Three million horses and mules served during the Civil War. Approximately half lost their lives. Horses and mules were essential to both armies; moving artillery, cavalry, the wounded and supplies. Almost 32,000 horses and mules served in the Battle of Stones River, and nearly 3000 were killed, disabled or captured.
The Quartermaster Department oversaw acquiring horses and mules, their food, and other equipment such as saddles, harness, and shoes.
Feeding horses and mules presented a bigger logistical challenge than feeding men. The daily feed ration for Union cavalry horses was ten pounds of hay and fourteen pounds of grain. A soldier’s daily ration weighed a little more than four pounds.
Horses and mules became targets on the battlefield, but like the men who fought in the Civil War, most died of overwork or disease. Horses and mules worked hard often without enough proper food.
Artillery could not function without horses. Most six-gun batteries had 120 horses to pull the heavy cannons, caissons, and limbers.
A cavalry regiment needed about 1200 horses. Confederate troopers supplied their own horses. Union cavalrymen got their mounts from the army.
A cross between a female horse and a male donkey, hardy mules could persevere without food and water longer than horses. Mules usually pulled heavy supply wagons.
Many soldiers felt deep grief when their horses died and wrote touching accounts in their diaries.
“…my little bay horse had his hind leg nearly torn off by a piece of shell that seemed to burst six feet of my face. At the order to retire I remounted him and his last act of service was to carry me out of danger. … As the faithful animal stood there bleeding and shivering in pain, and I powerless to help him in return … I could not prevent the unmanly moisture in my eyes, and when we drove off and left him, I could not have felt it more keenly had I been leaving a wounded human friend.”
William A. Brown, Confederate Mississippi Stanford Battery
In memory of the one and one half million horses and mules of the Union and Confederate armies who were killed, were wounded or died from disease.
Last updated: August 25, 2020