Stonewall’s favorite horse given makeover

JAY CONLEY of The Roanoke Times filed this report:

Green QuoteLEXINGTON, (AP) — For a horse that’s been dead since the 1880s, Confederate Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s beloved mount is getting some first-class pampering at the Virginia Military Institute Museum.

On Friday, a team of four technicians from the Smithsonian Institution shampooed – using Pert Plus, the original 2-in-1 shampoo plus conditioner – and dyed Little Sorrel to restore the old steed back to his medium-brown color. They will spend the weekend repairing tears in the gelding’s hide where it has dried out and split, patching holes and gluing him back together.

Little Sorrel was considered small for a male rider, only about 15 hands, or 60 inches, tall. But historians say Jackson preferred the horse’s smooth gait and calm demeanor in battle to other horses in his stable.

“Jackson actually had several horses that he rode throughout the war, but the one that he rode the most often and preferred was Little Sorrel,” said Keith Gibson, director of the VMI museum.

It was Little Sorrel that Jackson was riding when he was shot by friendly fire at the Battle of Chancellorsville in 1863.

Though Jackson died eight days later, the horse lived on for more than 20 years. Some of those years were spent living on the VMI post in Lexington, where Sorrel grazed on the parade grounds.

When the horse died in 1886 at the age of 35, he had spent the last few years of his life entertaining crowds at local and regional fairs, where onlookers were known to clip pieces of his mane and tail as souvenirs.

Sorrel’s preserved hide, mounted over plaster of Paris, resided at times at the Carnegie Institute Museum in Pittsburgh and the Old Soldier’s Home in Richmond. Following World War II, Little Sorrel was returned to VMI in the 1940s after being acquired by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. In 1997, the horse’s bones – which for a time were on display in a VMI biology classroom – were buried in a public ceremony next to Jackson’s statue on the VMI parade ground.

“This is a really important specimen and artifact for the museum, such a wonderful historical piece,” said Paul Rhymer with the Smithsonian. “We just basically want to try to bring it back to what it looked like in 1886.”

The UDC raised $16,000 to pay for the restoration.

Rhymer has been a taxidermist and model builder for more than 20 years. He recently completed some restorations of animal hides at the Virginia Museum of Natural History in Martinsville.

“All we really want to do is freshen it up,” Rhymer said of Sorrel. “As old as this thing is, I think it’s in great shape.”

When the work is complete, Sorrel, along with Jackson’s raincoat and uniform, will continue to be on display at the museum, which was recently renovated.

“We’re in the process now of creating our permanent exhibit installation,” Gibson said. “In the process of that we realized that Little Sorrel himself might stand some reconditioning.”

Source: Associated Press

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