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Morgan Horses in the US Army Cavalry


At the formation of the Morgan Horse Club, held at the state fair grounds, President Henry S. Wardner of Windsor read a paper on ” The Morgan Horse in War” The speaker said :

At Piermont New Hampshire, lives George Austin, now seventy three years of age, an admirer of the Morgan Horse. His knowledge of the breed is derived from an experience such as few men now living had shared.

He was employed in 1861 by Quarter-master G.S. Blodgett, U.S.A., to assist in the selection of one thousand horses for the First Vermont Cavalry. The horses were purchased in the Northeast section of Vermont, with a few from the New Hampshire towns in Connecticut River Valley. The secretary of war, who new the reputation of Vermont horses, was anxious that the Vermont Cavalry regiment should immediately take the field, and in forty two days from the date of the order for raising the regiment, the regiment was in camp at Burlington, the uniforms provided and the horses on the ground. This was October 16, 1861. Mr. Austin says that the horses were all Morgans and that they were the best cavalry mount in the entire Union Army, and that they outworked and outlasted the horses of any other regiment. As Mr. Austin was a soldier in the regiment from its organization to the close of the war, he does not speak from hearsay.

It was worthwhile to see what the records had to say of the First Vermont Regiment, – the first cavalry regiment to go from the New England states in the war of 1861 – and to see how far they support Mr. Austin’s opinion of character of the mount.

The New York dailies of December 16, 1861, in reporting the arrival of the First Vermont Cavalry in that city on the day before, had this to say:

The ” Evening Post”: “The horses have been selected by competent judges from the best stock in Vermont. The regiment was the object of general interest and admiration in this city yesterday.”

The “World”: ” The regiment numbers 1,030 men and over 1,100 horses. The latter are nearly all of the Morgan breed, and make a much better appearance than many steeds are reported to make in Washington.”

The :Tribune”: “The personnel of this regiment is unsurpassed by any in the service. The uniforms and equipments of the men are of a superior order and no expense seems to have been spared by the state in fitting the regiment out for the branch of the service in which is to be engaged. Most of the horses are of the celebrated Morgan stock- they have been well cared for and a pretty well drilled.”

The “Herald”: ” The regiment is a sturdy one, and the material, both as to men, horses and equipments, of just the character furnished by Vermont in this contest, when she has manfully undertaken to furnish the national government with supplies and sinews of war. In this respect the Green Mountain State maybe fully said to have done nobly, and her page in the future history of this unholy rebellion will be replete with patriotism and the recounting of deeds of valor at the hands of her hardy and chivalrous sons.” Speaking particularly of the horses, it said: “these animals are all of the Morgan Breed, and embrace hundreds of splendid specimens of the equine race.”

The Newark, New Jersey, Advertiser of December 17th, 1861, in describing the march of the First Vermont Cavalry up through Newark on the way to Washington, said: “the Green Mountain Boys arrived about four o clock and marched up Market Street amid the liveliest token of enthusiasm…. The horses are small, compact and sinewy and evidently capable of great endurance. It was the general remark that so splendid a body of animals had never been seen together in this city.”

The regiment reached Washington on December 20, and the Washington correspondent of the Boston Journal reported to his paper that it was ” The best Cavalry mount that has been seen at the capital.”

General Stoneman , in complimenting colonel Platt on the raising of the regiment, wrote: “allow me to express the wish that your success through life may equal your success in raising, mounting and bringing into service one of the very best regiments of Calvary that has been brought to my notice.”

The regiment lived up to its fine appearance. In 75 battles and skirmishes among them some of the great and bloody battles of war, the regiment engaged and often with conspicuous distinction. at Gettysburg, Cedar Creek, Cold Harbor, in the Wilderness Campaign, in the Shenandoah Valley and finally at Appomattox Court House. It was under such generals as Merritt, Farnsworth, Custer, Kilpatrick and Sheridan. Both Farnsworth and Custer lead it personally. The rapidity of its movements and its endurance in covering distances brought it promptly to the places where it was needed and resulted in its often being placed in the advanced for the attack. The records of the war department show the facts.

