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Horses, mules among war’s unsung heroes; Hamilton had vital role

Gen. Phil Sheridan, an Ohioan noted as a cavalry leader,             
shown below in painting, rallying Union troops in 1864.


Dozens of Facts About Butler County and the Civil War, 1861-1865

Horses, mules among war’s unsung heroes; Hamilton had vital role           

(This the sixth "Dozen of Facts About Butler County and the Civil War," a series of random columns related to brief comments on Butler County’s role in the Civil War, 1861-1865. The columns are in conjunction with the observance of the Civil War Sesquicentennial, 2010-2015. The reprint edition of Jim Blount’s 1998 book, The Civil War and Butler County, is available at several outlets, or by contacting Books in Shandon, 4795 Cincinnati-Brookville Road (Ohio 126), Shandon, OH 45063, or phone 738-2962 or 523-4005.)

Compiled by Jim Blount

"Most neglected among the many heroes of the Civil War are the horses and mules which served by the hundreds of thousands in many ways, large numbers of which suffered painfully and died in service," noted E. B. Long in The Civil War Day By Day.  Hamilton played a minor role in supplying horses for the Union army.  Information about four-legged warriors are among the sixth of many dozens of facts about the tragic four-year period:

61. Camp Hamilton was established as a training camp in April 1861 at the Butler County Fairgrounds, but it was found deficient that summer. Colonel Ferdinand Van Derveer, commanding the 35th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment, sought a better training site and more reliable sources of water for his men.

The colonel relocated Camp Hamilton to a commons then north of the city. It was east of the Great Miami River and west of the CH&D Railroad. It was on land now extending along North Third Street, north of Vine Street, to the Hamilton electric generating plant.

62. Later in the war, Camp Hamilton on North Third Street was converted to a horse rehabilitation center. Until 1863, little, if anything, had been done to prolong the useful service of wounded or sick horses. This omission was corrected with creation of the Cavalry Bureau. The convalescent camp in Hamilton, probably a branch of the Cincinnati quartermaster depot, was a small part of the new program.

Local historians have ignored the horse camp's existence, but limited descriptions were in local newspapers. "There were, at the height of the camp's prosperity," a report said, "as many as 1,000 horses housed in it at one time." The same story said the camp continued to operate after the war.

During the war, its purpose was to restore horses for continued army service. When the war ended, its task was to "put them in a condition so that they could be put on the market and sold, as the government had no use for them," a newspaper writer explained.

"Besides the cost of the large amount of feed the animals required, the government had quite a bunch of men necessary to take care of the horses -- one man for every 16 animals -- besides the superintendent, who also had a clerk to pay, and the veterinary surgeons," the writer explained.

63. When the war started, there were five U. S. cavalry regiments. Of the 176 cavalry officers, 104 joined the Confederate cause. Confederate cavalry had the advantage of experienced leadership in the first years of war while the Union cavalry had inexperienced and untested troops and officers. 

64. Total U. S. horse population in 1860 was 6,115,458 (6.1 million), of which only 1,698,328 (1,7 million) were in the seceding states, according to E. B. Long. The South had a big edge in mules, 800,663 vs. the North's 328,890, a total of 1,129,553 (1.1 million) North and South. Working oxen in the country totaled 2,240,075 (2.2 million), of which 856,645 were in the South.

"Not only were horses vital for the cavalry of both armies and for the use of officers, but horses and mules were the main motive power for hauling supplies, ammunition, food, and guns," Long wrote.

65. Another source observed: "The South furnished, involuntarily, many horses to the North. Most of the fighting was done on southern soil, and the local horses were easily seized by northern troops. Southern cavalry horses were also superior to northern horses, largely because of the southern penchant for racing. Nearly every southern town had a track, and the sport developed a superior stock of pure-blooded, fleet-footed animals. In the North, the stocky, strong draft horses were preferred because of their ability and willingness to work long hours."

66. "In the North," Long wrote, "the government furnished the cavalry mounts and remounts, whereas in the south the soldier was expected to furnish his own. This policy further strained the Confederate economy as the horses were needed at home as well as in the army."

67. "The service of the average cavalry horse at the North lasted only four months."

68. "Replacement of killed, wounded or diseased horses became a vexing problem to the South and contributed to the decline of their once magnificent cavalry," Long noted. "For example, July 3, 1863, the Confederate Army had over 6,000 convalescent horses in the Army of Northern Virginia. In the middle of the war it required about 500 new horses a day to replenish the Federal services. 

69. "At the start of the war a good horse cost about $125; by the end the price was up to $185."

70. Long wrote: "Obtaining huge amounts of hay and other feed for the immense numbers of horses both for cavalry and trains was a never-ending logistical challenge."

71. Butler County agriculture statistics show 12,551 horses in 1860 and 12,023 in 1861. The total dipped between 12,000 in the 1862-1865 period. The average price per head locally was $60.60 in 1861 and $83.76 in 1965.

72. "Despite the ascendancy of the railroads, the horse remained the backbone of short-haul operations, a necessity for cavalry and the artillery essential to army supply, and, in short, an indispensable soldier in the war," Long observed.

Gen. Phil Sheridan on horseback,monument in Washington, D. C.