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.

Morris & Essex Kennel Club Dog Show ~ Redux

Since its commemorative reincarnation a decade ago, the Morris and Essex Kennel Club dog show has become a modern classic with a serious nod to its traditional roots. A new book just published, The Golden Age of Dog Shows: Morris & Essex Kennel Club, 1927-1957, not only celebrates those roots but raises funds to help keep the tradition alive. With a forward by William Secord, famed canine fine art historian and gallery owner, this photo-filled book promises not to disappoint.

Morris & Essex Kennel Club 1927-1957 Book Cover

Morris & Essex Kennel Club 1927-1957 Book Cover

Last month, as part of Women’s History Month, I included M&E’s founder, Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge, as my nominee for important women in history. You can read the tribute below, which first appeared in my weekly column Lisa Unleashed published in The Newtown Bee on March 13, 2015:

Since 1995 U.S. Presidents have passed resolutions declaring March as Women’s History Month. According to womenshistorymonth.gov the celebration is a “tribute to the generations of women whose commitment to nature and the planet have proved invaluable to society.”  Nature and the planet are two pretty broad categories when singling out individuals who have made an impact. Dogs are also part of nature and the canine-human bond is felt all over the planet. As such, I’d like to contribute my nominations of one woman whose commitment to ‘dogs’ have “proved invaluable to society.”

Many have called Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge the “First Lady of Dogdom” of the 20th century. Daughter of William Rockefeller Jr., as well as John D. Rockefeller, Sr.’s niece, she along with her husband, Marcellus Hartley Dodge, heir to the Remington Arms fortune, founded the Morris & Essex Kennel Club in the 1920s. When they married in 1907 at the Fifth Avenue mansion of her father in Manhattan, the newspapers called them “the richest couple in the world.”

Morris & Essex Dog Show 

Lisa & Gail show off their hats at Morris & Essex

Lisa & Gail show off their hats at Morris & Essex in October 2010

With this vast wealth each year from 1927 to 1957 Mrs. Dodge hosted the famed Morris & Essex dog show for thousands of dogs. Dozens of tents decorated the polo field of their vast estate “Giralda Farms” in Madison, New Jersey as top breeders and handlers came to exhibit their purebred dogs. For decades it was not only a valuable place to come study dogs but also a stop on the social scene. It was a special show, with Mrs. Dodge offering sterling trophies, lavish flower decorations, and the famed boxed lunch for all the exhibitors in attendance.

M&E had become the most prestigious dog show in the country, more important to some breeders and fanciers, than even Westminster, with around 4,000 dogs of all breeds in attendance. A win at M&E was a stamp of approval of a well-bred dog. For breeders, it was a paradise to come and see fine examples of dogs to study and watch as one was determining how a great dog or bitch might fit into a breeding program to improve their line.  As a dog breeder herself, Mrs. Dodge understood the importance of a gathering place to see many well-bred dogs in action together to further the sport of purebred dogs. Show fanciers in the sport had large kennels and many litters of great dogs planned for the show ring also made their way into American homes as pets.  But like all good breeders, the welfare of all dogs, whether we bred them or not, whether purebred or not, was equally important. Mrs. Dodge, herself a Best-in-Show judge at Westminster, also saw to it that those dogs less fortunate than her prized pups did not stay in that station of life for long.

St. Hubert’s Giralda – Founded in 1939 as a non-profit shelter, Mrs. Dodge wanted to not only advanced the study of breeding dogs but also to care for those injured and lost in her community. In addition, the shelter named after the patron of lost animals, at one time offered animal control services to six towns in Morris County, New Jersey. Today, the organization she founded in her backyard, is known as St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center and its expanded mission states its, “dedication to the humane treatment of animals. Its services to the community include pet adoption and animal rescue, animal assisted therapy, humane education, dog training, and pet loss support.

In 2005, shortly after Hurricane Katrina, St. Hubert’s agreed to take in the first of many airlifts of displaced dogs from Louisiana. As part of a team from AKC, who had funded the airlift through disaster donations, I waited at St. Hubert’s before heading to the airport to unload dogs. At one point I found myself face-to-face with some of the remaining artifacts from Mrs. Dodge’s life with dogs in a meeting room. As I glanced at trophies, books and other ephemera, I was struck by her depth of care and compassion for all dogs from show dogs to just those that needed to survive.

Many people today, including some dog show people, have no idea who Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge was, or her dedication to the welfare of all dogs. It’s heartwarming that nearly 50 years after the last Morris & Essex Dog Show, her legacy of St. Hubert’s Giralda lives on by helping a plane load of dogs who had lost their way after a devastating hurricane. Or also in 2005, the first ‘revived’ Morris & Essex dog show, held once every 5 years, would be established to keep her vision alive on the dog show front as well. This is the legacy of a great woman in history who has advanced man’s best friend and their care which in my opinion “have proved invaluable to society.”