Book Review: Horses and Mules in the Civil War: A Complete History with a Roster of More Than 700 War Horses


by Gene C. Armistead

Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2013. Pp. viii, 248. Illus., appends., notes., biblio., index. $49.95 paper. ISBN: 0786473630

The most forgotten participants – and victims – of the Civil War

Although horses and mules have played major roles in warfare from the dimmest past to the most recent conflicts, their importance has most often been taken for granted.  In this look at the equine participants in the Civil War, sometime Marine and independent scholar Armistead reminds us that not only did more equines serve in the Civil War armies than humans, but they suffered heavier casualties as well, more than a million perishing from wounds, hunger, disease, or exhaustion. 

Armistead addresses the ways in which horses and mules were procured by both armies.  This includes “recruiting” standards, training, and “horseflesh” management, which required an extensive infrastructure of remount depots, animal hospitals, transportation facilities, and more, which became particularly sophisticated on the Union side.  Armistead discusses the problems related to caring for the animals under wartime conditions, and losses in battle or to the hazards of the service; although casualty rates in action were high (a horse offers a target about five times larger than does a man), more horses and mules died of exhaustion and disease than from shot and shell. 

Armistead include several short accounts of particular horses or mules in action, including a chapter on the Union’s curiously successful “mule brigade.” Two chapters deal with the end of the war and postwar memorialization and contemporary naming customs.  The final chapter is a roster of known horses, often with extensive commentary, of particular value to biographers as most of the animals about which something is known were generals’ mounts.  There are also several useful appendices. 

This is a very interesting and useful work for anyone with an interest in the Civil War or with the rather neglected subject the management of a nation's "horsepower" in war. 

Note: Horses and Mules in the Civil War is also available as an e-book, ISBN 978-1-4766-0237-0.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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