In a desperate charge ordered by Kilpatrick at Gettysburg, General Farnsworth lead the First Vermont Calvary in person, riding by the side of Major Wells at the head of the second battalion. They were supported by Colonel Preston with the first and third battalions. The regiment encountered not less than five regiments of Confederate Infantry, -the First Texas, the Seventh and Ninth Georgia, the Fourth and Fifteenth Alabama- and two batteries. General Farnsworth was killed in this charge, and the writer says: “That any considerable number of the men who charged with Farnsworth survived so desperate a duty is explainable only by the fact that they were in constant and rapid motion.”

By public order on September 17 th, 1863, General Kilpatrick express his thanks to Colonel Sawyer of the First Vermont Calvary for its prompt and gallant manner in repulsing the enemy the day before at Capitol Raccoon Ford. On October 18 th, 1863, at Gainesville, General Custer wrote : “The First Vermont Calvary under Colonel Sawyer , deserves great credit for the rapidity with which for they forced the enemy to retire.”

General Wilson in reporting the battle at Craig’s Meeting House, wrote: “By 8 a.m. the Second Brigade, with the First Vermont Calvary, Colonel Preston command , in advance, had arrived at Craig’s Meeting House. Just beyond, they encountered the enemies cavalry, Rossier’s Brigade, and after a very sharp fight and several handsome charges, drove it rapidly back a distance two miles.” Colonel Chapman, brigade commander , reporting the engagement at Hanover Court House, wrote:” The service of the First Vermont Cavalry this day was, arduous and severe and its loss was heavy. The command is worthy of the highest praise.” Three days later at Cold Harver , the regiment lost its brilliant leader, Colonel Preston, of whom General Custer then said:” There lies the best fighting colonel in the cavalry corps.”

Custer’s report of Cedar Creek Bears, eloquent testimony to the worth of both man and horse in the first Vermont Cavalry. This is what he wrote: “The rapid pace at which my command had moved had, necessarily, extended by column, and upon reaching the vicinity of the creek, I had but two regiments available- The First Vermont and the Fifth New York.” He describes putting these regiments into action, and then continues: “Owing to the darkness and the necessary delay at the Fords, the regiments I was expecting failed to reach me to assist or even overtake the two regiments which were then far on their way to Strasburg. The result, whoever, proved that these two noble regiments were more than competent for the duty assigned them. Never since the beginning of the war, has there been such favorable opportunity for a comparatively small body of troops to acquire distinction as was here presented.”

His report continued with high praise for these two regiments, but in every case of mention of their names it was the First Vermont Cavalry, first, and the Fifth New York, second. In this battle, the First Vermont Cavalry captured 161 prisoners, including one General officer, one Colonel, and one Lieutenant Colonel. It also capture three battle flags, 23 pieces of artillery, 14 caissons, 17 army wagons, and many horses, harnesses, etc., writing of the battle, the war correspondent of the New York Tribune said: ” As there were but 48 pieces of artillery captured by the entire army, this splendid achievement of the Green Mountain boys can be fully appreciated. General Sheridan states the no regiment has capture so much since the war commenced. The First Vermont has long been a terror to the rebels.”

But General Sheridan later still higher praise of the Vermonters. He said: ” I have never commanded troops in whom I had as much confidence as those of this gallant state.” While Sheridan was speaking of Vermont troops generally, he, who’s great reputation was due to his work as a cavalry officer, must surly have had in mind the First Vermont.

In considering the record of the accomplishments of the First Vermont cavalry, undoubtedly, one of the great working and fighting regiments of the Civil War, no one can deny that a large measure of credit belong to the horses- the Morgan horses of the Green Mountain state. Out promptly at the first call, ahead of any other New England regiment of cavalry; hard work from start to finish by the greatest cavalry leaders of the war; in at the death of Appomattox Court House- no breed, other than the Morgans , could have stood the strain so well. Mr. Austin says that 200 of the horses of the original draft survived to the end of the war and that some of these were brought back to their native state.

