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Famous US Military War Horses

By Ron Montonye - Pierce County Veterans Service Officer | Sep 12, 2020

In July of 2018, I published a column titled “Horses in Warfare.” For some reason, I received more favorable comments on this article than most I have written. As a follow-up to this, today I would like to share with you a short list of some of the most famous U.S. military war horses.

In the history of war, horses have become famous thanks to their great owners or military units. Horses witnessed and participated in many battles, carrying their owners to successes or failures. From information I found on a website, here is my list of four of the most famous U.S. war horses.

Sergeant Reckless was a Mongolian mare that participated in the Korean War. She was purchased by the United States Marine Corps in 1952 and was used to transport supplies and evacuate soldiers during hostilities. The mare was injured twice, but despite this, she continued carrying supplies and people. Reckless received her nickname for her fearless nature. In addition, she was a very smart horse who soon became a favorite of the unit in which she served. They also found out she could consume large amounts of scrambled eggs and beer. In 1953, during the battle for Outpost Vegas, the fearless horse conducted 51 solo rides in one day. In 1954, Reckless was given the rank of sergeant and was subsequently retired. Having lived an interesting and productive life, she died in 1968.

Comanche was bought by the U.S. Army in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1868 when the horse caught the attention of Capt. Myles Keogh (brother-in-law of Gen. George A. Custer) of the 7th Cavalry. He then bought him as his personal mount. In September 1868, when the Army fought with the Natives on the plains of Kansas, Comanche was wounded. His wounds were found only after returning to camp. Capt. Keogh admired the horse’s courage and after that, he gave him the name Comanche. In June 1876, all but Comanche were killed at the Battle of the Little Big Horn. The horse received seven bullet wounds, had arrows sticking out of him, and lost a lot of blood, but survived. Comanche died in 1891 and was given a military funeral.

Cincinnati was one of Union Gen. Ulysses Grant’s horses during the Civil War. The horse was the son of Lexington, one of America’s fastest horses. Cincinnatti quickly became a favorite with Grant. Cincinnatti became famous after Gen. Grant rode him to negotiate Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House.

Traveller was the most famous horse of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee during the Civil War. Maj. Thomas L. Broun, by Lee’s orders, bought the horse in the spring of 1861 for $175 (approximately $4,545 today). Broun recalled of Traveller:

“He was greatly admired in camp for his rapid, springy walk, his high spirit, bold courage, and muscular strength. He needed neither whip nor spur, and would walk his five or six miles an hour over the rough mountains of West Virginia with his rider sitting firmly in the saddle and holding him in check by a tight rein, such vim and eagerness did he manifest to go right ahead as soon as he was mounted.”

Gen. Lee died on Oct. 12, 1870. Traveller survived him by several months. The horse stepped on a nail and became ill with tetanus. Since at that time there was no way to save him, he had to be shot to end his suffering.

Other than a love for horses, I asked myself, “Why are people so interested and fascinated by these war horses?” Maybe I am wrong, but I believe it is because they inspire us with their strength, their courage, and their willingness to do their duty when called upon. Are these not the same reasons why we are inspired by those persons who have served our country in our armed forces during periods of war? Just like their human counterparts, these war horses, in large numbers, were confronted with all the same duties, tragedies, adversities, and horrors that one must face during wartime conditions. I would guess no other animal has faced wartime situations, and death, more than horses.

These war horses carried supplies, troops, and wounded soldiers, to and from the front lines. They experienced the sounds, the smells, and the sight of death and destruction that only those who have faced these situations can describe. They, like their human soldiers, suffered from fear, stress, fatigue, pain, extreme weather and temperature extremes, hunger and even injury or death. Thousands of these horses succumbed to their wartime injuries and illnesses. For many, their death was quick and immediate.

Again, what they experienced is not much different from what their fellow war humans experienced as well. But unlike their human counterparts, most lie in unmarked graves, without a name, and without anybody to remember them. And they lie in unmarked locations without any holidays to remember, honor, and thank them. Maybe this is why it is good to remember just a few of the most famous. Hopefully, when we still remember just a few, it will also remind us of all those who sacrificed, many with their lives, to do what they were asked to do, for us. Like our veterans, may we always remember, and be thankful and appreciative of these honorable war horses and their contributions to our freedom and liberty.

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