War horses: Remembering the millions who fought and died in human battles

Civil War Horse Monument.
Poppy and Horse. By Lollipop.
Poppy and Horse. By Lollipop.

WWI

There was a real-life model for the horse in the Steven Spielberg film “War Horse.”

EILEEN BATTERSBY in a brilliant article for the Irish Times, writes:

    His name was Warrior, and he went to war in 1914 with his owner, a British general named Jack Seely. Both survived, defying even the horrors of the Somme. Warrior was celebrated as a hero and died in 1941, in the middle of another war, a few weeks short of his 33rd birthday. Although revered, he was not buried with the expected pomp and ceremony. Instead his body was donated to the war effort and used for meat.

    More then 5,000 years have passed since man first began riding horses. For much of that time the animal, now mostly associated with sport, was involved in war and military campaigns.

    Archaeological evidence confirms that the use of a bit began somewhere in what is now Russia. The invention of the wheel led to the introduction of the chariot, a vehicle that carried two men, one controlling the horse that pulled it, the other, an archer, fighting from a moving platform.

    Although nervous by nature, the horse made warfare faster. A mounted warrior had a huge advantage, giving riders the element of surprise. Horses also helped in reconnaissance and in making swift getaways after attacking settlements under siege. Through sheer size and an ability to kick and trample, the animals also intimidated anyone on the ground. Greek armies made use of horses, and the first manual on horsemanship was written by a cavalry officer, Xenophon.

    Trench warfare, gas attacks, barbed wire, machine guns and, from 1917 onwards, tanks would change the nature of war, but not before eight million horses, donkeys and mules had died.

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What about equines who were used in battle in the US alone?

REVOLUTIONARY WAR

A variety of sources reveal the number of horses killed in certain battles, but there is no comprehensive figure, so we are still digging.

What we noticed during our research, however, is that tens of thousands of horses were killed not only in battle as infantry horses but also on farms, for the same reason the enemy destroys houses, barns, food supplies and ammunition.

Civil War Horse Monument, Richmond VA.
Monument to the 1.5 million horses and mules that died during the Civil War erected outside the Virginia History Society in Richmond.

CIVIL WAR

While the number of men who died in the Civil War is estimated at around 640,00, more than twice that number, or a million and a half horses and mules, died during the same period. Source.

Even taking into consideration the number of equine casualties in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, the death toll is of course higher. That number does not include the horses who died in other battles fought on American soil.

We remember and honor them all.

RELATED READING

Sgt. Reckless: A Great American Hero

5,000 Years of War Horses

Eileen Battersby, writing for the Irish Times, tells the history of the horse, and how once the bit and saddle allowed man to ride, the horse was predominantly used for military campaigns and combat. Below is a teaser. We urge you to read the article through to get an idea of what horses have fought and died to contribute to mankind’s relentless pursuit to defend himself and control others.

      The first World War, the setting for Steven Spielberg’s new film, marked the end – almost – of 5,000 years of mounted combat, writes EILEEN BATTERSBY.

THE DIRECTOR Steven Spielberg insists that his new movie, War Horse, based on the 1982 novel by Michael Murpurgo, is not a war film but a story about a boy and his horse. Yet the image that will haunt audiences is that of the hero, the beautiful horse, a stark reminder of all the beautiful horses that went to war and died.

There was a real-life model for the war horse in the film. His name was Warrior, and he went to war in 1914 with his owner, a British general named Jack Seely. Both survived, defying even the horrors of the Somme. Warrior was celebrated as a hero and died in 1941, in the middle of another war, a few weeks short of his 33rd birthday. Although revered, he was not buried with the expected pomp and ceremony. Instead his body was donated to the war effort and used for meat.

More then 5,000 years have passed since man first began riding horses. For much of that time the animal, now mostly associated with sport, was involved in war and military campaigns.

Ms. Battersby closes with:

    Whenever people recall Tennyson’s immortal lines “All in the valley of death / Rode the six hundred”, most mourn the loss of the hapless horses involved in the famously pointless Charge of the Light Brigade, which took place in 1854, during the Crimean War. Between 600 and 660 mounted men and horses were involved in this futile act, which has become iconic. There were 118 human fatalities; 335 horses died or were later destroyed because of their wounds.

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Article pdf 5000_Years_of_War_Horses >>

We are so grateful to Steven Speilberg for his film War Horse, spurring new dialogue so we never forget what horses have given, and continue to give, mankind.

Animals in War Memorial (Park Lane, London)

Remember Sgt. Reckless: A Great American Hero