The last report is the most eloquent of all. It came from the Lieutenant Colonel Hall, from Appomattox on April 9th, 1865, and said: ” Were charging the enemy when the order came to stop fighting. That was the final word from the men and the horses. How much it sounds like the Morgans ! They had done all the work that was set before them, and it was heavy, and they were up and doing and ready to do still more if they had been asked to keep on.”

by Kathlyn Furr, NMMH Archivist

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Morgan Horses in American History


As the new nation of the United States of America began its 200-year- old history, a new breed of horse also began. The now legendary bay stallion Figure was born in 1789 in southern New England. He was taken to Randolph, Vermont, in 1791 by Justin Morgan, who had recently emigrated there with his family from Springfield, Massachusetts. Little did Justin Morgan know that the young stallion Figure and his descendants would play a major role in American history.

Figure was a stylish bay horse of many talents. He became widely known for his ability to pull stumps and logs while clearing the land of newly arrived settlers. In addition, he won races and pulling contests, was a favored parade mount at militia trainings, and was used as a saddle and driving horse. His strength, endurance, and easy-keeping qualities served him well on the Vermont frontier. Among horsemen he became widely respected for his prepotency (the ability to pass his own looks and qualities on to succeeding generations).

Figure was said to be sired by True Briton, a horse widely respected for his excellence and known for siring quality horses. He was said to have been “of the best English blood.” Whether it was Thoroughbred blood, blood of another breed (such as the Welsh Cob), or a combination of types remains open to debate. Figure’s dam was a mare bred and owned by Justin Morgan (having been sired by a stallion he stood at stud in 1793) and is described as being of the “Wildair breed.”

As was the custom of the day, Figure became known as the Justin Morgan horse. After the death of Justin Morgan, Figure passed into other hands and spent the balance of his life in Vermont and the Connecticut River Valley of western New Hampshire. He died in 1821 at 32 years of age after sustaining a kick injury from another horse. He left a legacy of sons and daughters who were used by farmers to develop a type of horse well suited to the hilly topography of northern New England.

The round and compact bodies of Morgan horses enabled them to “get the best of their feed” and made them suitable to perform a wide variety of tasks. Their large eyes, small ears, and short, broad heads set on gracefully curved necks carried high provided them with a proud countenance. Also blessed with ground-covering gaits, the Morgans were able to cover many miles day after day at steady rate of speed. This ability, combined with a businesslike attitude to get the job done, made them a favorite horse of all work. (In later years, when a taller horse became the vogue, the Morgans would be criticized for their relatively short stature.)

Sherman Morgan, Bulrush Morgan, and Woodbury Morgan were Figure’s most famous and influential sons. These stallions, along with other unrecorded offspring, came to dominate the horse industry of New England and northern New York. In the 1820’s they were favorite teams for the stage lines and for field work on farms and transport to town. Their reputation as “horses of all work” was becoming widespread.

Black Hawk, a son of Sherman Morgan; and Hale’s Green Mountain Morgan, a grandson of Woodbury Morgan, were the dominate Morgan sires of the mid-19th century. Green Mountain Morgan had a host of admirers gained, in part, from his appearance as a parade horse at militia trainings. He was also renowned for his resemblance to Figure. Black Hawk was famed for his speed and elegant style and he, in turn, sired the world champion trotter Ethan Allen. In the 1850’s these two rival stallions were shown at Midwestern state fairs with great success and heightened the continuing demand for Morgan horses.

New England supplied big city markets such as New York with Morgan horses for public transportation and freighting as well as private driving. Morgan horses comprised the preferred teams of stage line owner M.O. Walker of Chicago. They were taken to California to be employed as ranch and harness racing horses. In other areas of the West they were also used as ranch horses.

During the Civil War Morgans were dependable cavalry mounts and artillery horses. Again, their easy-keeping qualities and ability to endure grueling condition allowed them to outlast other types of horses. Several units of cavalry in the Union army and one (known) of the Confederate army were mounted on Morgan horses. United States General Philip Sheridan’s famed charger Winchester (a.k.a. Rienzi), who was immortalized after the war, was a descendant of Black Hawk.

Due to a trend in which taller horses were becoming more desirable with great speed at short distances, the popularity of Morgan horses began a decline which would not reverse itself for several years. Morgan mares continued to be widely used by horse breeders, but were bred to taller stallions of non-Morgan breeding. The purpose was to capture the enduring qualities of the Morgan but with increased size in the offspring. The result was a more marketable product for farmers selling to the city markets. As a result of this practice the Morgan, as it had been known earlier in the 19th century, almost disappeared.

