The title of this post comes from the words spoken by General George Meade of his horse, Old Baldy, on July 2, 1863. This was, of course, the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg, the 153rd anniversary which is happening right now. The words spoken refer to the fact the horse had been wounded and, as also stated by Meade, it was the first time ever his faithful companion refused to move forward while under fire.
For those who follow me on Twitter (@Miss_Bellatrix) or have been following along with this blog, you know the horses of the Civil War generals have come up from time to time. Being as it’s the anniversary of Gettysburg, I decided to write a post about General Meade’s horse, Old Baldy.
Meade at Gettysburg. Painting by Daniel Ridgeway Knight. Presumably the horse is Old Baldy. I kinda want this painting for my house. It would look nice in my living room. Next to the “Hero of Little Round Top” painting with my rock star General Chamberlain on it.
I love researching about the General’s horses because often times, their stories are quite interesting. Each horse seemed to have it’s own personality and certain quirks (take Philip Sheridan’s horse for instance, Rienzi, with his fiery personality or Jackson’s Little Sorrel with his gait and the way he walked). They were very much apart of each General’s life and in some cases, became an extension of their own personality.
The horse that was to become Old Baldy began his career in the Civil War in 1861 at the First Battle of Bull Run. At the time, the bright bay horse with a white face and feet was owned by Major General David Hunter. It is unknown what the horses name was at this time.
Old Baldy’s first owner, Major General David Hunter. He would go on to serve as the Honor Guard at the funeral of President Abraham Lincoln and would also accompany his body back to Springfield.
At this battle, Old Baldy was wounded when a piece of artillery shell pierced his nose. This was to be the first of many wounds this horse was received (it has been reported he was wounded as many as 14 times). His wounds were tended to but Major General Hunter did not take the horse back . Presumably, he needed another horse right away and Old Baldy needed time to recover (I’d need time to recover too if my nose got struck by an artillery shell). Or maybe their personalities clashed (this would not be the first time a horse did not work out for someone in the Civil War. The reason Philip Sheridan came to have Rienzi is that the fiery horse and his first owner had relationship issues, mainly that Rienzi scared the shit out of his first owner. More on that in another post). Whatever the reasons, General George Meade ended up buying the bright bay horse with the white face for $150.00 soon after the First Battle of Bull Run. It his white face that gave Meade the idea to christen the horse with the name “Old Baldy” or sometimes just “Baldy”. Meade became quite attached to the horse with the white face. His staff, however, complained about Old Baldy’s peculiar pace, which is described as that of a racking gait – faster than a walk but slow for a trot.
Baldy went on to fight in many battles of the Civil War. He was at Dranesville, a small battle found on December 20, 1861, which resulted in a Union victory. He took part in the 7 days of fighting around Richmond in the summer of 1862. Old Baldy was back for round two at Bull Run, fought August 28-30, 1862. This particular place proved to be bad luck for the horse to be at as he ended up being wounded in his right hind leg. On September 14, 1862, Meade and Old Baldy were involved in the Battle of South Mountain. This was part of the Maryland campaign.
The resilience of this amazing steed was proven again at the Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862. Old Baldy ended up getting wounded in the neck and was left on the battlefield, presumed to be dead. In the next advance of the Union Army, the horse, who must have had a freaking pain tolerance like no other and was presumably the most easy going horse around, was found grazing with a neck wound. One can imagine Meade was quite happy to find his trusty steed was still alive. The horse was cared for and fit for battle once again. Baldy went on to carry Meade through both the battles of Fredericksburg (December 11-16, 1862) and Chancellorsville ( April 30-May 6, 1863).
On June 28, 1863, General Meade was given command of the Army of the Potomac after General Hooker resigned. This was mere days before the Battle of Gettysburg, which was fought from July 1-July 3, 1863. It was on July 2 that General Meade was atop of Old Baldy. A bullet passed through Meade’s right trouser leg and entered the horse’s stomach. For the first time ever, according to Meade, Baldy refused to move forward. Meade stated “Baldy is done for this time. This is the first time he has refused to go forward under fire”. Baldy was immediately taken off the field to recover.
