse for battle goes against a lot of their nature and a lot of what "non battle" training is. A horse may be upset but still follow it's training if it has a rider it has faith in. And vice versa.

The most important thing in what you wrote is "panicked" a horse that is truly panicked there is no reasoning with and is 1200lbs of sharp teeth and hooves and muscle with no brain and no reason. Frightened horses can be reasoned with, even if it would slow something down, panicked horses are truly in a blind panic. The more upset/panicked a horse becomes the more blind they become and yes this can include running INTO danger if they feel they need to (and following other horses is instinct NOT a conscious thought.)

As far as specific questions I agree with what Foxhunter said.

ETA- another thought is while I assume the cavalry has minimum standards some people are better horse people then others. One person may be able to control a nervous horse while another may not. I'd imagine any of this type of situation would be at best controlled chaos, and that's assuming things are going WELL.

ETA again- sorry just read your description of the battle. It is interesting if not suprising, I'd imagine it would be very chaotic with cavalry or infantry. One thought is about the creek they needed to ford. I believe we are picturing them charging full speed down a moutainside, however second thought is likely they weren't actually charging, especially if they needed to slow down for a creek and that there was at no point an actual "charge" of a group racing together at full speed and adrenaline going. Adrenaline is a pretty amazing thing.
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Last edited by Yogiwick; 02-27-2019 at 07:37 PM.
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post #9 of 23 Old 02-27-2019, 11:11 PM
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A charge rarely started at full speed. Depended on distance and terrain. The Charge of the Light Brigade took 6-8 minutes, one way:


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charge..._Light_Brigade

Typically, the military (being the military) assigned people to various branches with little concern for natural aptitude. Size was important. A typical cavalryman weighed 140-150 lbs because a horse also carried another 100 lbs in gear and feed - not in a charge, but for daily movements. The picture below was taken in World War 1 of British Cavalry:


That obviously was not for fighting, but for moving across country. I posted the quote below on my journal, about Gen Grant and his horses & Civil War time. The statue was one Grant posed for sitting on his favorite horse, so it may be realistic concerning how he rode. It seems similar to wartime sketches of him riding:

Quote:
Originally Posted by bsms View Post




Ulysses S. Grant and His Horses During and After the Civil War

In later years, during the Civil War, Grant's horses were objects of intense public interest. His oldest son, Frederick Dent Grant, tells of the horses Grant owned during the War.

When the Civil War broke out, my father, General Grant, was appointed colonel of the Twenty-first Illinois Volunteer Infantry and on joining the regiment purchased a horse in Galena, Illinois. This horse, though a strong animal, proved to be unfitted for service and, when my father was taking his regiment from Springfield, Illinois, to Missouri, he encamped on the Illinois River for several da ys. During the time they were there a farmer brought in a horse called "Jack." This animal was a cream-colored horse, with black eyes, mane and tail of silver white, his hair gradually becoming darker toward his feet. He was a noble animal, high spirited, very intelligent and an excellent horse in every way. He was a stallion and of considerable value. My father used him until after the battle of Chattanooga (November, 1863), as an extra horse and for parades and ceremonial occasions. At the time of the Sanitary Fair in Chicago (1863 or '64), General Grant gave him to the fair, where he was raffled off, bringing $4,000 to the Sanitary Commission.

Soon after my father was made a brigadier-general, (August 8, 1861), he purchased a pony for me and also another horse for field service for himself. At the battle of Belmont (November 7, 1861), his horse was killed under him and he took my pony. The pony was quite small and my father, feeling that the commanding general on the field should have a larger mount, he turned the pony over to one of his aides-de-camp (Captain Hyllier) and mounted the captain's horse. The pony was lost in the battle.

The next horse that my father purchased for field service was a roan called "Fox," a very powerful and spirited animal and of great endurance. This horse he rode during the siege and battles around Fort Donelson and also at Shiloh.