From this type of foundation other American horse breeds were developed. Harness racing had become an exceedingly popular sport for which the Standardbred was developed. Other major American breeds that contain the Morgan horse in their initial development include the American Saddle Horse, Tennessee Walking Horse, American Quarter Horse, and American Albino.

Continuing modernization and development of new technologies, however, were affecting the horse market nationwide. Electrification of trolleys and continuing expansion of trains reduced the demand for harness horses significantly. Larger farms and a corresponding increase in the size of agricultural machinery to do the work was creating a demand for larger, heavier draft horses.

The 1890’s witnessed efforts on the part of many to locate and “regenerate” the Morgan horse. A business horse or roadster was desired with not only speed but with the classiness which would reflect upon one’s social standing as well. Writers berated the disappearance of the “ancient” type Morgan and called for its regeneration, if it could be found. Pockets of these Morgans had survived, particularly in northeastern Vermont, though much reduced in number.

Many new breeding programs were established. Edwin Hoffman of Lyndon, Vermont, became a Morgan horse dealer and assisted many nationwide with locating and purchasing Morgans for their farms. It was at this time the foundation was laid for the highly influential Brunk bloodlines. The National Morgan Horse Breeders Association was formed during the 1893 Columbian Exposition (although it was not destined to last). Joseph Battell published his 1,000 page Morgan Horse Register in 1894.

The Vermont State Fair of the 1850’s and 1860’s had been a popular venue for the showing of Morgan horses. This fair was discontinued in the 1890’s when as economic downturn forced it to cease operating. It was revived in 1907 and, within a very few short years, became the national showcase of the Morgan horses. In 1909 the Morgan Horse Club was formed during the fair. Morgan horses from as far as Illinois and Pennsylvania came to participate in a highly competitive atmosphere.

It was here that the first endurance rides were held. The Morgan Horse Club created a challenge to prove that the Morgan was the best horse for cavalry purposes. These rides were eventually held at various locations around the United States and were extended to 300 miles in length. These rides were the forerunners of today’s competitive trail and endurance rides.

By an act of Congress in 1905, a farm to perpetuate the Morgan horse was established. The United States Morgan Horse Farm was established in Weybridge, Vermont, on Joseph Battell’s former Bread Loaf Stock Farm. The farm was operated under the auspices of the federal government until 1951, when it was transferred to the University of Vermont, which continues managing the farm today.

Again, modern technology interfered, with the advent of the automobile effectively reducing the need for horses. After this time, the primary focus of the horse market would become recreational. With exceptions, of course — horses used for ranch work and, until the tractor became economically viable, for draft work on farms. In many rural areas horses continued to be a major source of transportation to market, church, and school. Although the need was diminishing, the Army sought remounts for its cavalry with demand peaking during World War I.

Throughout the balance of the 20th century the Morgan horse, like other types and breeds of horses, has been used primarily for recreational purposes. The majority of Morgan horse owners use their Morgans for pleasure. Many also compete with their Morgan horses in a wide variety of sporting events. Morgans are highly competitive in driving competition as well as in horse shows and on trail rides. They are competing in reining, cutting, and dressage with success.

The Morgan Horse Club was maintained for many years by philanthropic Morgan horse breeders and owners. From 1959 it operated in leased office space in various locations. In 1971 the name of the Morgan Horse Club was changed to American Morgan Horse Association. At various times efforts had been made to establish a permanent home for the organization

In the 1980’s this dream became a reality with the construction of the Morgan Horse Complex in Shelburne, Vermont, by the American Morgan Horse Institute. The complex houses the National Museum of the Morgan Horse (NMMH), the American Morgan Horse Association (AMHA), and the American Morgan Horse Institute (AMHI).

The National Museum of the Morgan Horse maintains exhibits on the role of the Morgan horse in history. In addition, the museum conducts on-site programming of Morgan horses and art, maintains a library, and houses a broad collection of artifacts. The AMHA is a service organization of Morgan horse breeders and owners. The American Morgan Horse Institute provides funding for educational projects, scholarships, and conducts the Grand National Morgan Horse Show annually.