In 1864, General George Meade made what was probably a very difficult decision: to retire his faithful companion who had been with him through most of the Civil War. During the Overland Campaign, Old Baldy ended up getting struck in the ribs by a shell at the Weldon Railroad. Meade took him from service after this.
Old Baldy, the faithful companion that carried General George Meade through many battles from 1861 to 1864. From all the wounds he received, he is often described as bullet scared. Still a beautiful, brave horse.
The brave bay horse was taken to Philadelphia to a farm that belonged to Meade’s staff quartermaster Captain Sam Ringwalt. Afterwards, the horse was moved to Meadow Bank Farm, which was owned by a friend of the Meade family. He was here for several years.
Meade maintained a close relationship with his horse even after the Civil War, one source describing them as inseparable. He rode him in several Civil War memorial parades. One can imagine this was probably common among many Generals. As much as we can try, we probably will never really understand the bond that exists between them. In researching this article, I sense that Meade did genuinely did care for his horse. I’ve encountered this in many of the horses I’ve researched – that their owners cared for them immensely (we only have to look to Lee and Traveller to know this is true).
In November of 1872, Old Baldy was the riderless horse in the funeral procession for Meade. The horse lived for another 10 years after his owner had passed. Old Baldy was euthanized in December 1882 after he became too feeble to stand. He was 30 years old, quite old for a horse.
After his death (and this is where the story might get a little squeamish for some), Old Baldy’s head and front hooves (why the front hooves, I have no idea!), were sent to a taxidermist. They were mounted and put on display at the Grand Army of the Republic Civil War Museum and Library in Philadelphia. In 1979, the head was loaned to the Old Baldy Civil War Roundtable. They paid for restoration of the head and placed it on display in the Meade Room in the Civil War Museum of Philadelphia. The museum unfortunately closed in August 2008. Luckily, in 2009, Old Baldy (or, his head, I suppose…) was returned to the Grand Army of the Republic Civil War Museum. A ceremony was held there on September 26, 2010 to officially welcome the horse (or his head…is anyone else thinking of “The Godfather” right now? Just me? Oh, okay…) back to the museum.
The head of Old Baldy. I think it’s cool but also kinda creepy. I’ve clearly seen “The Godfather” too many times…
The legacy of Old Baldy lives on, as is evidenced by the Civil War Roundtable group I mentioned above that takes their name from Meade’s faithful steed. And both Baldy and Meade have been immortalized in a few monuments, photos of which you can see below.
General George Meade monument. He is atop Old Baldy. The monument is at Gettysburg on Cemetery Ridge.
Monument of General George Meade and Old Baldy in Philadelphia. I love the way this one looks. I think they’ve captured Meade and Baldy perfectly.
I hope you enjoyed the story of General George Meade’s horse, Old Baldy. It was one I enjoyed researching.
Thanks, as always, for reading!
Until next time…
Civil War Trust http://www.civilwar.org/
Famous Horses of the Civil War. http://www.civilwarhome.com/horses.html
Hidden City Philadelphia “Forgotten and Alone: Bring Old Baldy and the General Into Town” http://hiddencityphila.org/2015/08/forgotten-and-alone-bring-old-baldy-and-the-general-into-town/ August 7, 2015.
Horses of the Civil War Leaders. http://www.civilwarhome.com/warhorses.html
Old Baldy Civil War Roundtable. http://www.oldbaldycwrt.org/
Philadelphia Oddeities. “Old Baldy” http://www.ushistory.org/oddities/oldbaldy.htm
The Battle of Gettysburg: George Meade http://gettysburg.stonesentinels.com/monuments-to-individuals/george-meade/
Wikipedia. “Old Baldy” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Baldy_(horse)