Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Warhorses: Indispensable yet disposable

The cavalry typically rode four-wide if the road conditions permitted. In this formation, Stoneman's 4,000 cavalrymen would stretch for five miles or more.
 MARTINSVILLE, Va.
Martinsville and Christiansburg are the only markers
in Virginia that mention Stoneman's 1865 raid.
     On the afternoon of April 8, 1865, Stoneman's 1st Brigade arrived in Martinsville after a 65-mile march across the Blue Ridge that had started two nights earlier in Christiansburg. 
     The horses who logged all those miles carrying all those soldiers were the unsung heroes of Stoneman's Raid.
     Most of their names are lost to history. In all the soldiers' reports that I've read, I've seen only two who named their horses: Pennsylvania Capt. Howard Buzby riding Camelback, and Ohio saddler Abe Conger riding Frank.
     Buzby bragged about how Camelback was able to swim the swollen Yadkin River on March 31 at Wilkesboro, when the rest of Stoneman's troops were unable to cross.
     Following the battle of Salisbury on April 12, Buzby wrote, "Camelback was bad when excited, and persisted in trampling the toes of our illustrious Southern brethren after they surrendered. He was a Fifteenth horse, and wanted to show off before the Tenth Michigan horses, and if I had not sawed him with the curb bit, he would have had me into the fort before I was ready. Horses are very intelligent, but when excited, like men, do not know what they are all about."
     By the time Stoneman's Raid reached Salisbury, Buzby had ridden Camelback 500 miles in 23 days. If Camelback had the stamina for the thousand miles to come in the next 40 days, he would be a rare beast indeed. 
     Most of Stoneman's soldiers seem to have treated their horses as disposable. "We seize all the horses as we go along, and get so many that as those in the column become exhausted, a fresh one is at hand, and the exhausted one is abandoned," Capt. Harry Weand wrote in his journal. Of the 900 cavalrymen from Pennsylvania, he said that less than a half-dozen finished the raid on the same horse they began with. Some men used up to 20 horses on the two-month campaign.
     Major William Wagner's detachment commandeered fresh horses before riding over 300 miles during the week of April 5-11. (Gen. Ulysses Grant later called Wagner's march the most significant action of Stoneman's Raid, because it precluded Robert E. Lee from attempting an escape into the mountains.) George Neil, among 220 men who rode with Wagner, recalled that rain was pouring the morning of April 5 when the battalion reached Salem, Va. "The good horses of the farmers, instead of being run off and secreted, were kept in their stables, where we found them, and traded our played-out ones, without the usual dickering that goes along with a horse trade," he said.
     After stirring up a hornets' nest in Lynchburg, Wagner's battalion rode 84 miles in 22 hours April 10-11, stopping for only one hour to rest. 
Capt. Adam Kramer
     Another Pennsylvania outfit under Capt. Adam Kramer rode 52 miles in 12 hours April 11 to burn the Florence Armory near Jamestown, N.C., where thousands of Confederate rifles were being manufactured. 
     The longest one-day ride I've seen was led by Corporal W.E. Reppert, who was ordered to alert the front-line forces about the April 18 truce between Union. Gen. Sherman and Confederate Gen. Johnston. Reppert rode 110 miles in 19 hours on April 22 or 23 and finally had to hand off the correspondence "to be forwarded to Gen. Gillem by fresh horses, as ours were played out."
      In late April, 1865, Capt. Frank Mason of the 12th Ohio Cavalry rode 254 miles across the mountains in six days to deliver orders from Gen. Alvan Gillem in Greeneville, Tenn., to Gen. Simeon Brown in Anderson, S.C. 
     After the capture of Salisbury, Stoneman had enough surplus horses to mount most of his 1,300 prisoners as well as about 1,000 freed slaves who were following the cavalry for their own protection. On April 13, Stoneman reported, "We are much better mounted than when we left Knoxville."
Dr. Milton Folger
     The opposite was true for the unfortunate Southerners along Stoneman's route. Molly Folger was just six years old when a soldier knocked on the door where she lived in Rockford, N.C., seeking her father, Dr. Milton Folger. A Federal officer had fallen ill and needed treatment. While her father gathered his medical bag, Molly sat on the Union cavalryman's knee and listened to his stories about his own little girl.
     Soon, the doctor and the soldier rode off. When Dr. Folger came home later, he was riding the worn-out Union mount, because his fine horse had been confiscated by the soldier. 
     It didn't matter if the doctor had saved the officer's life. The cavalry didn't look a gift horse in the mouth.

As a saddler for the 12th Ohio Cavalry regiment, Private Abe Conger knew how to take care of Frank, who carried him faithfully through the entire Stoneman's Raid as well as Sherman's 1864 march through Georgia. At regimental reunions, when Frank heard a bugle he would trot to the flag. After Frank died in 1886, grateful veterans buried him under a tombstone engraved: Frank the Warhorse.

In the wrong place at the right time

     The entire 1st Brigade was in Martinsville because of a misunderstood order. Only one of its three regiments was supposed to go that way, while the other two should have followed Stoneman to Taylorsville, Va.
     At dawn on the morning of April 8, the road-weary 10th Michigan Cavalry stumbled into an encampment of 500 Confederate cavalry in a ravine west of the Henry County Courthouse in Martinsville.
     The ensuing skirmish was one of the bloodiest fights of Stoneman's Raid. Five Union troops and up to 27 rebels were killed. 
     This engagement could have been disastrous for the 10th Michigan Cavalry if they had been alone, as ordered. However, the arrival of the other two regimentsprobably about 1,200 menforced the remaining rebels to retreat from Martinsville.
     The 1st Brigade rested briefly at Martinsville and reunited with Stoneman the following day at Danbury, N.C.

While in Martinsville, let's talk horsepower
     Martinsville is home to the oldest speedway in the top level of NASCAR racing, so this is a good place to talk horsepower.
    In fact, we can draw some absurd parallels to help put Stoneman's Raid in perspective:
      A top-level stock car cranks out close to 900 horsepower. Stoneman's cavalry had 4,000 hp, literally, plus a few mulepower to pull wagons and light artillery.
     Two weekends ago, Denny Hamlin raced 263 miles when he won the 500-lap NASCAR race at Martinsville. Back in 1865, Major Wagner's battalion logged 315 miles in the week they went through Martinsville.
      Stoneman's cavalry riding four-wide could stretch over five miles. Think 10 laps around Martinsville, or two laps around Daytona.
     — Racers can wear out their engines because they know they will get a fresh one next week. Likewise, Stoneman didn't have to hold his horses, because the countryside was full of replacements.

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