A General’s War Horse – Civil War Style

While today marks the 150th Anniversary of President Lincoln’s Assassination, it also reminds us of the Civil War’s other tragedies, including the loss of many lives, both human and animal. Unaware of the politics of war, a Union horse, born in Connecticut, was captured and became a Confederate General’s favorite mount. Unlike his General, Little Sorrel survived the war. Here is his story: 
One of the Civil War’s most colorful commanders was General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson of the Confederate Army. During the war between the states, many generals had a string of horses, some with a favorite mount used for riding into battle.
Jackson’s most popular horse was foaled around 1850 on the Noah Collins Farm in Somers, Connecticut. According to Charles Worman’s book, Civil War Animal Heroes, Mascots, Pets and War Horses (http://www.civilwar-books.com), “Collins sold him to an Army buyer and he was one of number of mounts on a Union Supply train captured by Jackson’s force at Harper’s Ferry in 1861. Then-Colonel Jackson took several horses, one of which was originally intended as a gift for his wife and initially given the name of Fancy. But Jackson was so taken with Fancy’s easy gait and steady temperament that he retained the animal for his own use.”
Little Sorrel 
At some point Fancy’s name was changed to Little Sorrel, most likely to match his color.  Sorrel being a deep red coloring, sometimes with a flaxen mane and tail. According to connecticuthistory.org, Little Sorrel was a Morgan horse, descended from the original horse owned by Justin Morgan and whelped in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1789. This truly American breed was favored by Southern soldiers and Western cowboys alike for its calm temperament, small size and good health.
According to Major Henry Douglas, who rode with Stonewall, Little Sorrel was a “plebeian-looking little beast, not a chestnut; he was stocky and well-made, round barreled, close coupled, good shoulder, excellent legs and feet, not fourteen hands high, of boundless endurance, good appetite, good but heavy head and neck, a natural pacer with little action and no style.”
Little Sorrel After General Jackson's Death

Little Sorrel After General Jackson’s Death 

Several times Little Sorrel was accosted for trinkets from the famed general. A Union prisoner, being held close to the rump of the animal as they waited for the General to come out of his tent to determine his fate, started to pull hairs from his tail. Upon discovery, the General asked him “Why are you tearing the hair out of my horse’s tail?” to which the bemused prisoner replied, “Ah, General, each one of these hairs is worth a dollar in New York.” Apparently the general found this so amusing that the prisoner was not questioned further for Union secrets.
During the Battle of Chancellorsville Jackson was astride his favorite mount when the general was accidentally shot by friendly fire in 1863. In the confusing aftermath a terrified Little Sorrel became lost. A few days later Jackson died of his wounds and his favorite horse was not accounted for yet to join the general’s funeral procession. Eventually, he was found in Virginia and sent to the general’s widow in North Carolina by the Governor.
Post-war Celebrity 
In his post-war years, Little Sorrel went to live with the general’s father-in-law, a preacher who rode him to church for many years. In 1884, he even made an appearance — at age 33 — at the Hagerstown Agricultural Fair in Lexington, VA. Again, he was approached by many fairgoers, who plucked his mane and tail hairs, almost to extinction.  In the day hair, both human and animal, where used to make jewelry by braiding little bits of hair into rings, bracelets and necklaces.
Eventually, Little Sorrel was cared for by the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) for the reminder of his life. In the end he broke his back in an accident and died shortly after in 1886. His obituary in the local papers said he died at the Confederate Soldiers Home in Richmond aged 36 years. His body was sent to a taxidermist before returning to Richmond. Apparently the bones of the horse were sent to the taxidermist for payment, but eventually they found their way back to VMI in the 1940s.
Little Sorrel mounted after death at the Virginia Military Institute

Little Sorrel mounted after death at the Virginia Military Institute

In 1950, the life-sized stuffed war horse went back to VMI for display in their museum. In 1997, rather than let the bones remain in a museum storeroom, they were cremated and buried with full military honors at the base of a life-sized bronze statue of Jackson at VMI, where the general had once taught. Today, the taxidermy horse still stands at the VMI museum. Learn more here: http://www.vmi.edu/MuseumSystem/.
Little Sorrel Lane 
In 1991 the town of Somers decided it needed its own tribute to the great horse foaled on its lands. And so “Little Sorrel Lane” was dedicated with a ceremony by the Somers Historical Society, complete with rifle salute. This story reminds us of the important contribution that horses made during the civil war. In honor of their role, why not make a donation to the last remaining unit of the U.S. Cavalry, the Second Company Governor’s Horse Guard, located in Newtown, Connecticut. They desperately need our help as state budget cuts loom. Let’s keep their tradition alive to honor the war horses of our past.  Make a donation at the GoFundMe site: http://www.gofundme.com/pblvg4. I’d hate to see the last remaining vestige of the U.S. Cavalry be reduced to nothing more than a street named  “2GHG Lane” at Fairfield Hills.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s