At the battle of Shiloh the Confederates left on the field a rawboned horse, very ugly and apparently good for nothing. As a joke, the officer who found this animal on the field, sent it with his compliments, to Colonel Lagow, one of my father's aid-de-camp, who always kept a very excellent mount and was a man of means. The other officers of the staff "jollied" the colonel about this gift. When my father saw him, he told the colonel that the animal was a thoroughbred and a valuable mount and that if he, Lagow, did not wish to keep the horse he would be glad to have him. Because of his appearance he was named "Kangaroo," and after a short period of rest and feeding and care he turned out to be a magnificent animal and was used by my father during the Vicksburg campaign.

In this campaign, General Grant had two other horses, both of them very handsome, one of which he gave away and the other he used until late in the war. During the campaign and siege of Vicksburg, a cavalry raid or scouting party arrived at Joe Davis' plantation (brother of Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy) and there captured a black pony which was brought to the rear of the city and presented to me. The animal was worn out when it reached headquarters but was a very easy riding horse and I used him once or twice. With care he began to pick up and soon carried himself in fine shape.

At that time my father was suffering with a carbuncle and his horse being restless caused him a great deal of pain. It was necessary for General Grant to visit the lines frequently and one day he took this pony for that purpose. The gait of the pony was so delightful that he directed that he be turned over to the quartermaster as a captured horse and a board of officers be convened to appraise the animal. This was done and my father purchased the animal and kept him until he died, which was long after the Civil War. This pony was known as "Jeff Davis."

After the battle of Chattanooga, General Grant went to St. Louis, where I was at the time, critically ill with dysentery contracted during the siege of Vicksburg. During the time of his visit to the city he received a letter from a gentleman who signed his name "S. S. Grant," the initials being the same as those of a brother of my father's, who had died in the summer of 1861. S. S. Grant wrote to the effect that he was very desirous of seeing General Grant but that he was ill and confined to his room at the Lindell Hotel and begged him to call, as he had something important to say which my father might be gratified to hear.

The name excited my father's curiosity and he called at the hotel to meet the gentleman who told him that he had, he thought, the finest horse in the world, and knowing General Grant's great liking for horses he had concluded, inasmuch as he would never be able to ride again, that he would like to give his horse to him; that he desired that the horse should have a good home and tender care and that the only condition that he would make in parting with him would be that the person receiving him would see that he was never ill-treated, and should never fall into the hands of a person that would ill-treat him. The promise was given and General Grant accepted the horse and called him "Cincinnati." This was his battle charger until the end of the war and was kept by him until the horse died at Admiral Ammen's farm in Maryland, in 1878.

[Side note on Cincinnati: He was the son of "Lexington," the fastest four-mile thoroughbred in the United States, time 7:19 3/4 minutes. Cincinnati nearly equaled the speed of his half-brother, "Kentucky," and Grant was offered $10,000 in gold or its equivalent for him, but refused. He was seventeen hands high, and in the estimation of Grant was the finest horse that he had ever seen. Grant rarely permitted anyone to mount the horse. Two exceptions were Admiral Daniel Ammen and President Abraham Lincoln. Ammen saved Grant's life from drowning while a school-boy. Grant said: "Lincoln spent the latter days of his life with me. He came to City Point in the last month of the war and was with all me all the time. He was a fine horseman and rode my horse Cincinnati every day."] According to General Horace Porter, Grant rode Cincinnati to the surrender meeting with General Robert E. Lee.

About the time of January, 1864, some people in Illinois found a horse in the southern part of that state, which they thought was remarkably beautiful. They purchased him and sent him as a present to my father. This horse was known as "Egypt" as he was raised, or at least came from southern Illinois, a district known in the state as Egypt, as the northern part was known as Canaan. [End of narrative by Frederick Dent Grant]

General Horace Porter described Grant's technique in mounting Egypt. When the horse was brought up, the general mounted as usual in a manner peculiar to himself. He made no perceptible effort, and used his hands but little to aid him; he put his left foot in the stirrup, grasped the horse's mane near the withers with his left hand, and rose without making a spring by simply straightening the left leg til his body was high enough to enable him to throw the right leg over the saddle. There was no 'climbing' up the animal's side, and no jerky movements. The mounting was always done in an instant and with the greatest possible ease.

