|San Francisco Civil War Round Table Meeting
16th April 2009
President Gary Yee called the meeting to order and asked for nominations for the officers to be
elected at the June meeting. Joan Keller was nominated to run for Treasurer and Patrick Doyle
for President. Further nominations will be taken at the May and June meetings. It was moved,
seconded and approved to amend the Bylaws to accommodate the June meeting as follows:
"The months of July and August shall have no meetings."
"Officers shall serve for one twelve-month term, beginning in July."
"Officers shall be elected by popular vote of the members present at the June meeting and shall be
nominated from the floor."
Guests included Brian Clague, President of the San Joachin Civil War Round Table and Carol
Fleming, Commonwealth Club board member and author of "The Gettysburg Address: How
Following dinner, Susan Williams gave an excellent presentation on "The War Horse"
accompanied by a stunning display of photographs. The following are Gary Yee's notes on Susan's
Four time Bronze Star recipient Paul Mellon, sponsor of the Mellon fellowship , loved horses and
commissioned a monument for all the horses and mules that served in the Civil War. That monument
stands today in front of the Virginia Historical Society’s Battle Abbey in Richmond. It inspired
Susan Williams to research the contributions of horses in the Civil War. The bronze monument
honors the numerous horses and mules that were killed, wounded, or died of disease in the course of
In the Civil War there were three modes of transportation: the charley-horse, the four-legged and
the iron horse. The charley-horse represented the two-legged soldiers who marched thousands of
miles during the war. The iron horse represented the trains that pulled the rail-cars that moved
munitions, men and material on both sides. It also represented the ships that carried supplies, ran
blockades and fought as gunboats, and the new seahorse, the ironclad.
The war horse was an intelligent animal whose endurance and dedication were noted in thousands of
reports. It was during the American Civil War that the war horse reached his zenith. He was being
replaced by steam. Before that, he moved fighting men, ambulances, wagons, artillery, engineers,
pontoon trains, telegraph operators, engineers, surgeons, photographers and correspondents.
In the field artillery, a battery consisted of six guns, 170 men and 98 horses. The drivers were
selected for their knowledge and skill with animals. Six horses pulled one gun into position and there
were three drivers, one for each pair of horses. Drivers rode the horses and ,after unhitching them,
took them to the rear behind the limbers. There, they would lie down on the ground, holding their
bridles to keep their horses ready to serve their pieces. Often times horses would be wounded;
removing a harness from a wounded horse was a very dangerous task.
The handsome Morgan horses were the mounts for the First Vermont Cavalry. Morgans were
sensible under fire and could march all day on unpredictable rations. At war’s outbreak, horses cost
around $110 each for the first two years, then $120-$133 in the later years. Geldings were
preferred since mares in heat could warn the enemy.
McClellan appointed Col. Dwayne in charge of the engineer corps. Dwayne was tasked with
building a pontoon train with which the army could ford any river in Virginia. His regiment-size corps
was soon joined by two regiments of volunteers, including the 50th New York Engineers. While the
regulars were held in higher esteem by the army, in practice the volunteers were treated as equals. It
took six mules to move one pontoon. The engineers proved their value when they built pontoon
bridges under fire, as they did at Fredericksburg (I).
The Telegraph Corps units were 150 strong. They strung wire with which the army’s communication
with various units and Washington was maintained. The headquarters were established in the War
Department building next door to the White House and Lincoln often frequented it, reading
dispatches every day. Horses were needed to move the equipment and for repairmen to track down
and repair severed wires.
For the medical service, initially the two wheel ambulance was used, but they were very unpopular as
they jolted the wounded nearly to death. The later four wheel ambulance (a recreation of which
may be seen at the Civil War Museum in Frederick, MD) that replaced it was much more popular
for delivering men to the field hospitals and to railroad hospital cars.
Horses and mules transported displaced people, fleeing slaves, and newspaper correspondents like
those of the New York Herald through the war zone. Cameramen of the period also moved their
equipment by horse power.
In one incident at night, panicked mules scattered Confederate forces. This prompted Grant to ask
that the involved mules be promoted to "brevet horses." Another four legged creature used in the
war were oxen that hauled fallen logs to build railroad trestles.
Susan’s talk was very well received and the numerous questions or comments that followed attested
to it. Her talk incorporated many images from the Library of Congress that have never been
published and were new to the members.