A “remarkable little horse” named Little Sorrel
In early May 1861 at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson seized 6 train cars, one of which was carrying horses. From these horses, Jackson ended up purchasing two – a large one for himself, which he called “Big Sorrel” (apparently, he was a beautiful, black Stallion) and a smaller one he named “Fancy” (who was not fancy but rather kind of shaggy and unruly looking), which he intended for his wife, Anna. Jackson soon found “Big Sorrel” was a bit of a spaz. Spazzy horses and battles do not mix well and clearly, Jackson knew this. He needed a horse that would have some level of “zen” amid the noises of guns, artillery, shouting and other general chaos that accompany battles.
He decided to try “Fancy”, the horse he had intended for Anna. Upon riding him, Jackson remarked “a seat on him was like being rocked in a cradle” and that he “showed a smooth pace and even temper” (quite the opposite of Spazzy) . Jackson also changed the horse’s name to Little Sorrel. Thus began another famous horse and rider duo from the Civil War – that of General Stonewall Jackson and his Morgan horse, Little Sorrel (Anna ended up with Spazzy McSpaz a.k.a. Big Sorrel). Meanwhile, the brown coloured Little Sorrel would be Jackson’s primary horse/animal BFF from 1861 until Jackson was wounded at Chancellorsville on May 2, 1863. He would subsequently die of pneumonia on May 10, 1863.
A bit of backstory on Little Sorrel (cause after doing some digging and falling down rabbit holes, I managed to find a few tidbits for y’all…)
Little Sorrel was a small Morgan horse, about 15 hands high, or 5 feet at his shoulders and was about 11 years old when Jackson took him under his wing. He is said to have been born around 1850 on the farm of Noah C. Collins in Somers, Connecticut and is believed to be a descendent of the original Morgan horse, born in 1789 to Springfield, Connecticut. These horses are known for their short legs and stocky bodies which Little Sorrel possessed and which makes the Morgan an ideal battle horse (remember, spazzy horses are bad. Zen horses are where it’s at). The Morgan horses are also known for their endurance, quickness and agility. Also, like many of the Civil War horses and their BFF General’s, Little Sorrel became almost an extension of Stonewall’s personality, and was often seemingly as calm as his General was during battles (no word on if Little Sorrel enjoyed to eat lemons like Stonewall did). During breaks in battle, Little Sorrel was known to lie down and sleep. Kyd Douglas, a member of Jackson’s staff had this to say about Little Sorrel:
“…[he was] a remarkable little horse. Such endurance I have never seen in horse flesh. We had no horse at Headquarters that could match him. I never saw him show a sign of fatigue.”
Douglas was being quite serious – on long marches, Sorrel could cover 40 miles in one day. Jackson was so comfortable on him, that he would often sleep during part of these marches.
The Jackson/Sorrel duo would make the soldiers rally and would boost morale (this is much the same as it was for General Sheridan and Rienzi on the Union side. More on that partnership in another blog post). The ironic thing was, however, that Jackson didn’t like the cheering and was actually somewhat embarrassed by it. Little Sorrel seemed to grow to learn this and “whenever Confederates raised loud and friendly noise, the horse would break into a gallop and carry [Jackson] speedily along”.
Little Sorrel and General Jackson were in many battles together – First Manasses (I did find one source that stated Jackson actually borrowed a horse for this battle. More sources said he had Little Sorrel at the battle) & Second Manassas (or Bull Run), Kernstown, McDowell, Front Royal, Winchester, Cross Keys, Port Republic, Cedar Mountain, Harper’s Ferry, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Seven Days Campaign, and finally, Chancellorsville in early May 1863. This battle would prove to be the last battle both General Jackson and Little Sorrel were in.
General Jackson was wounded by friendly fire at Chancellorsville on May 2nd, 1863. He ended up having his left arm amputated but he succumbed to pneumonia on May 10th. When Jackson had been shot, this is said to have the one and only time that Little Sorrel bolted. He is said to have remained on the battlefield after Jackson was taken away for medical attention. In all the chaos, no one was much paying attention to the gingerbread coloured horse who was wandering around. One account I read states that he was eventually found by two artillery soldiers who had no idea who the horses belonged to. One of them took it upon himself to start riding him. Eventually, Little Sorrel was recognized. He is said to have been given to General J.E.B. Stuart who gave Little Sorrel to Jackson’s widow, Anna.