At Vicksburg, Grant and his horse are described as follows: "It was hard for new troops to believe that the low-voiced man in the blouse and straw hat was the one center of all direction and command of this mighty force. His horse, however, was always in full uniform. That was due to the orderly, no doubt." (Hamlin Garland, Ulysses S. Grant, His Life and Character) [bsms Note: It probably had to do with Grant. One of the first purchases he made after rejoining the Army was a saddle valued at $150 - a big sum in 1861! He was noted for sparing no expense on tack for his horses.]

One horse, however, proved too much even for General Grant. In August of 1863, right after the fall of Vicksburg, Grant went to New Orleans to confer with General Banks about movements west of the Mississippi. One September 4th he reviewed General Banks' army at Carrollton and was given a large and somewhat wild and nervous horse to ride for the occasion. An accident occurred which Grant described in his Memoirs. "The horse I rode was vicious and but little used, and on my return to New Orleans ran away and, shying at a locomotive in the street, fell, probably on me. I was rendered insensible, and when I regained consciousness I found myself in a hotel near by with several doctors attending me. My leg was swollen from the knee to the thigh, and the swelling, almost to the point of bursting, extended along the body up to the arm-pit. The pain was almost beyond endurance. I lay at the hotel something over a week without being able to turn myself in bed. I had a steamer stop at the nearest point possible, and was carried to it on a litter. I was then taken to Vicksburg, where I remained unable to move for some time afterwards." Grant was on crutches for two months after this incident.

Cincinnati, Jeff Davis and Egypt all lived to enter the White House stables when Grant became president in 1869. Albert Hawkins was in charge of those stables at this time. He reports that arrangements were made during Grant's second term for an equestrian statue of him mounted on Cincinnati, and that every day for nearly a month the General would have the bridle and saddle put on Cincinnati and ride out to meet the sculptor. Hawkins relates that Jeff Davis was a kicker and he had the habit of biting to such an extent that the stable hands were afraid to go near him. General Grant, however, could handle him as he desired and as soon as he entered the stable. Jeff would throw back his ears and move about restlessly until the General came up and patted him.

...Ulysses S. Grant always had plans for the future, most of which did not work out the way he intended. The opening line to the preface of his Memoirs reflects his fatalistic philosophy: "Man proposes, God disposes;" man has very little control over his destiny, he lamented. During the Civil War Grant was dreaming of the day when the War would be over and he would be free to train horses. He extended this daydream to cover his old age as well.

"I am looking forward longingly to the time when we can end this war and I can settle down on my St. Louis farm and raise horses. I love to train young colts ... When old age comes on, and I get too feeble to move about, I expect to derive my chief pleasure sitting in a big arm-chair in the center of a ring-a sort of training course, holding a colt's leading-line in my hand, and watching him run around the ring."

http://faculty.css.edu/mkelsey/usgrant/hors2.html

There is a good article on the horses of Lee and Grant here:

Lee, Grant and Their Steadfast Steeds | HistoryNet
Porter spent several years riding with Grant daily, and he chose this drawing to illustrate Grant on horseback:


Riders ask "How?" Horsemen ask "Why?"
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post #10 of 23 Old 02-28-2019, 11:41 AM Thread Starter
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Thanks guys, I really appreciate the responses. I spent much of yesterday taking measurements of the actual "battlefield", which is truly tiny. And yes, there is no way the multitude of cavalry could have charged at anything approaching full gallop, as the creek they had to cross, to even get onto the 'island", is approximately 30 feet wide, and requires care to cross. And this under heavy fire from buildings about 150 feet away. One of the buildings stood not 6 feet from the side of the path they would have had to take, after crossing the creek. And the path was about 360 feet from one ford to the next, all of this distance in easy fire range of buildings. After taking a careful look at it, it is obvious this must have been harrowing for both riders and horses. The idea that less than 100 men could have kept over 1000 horsemen at bay and unable to cover a distance of 360 feet, is both amazing but now completely understandable.

The ford was clearly only wide enough for 2 or 3 horses side by side... and same for the path across the patch of land. Does anyone know how long it takes a horse to reach full gallop? The equivalent of asking how long does it take your vehicle to go from 0 to 60? Perhaps the horses would have been at full gallop by the time the reached the side of the main building, about 150 feet away. Is 150 feet sufficient to reach full gallop? Of course, they would have had to have come to a full stop again to ford the 'exit' ford, about 200 feet later.
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