SERVING OUR VETERANS: Horses in warfare
We often see human casualty figures from wars. I have often mentioned some of these statistics in my previous columns. But, have you ever thought about the number of horses involved in periods of war?
The first use of horses in warfare occurred over 5,000 years ago. In the Americas, the use of horses and development of mounted warfare tactics were learned by several Native American tribes and in turn, mobile horse regiments were critical in the American Civil War. Horse cavalry began to be phased out after WWI in favor of tank warfare, though a few horse cavalry units were still used into WWII, especially as scouts. By the end of WWII, horses were seldom seen in battle but, were still used extensively for the transport of troops and supplies. Today, formal battle ready horse cavalry units have almost disappeared, though the US Army Special Forces used horses in battle during the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan.
The number of horses killed in warfare is astounding. More than one million horses and mules were killed during the Civil War. In the early days of the conflict, more horses than men were killed. Just at Gettysburg alone, the number of horses and mules killed was about 1,500. One estimate puts the number of horses that served in WWI at around six million, with a large number of them dying due to war related causes. Between 1914 and 1918, the United States alone sent almost one million horses overseas and another 182,000 were taken overseas with American troops. Only 200 returned to the United States and 60,000 were killed outright in battle.
I could go on and on with more statistics. But, the point I am trying to make is besides remembering the sacrifices made by our veterans, we should occasionally think about these horses and other animals lost during periods of war. Their sacrifices, especially in our early wars, also contributed to help winning the freedom and liberties we cherish today. They did not get to make a choice if they wanted to serve, or not. Thousands were killed in battle, and many suffered terribly. They felt pain just as we do. They were shot, bombed with artillery, breathed poisonous gases, and suffered from illnesses and infection. Many starved and suffered from extreme heat or cold. Most lived and died forgotten without even a name. We need to remember they were created by the same Hand that created you and me. Sadly, they too experienced the very worst things of war. Let us not take for granted their contributions to our military and let us remember the sacrifices they have made for our country.
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