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Morgan Horses of the Wild West


As emigrants trekked westward in the 19th century, the frontier advanced with them. Vermonters initially emigrated to northern New York, thence to Ohio. by the 1850’s, they could be found in Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin in large numbers. In the U.S. Census of 1850 Vermont had the highest number of its native- born population living outside their native state (41%)

To provide transport for their wagons and goods, Vermonters took their Morgan horses with them. Ohio agricultural journals mention Morgan horses frequently in the 1850’s. Two Morgan stallions, Black Hawk and Hale’s Green Mountain 42, were shown at Midwestern state fairs in the early 1850’s. Both attracted much attention and were widely admired.

In what was then the west (but is now the Midwest), Morgans were used to pull stagecoaches, for light farm work, and as buggy horses. The high demand for them created high prices. Some Vermonters became concerned about the possible depletion of their breeding stock. One writer warned Vermont farmers not to be tempted to sell all their best stock as they needed to retain some to be able to continue to supply the market. The high prices were difficult for many Vermonters to resist as their children needed tuition for school or mortgages needed to be paid.

In the 1850’s Morgans could be found throughout Ohio and Michigan and as far west as Wisconsin. They were so popular that many less-than-honest folks were claiming Morgan ancestors for horses that had no Morgan blood in their ancestry. Complaints appeared in the press about the problem to no avail.

At the start of the Civil War the Second and Third Michigan Cavalry were mounted on Morgan horses. Union General Philip Sheridan’s famous mount Winchester (a.k.a. Rienzi) was presented to him by Captain Archie Campbell of the Second Michigan Cavalry.

As the Western Frontier continued to expand, the Morgan horse influence continued to spread also. As ranches were established, they proved to be reliable and enduring mounts. Richard Sellman of Texas established his ranch at this time. by the early 20th century he had the largest herd of Morgans in America. He registered over 300 mares and a few stallions, but most of the colts were simply gelded and used as ranch horses.

During the Gold Rush days of 1848 a herd of 125 Morgans was taken west to California. Most survived the trip and were sold for high prices upon arrival. Other Morgans arrived in California as well with the stallions often commanding high stud fees. St. Clair sired over 600 offspring while standing at stud in Sacramento in the mid-19th century.

In the 1880’s Morgan horses were used as part of a government program to educate Native Americans about modern agricultural practices. The program was short lived. Morgans were again used about 1920 to 1940 to upgrade Native American horse herds and provide their schools with experienced breeding purebred horses.

Morgan stallions were used in the Remount program of the army to produce quality cavalry horses. Remount stallion services were available to farmers and ranchers for a nominal fee. The $25.00 fee was waived if the breeders contracted with the government to have the offspring available for consideration as a cavalry mount. A colt resulting from the breeding was inspected at three years old for soundness and conformation. If the young horse was accepted by the army, the breeder received $150.00 for the purchase price. If the breeder chose to retain the fillies, the fee was again waived. Other conditions under which the fee was waived included foals that were injured or born with deformities.

Morgan were used in the U.S. Part Service by park rangers as mounts and for packing. One horse, Red Cloud, was said to have averaged 800 miles a year according to former ranger T.W.Daniels. One year he went 1,200 miles and on some fire calls he went 55 miles without a stop, often after dark. Daniels stated that “The horse never missed putting his feet in the trail and a bad windfalls he knew the detour without a misstep, although it was pitch dark to me….At the end of these trips he never showed any leg weariness.”


“[I have lived in Chicago since 1839] during which time I have been largely engaged in the business of staging — which business affords constant employment for about fifteen hundred horses — and have thus had opportunity for observing and testing the capacity and endurance of horses. I have no hesitation in saying, I consider Morgan horses far superior to any other breed or blood I have ever known for the road or farm.”

“In fact, I would prefer them over all others for any kind of service … They are invariably good feeders, are easily kept, and will not only perform and endure more service in a year, but more years of service, than any other breed of horses I have ever known … a Morgan horse, from New England, will outlast two horses raised in the West.”

-M.O. Walker, Chicago, letter dated April 14, 1856

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