Morgan Horses in the Civil War


Upon the start of the Civil War in 1861, volunteers promptly signed up on both sides to defend their chosen beliefs. Horses were an essential component in the transport of cavalry troops, supplies, and artillery weapons throughout the war.

Morgan horses are known to have been used in both the Union and Confederate armies. Due to the quality of the Morgan horses and their physical attributes, they were in high demand. They were hardy and their thick winter coats enabled them to survive without shelter during bad weather, they were able to survive on scant forage, their resilient skin reduced saddle sores, and the Morgans were highly trainable and willing to please.

Individual Morgan Horses

Rienzi (a.k.a. Winchester) – favored mount of Union General Philip Sheridan; a black gelding of Black Hawk lineage presented to Sheridan at Rienzi, MS in 1862 by an officer of the 2nd Michigan Cavalry; Rienzi was ridden in battle by Sheridan during the rest of the war

Charlemagne – mount of General Joshua Chamberlain when he won the fight for Little Round Top during the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863

Mounts of the 5th NY Cavalry – Pink, Billy, Cockeye, Prince, Frank, Mink, Mollie, Jack (#1), Topsy, Nellie, Jack (#2), Dunlap’s Mare, Sukey, Black Dick, Brydon’s Nellie, Charley, Jane, Pomp, Wyman Horse, June, Lucy; a monument honoring Pink stands in Crown Point, NY as well as a grave marker for Billy

Betty Root – Lt. Trusselis’ horse in the First Vermont Cavalry; wounded in 1863; owned by Asa Livingston, St. Johnsbury, VT in 1872

Old Clem – purchased in 1861 at 19 years of age by Colonel Lemuel Platt who organized the First Vermont Cavalry; lost hooves to foot rot in winter 1862-1863; wrenched a shoulder while being used by Phillip Ide in 1864 and sent to Giesboro Depot for recruit; seen in July 1864 by Ide when Old Clem was once again in the ranks

Clifton AMHR #457 – a son of Gifford Morgan that won walking races in New England in the 1850’s; apparently sold after 1857 to Dr. William Capeheart of North Carolina; Clifton was used by Capeheart, a surgeon, in the Army of Northern Virginia (CSA) until killed in action in March 1864

Bemis Horse (Amasa Bemis) AMHR #685 – a black 15 hand son of Billy Root and foaled in the 1840’s. Described as a “. . .very stylish and active horse”, he won third premium at the 1853 Vermont State Fair. He was sold to a Mr. Bryan of Georgia, VT, then to the army. He was killed in action.

Cavalry Units Mounted on Morgan Horses

The following regiments of cavalry were mounted on Morgan horses when they were first organized. As the horses used in the Union army became casualties of the war, they were replaced by government-owned mounts which often varied widely in quality. Some troopers owned their horses at the start of the war, but the U.S. government later purchased these horses.

Confederate troopers supplied their own mounts and, unless their horse was killed in action, could not expect any financial assistance for replacements. They had to purchase a replacement, capture a replacement from the enemy, or become a member of the infantry (which most cavalrymen refused to do).

First Maine Cavalry (USA)

Second Michigan Cavalry (USA)

Third Michigan Cavalry (USA)

Fourteenth Pennsylvania Cavalry (USA)

Fifth New York Cavalry, Company H (USA)

First Rhode Island Cavalry (USA) – the two New Hampshire battalions which were part of the original makeup of this unit were mounted on Morgans and French Canadian horses.

Fourth Virginia Cavalry, Company H (CSA) – also known as the Black Horse Cavalry or the Black Horse Troop; this unit created panic among the raw recruits of the Union army at the First Battle of Bull Run (or First Mannassas) which caused a humiliating rout.

First Vermont Cavalry (USA) – this regiment received shipments of more Vermont horses during the war; 200 of the original 1,200 Morgans used to mount this regiment survived the war.

“The mounts of the First Vermont Cavalry were decidedly the best I had ever seen. Everybody was attracted by them. I have heard both General Buford…and General Hatch…say that the mount of this regiment was the best in the army. Gen. Buford…also told me that he would as soon have this regiment of Vermont volunteer cavalry as a regiment of the regular army.”

– Charles Tompkins, Captain, U.S. Army

‘The other day, a very fine horse being offered at the Inspection Ground, I bought him. He is a chestnut horse about 15 1/2 hands high, five years old, weighs between 1000 and 1100 and is pretty as a picture. He is of the Morgan breed, proud and high spirited, yet fearless. He will stand within four feet of a puffing locomotive and never thinks of being frightened. He is deep-chested and has very powerful and muscular limbs. Built for strength, speed and endurance. He has a very fine head and ears and a neck that might serve as a model in painting. In fact, he is a prince among horses, and I doubt not that I shall be envied my treasure when I rejoin my regiment. I ride him a little every day and enjoy it hugely. It seems good to be once more in the saddle. On the street his proud bearing attracts much attention and the rascal gets more admiring glances than his rider.’

– Captain William C. Hazelton, 8th Illinois Cavalry, letter to his mother, June 3, 1864

Morgans Used for Artillery Purposes

“[Dad] fought in the Civil War and saw a lot of that company from Vermont that had all the Morgan horses. Dad was with the artillery. Six horses were needed to pull each big piece of equipment and Dad got two of those Vermont Morgans for his lead team. He sure thought a lot of them and according to him there wasn’t anything they couldn’t do. They were constantly in demand to move pieces of artillery that were mired and other teams had failed to move.”

– A.G. Maier speaking of his father and his Morgan horses in 1950

Compiled by: Elizabeth A. Curler

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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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