Little Sorrel lived with Anna for a time. The horse became known as a “rascal” and he most certainly had a mind of his own. He the had ability to undo latches, untie ropes and even remove rails from fences so he could jump into another pasture. He was also known to let other horses out to tag along with him.
Eventually, Little Sorrel was moved to Stonewall’s old stomping grounds at the Virginia Military Institute or VMI. Here, he didn’t need to worry about latches, ropes or fences as he was free to graze on the lush, green parade grounds. I’m sure this was absolute heaven for him. It is clear, however, the Little Sorrel never forgot his friend Stonewall or the Civil War. This was always quite clear during artillery practice at VMI. Little Sorrel’s ears would stand up and his nostrils would flare at the sound of cannons. He would canter around as if looking for General Jackson. To me, this shows the bond that Jackson and Sorrel had with each other and clearly, Little Sorrel never forgot him.
Little Sorrel had gained as nearly as much fame as his General after the Civil War. As such, the horse made appearances at many fairs and veterans reunions. VMI cadets always accompanied him to make sure people did not pluck hair from his mane and tail for souvenirs (why do people have to be weird like that?).
In the later stages of his life, Little Sorrel lived at the Confederate Soldier’s Home in Richmond (also called Robert E. Lee Camp). Here, he was seen as a pet and absolutely adored by the veterans. Little Sorrel eventually developed arthritis. It reached a point where the elderly horse could no longer stand. Curious onlookers often came to see Jackson’s famous horse and so the veterans at the home made a sling and hoist to help Little Sorrel stand up. Unfortunately, one day there was an accident and the sling broke causing Little Sorrel to fall. In the fall, the horse broke his back which proved to be mortal.
Little Sorrel’s final hours were not spent alone, however. He was cared for by the veterans and one in particular, stayed by his side:
“An old Confederate veteran, Tom O’Connell, stood by during the day and at night slept beside his charge [Little Sorrel] until he went over the green fields of some animal heaven to rest in peace and honor”.
Or perhaps he found Jackson on the other side of the river.
After his death, Little Sorrel’s body was given to taxidermist Frederic Weber and mounted over plastic. Weber kept Little Sorrel’s bones (umm…gross) as part of payment but he later donated them to The Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. One can imagine this angered many southerners. I will come back to this in a few sentences. As Aaron Burr says in Hamilton…”wait for it…” (psst, Jen…there’s a Hamilton reference for you). You can view Little Sorrel today at VMI
Little Sorrel’s legacy continues to live on to this day. He is nearly as famous as General Robert E. Lee’s horse, Traveller.In 1990, a street was named after him in his birthplace of Somers, Connecticut. There are also a few statues showing General Jackson and Little Sorrel.
Oh, hey, remember the thing about the bones?
Here’s the story…
In 1997, the bones of Little Sorrel were returned to the VMI. On July 20 of that year, they were buried at the foot of a statue of General Jackson. Dirt from every battlefield where Jackson and Little Sorrel had been together was placed in the grave. The site was also flanked (Haha. That was Sherman’s signature move…) by wreaths of apples and carrots plus several horseshoes.I’m sure had he been there Little Sorrel would have made short order of those wreaths.
That’s the story of Little Sorrel, the horse of General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. Thanks, y’all, for reading. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed researching it.
Until next time…
P.S. I’ve used a few Mort Kunstler paintings in this post. To view more of his beautiful artwork, please visit here .
Gwynne, S.C. “Rebel Yell”. Simon & Schuster: New York, 2014.
“Jackson’s Most Trusted Sidekick” http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2006/apr/7/20060407-090610-9730r/
“Little Sorrel Buried at VMI July 20, 1997” http://vaudc.org/sorrell.html
“Little Sorrel, Connecticut’s Confederate War Horse” http://connecticuthistory.org/little-sorrel-connecticuts-confederate-war-horse/
“Stonewall Jackson FAQ” http://www.vmi.edu/archives/stonewall-jackson-resources/stonewall-jackson-faq/
“Stonewall Jackson’s Horse, Little Sorrel” http://www.horseandman.com/horse-stories/stonewall-jacksons-horse-little-sorrel/11/11/2014/
“Stonewall Jackson’s Stuffed Horse” http://www.roadsideamerica.com/story/3611
“Traveller and Little Sorrel – The War Horses of Lee and Jackson” http://www.civilwarprofiles.com/traveller-and-little-sorrel-the-war-horses-of-lee-and-jackson/