The Horses of General Lee’s “Old War Horse” (and some digressions…)
General Lee’s “Old War Horse” refers to General James Longstreet. He was also known as “Old Pete”. It was today, January 8th, in 1821 that General James “Pete” Longstreet was born in South Carolina. His parents were James and Mary Ann Dent Longstreet. His family, on both sides, dates back to the colonial period of America.
Digression time (y’all know by now I do this kind of thing…): Who picked up on the maiden name of Longstreet’s mother? Dent. I’m sure it’s ringing a bell and you’re thinking “Where have I heard that name before?”. It’s Civil War connection time! Dent is the maiden name of General Grant’s wife, Julia. That’s right – James Longstreet and Union Rock Star General Ulysses S. Grant are related through marriage. James served as Best Man at Ulysses and Julia’s wedding. How’s that for a digression?
General Grant and General Longstreet. Related through marriage, fought against each other during the Civil War, most notably at the Wilderness where Longstreet ended up being wounded. I was just reading in Jeff Shaara’s “The Last Full Measure” about their connection. It was from Longstreet’s perspective. He refers to Grant as being a friend. I can’t imagine what it would have been fighting against someone who I considered a friend, let along was related to me and had stood up at my marriage. Such was the case too many times during the Civil War.
Okay, enough for that digression. Since it is Longstreet’s birthday today, I did want to have a post written to do with him so I decided to write about his horses. Again, are y’all surprised by that? Probably not, given the fact I’ve written a few posts where the General’s horses are mentioned, most notable Baldy and Little Sorrel.
So, I start my journey researching. Here I am thinking “this is going to be like researching Baldy and Little Sorrel. Longstreet was a famous General. There will be stories about his horses! I’ve got this!”
Sometimes, the best laid plans that you think will chug along just fine don’t because you discover the research equivalent to finding that Sherman’s Army has ripped up the railway tracks you were travelling on…
Unfortunately, there is not nearly as much information about Longstreet’s horses as there is for Traveller (General Lee), Cincinnati (General Grant), Rienzi (General Sheridan), Baldy (General Meade) and Little Sorrel (General “Stonewall” Jackson). But hey, that happens when you’re doing historical research. Sometimes the sources are just not readily available OR they just didn’t write about them. I’m sure his horses were just as cool the other ones out there – there just wasn’t much written about them.
But I still managed to find some snippets of info…
We know General Longstreet had two horses: Hero and Fly-By-Night. Hero, according to Longstreet in his memoirs “From Manasses to Appomattox”, was given this name by Longstreet’s Irish groom. Longstreet also remarks in his memoirs that this was indeed his favourite horse. Back to Hero in a second.
As for Fly-By-Night, all I could find out about him was that he given to General Longstreet by General Lee sometime in 1864 while Longstreet was in Georgia or Tennessee (sources differ) for Old Pete’s services in the West.
Back to Hero.
We can presume that General Longstreet would have ridden Hero at many notable Civil War battles. Wert remarks in his biography “General James Longstreet: The Confederacy’s Most Controversial Soldier” that in the morning hours of December 13th, Longstreet was astride Hero at Fredericksburg. I found a beautiful Mort Kunstler painting illustrating just that…
He also rode Hero throughout the three days of the Battle of Gettysburg on July 1st-3rd, 1863. Below, the two paintings by Mort Kunstler depict him on a horse that we can presume is Hero.
If Mort Kunstler’s paintings are correct, we know that Hero was a chestnut coloured horse with a white mark on his face (sounds quite similar to Meade’s horse, Baldy). Considering Longstreet would have ridden him into battle, Hero would have had to have been a strong and powerful horse,too, much like any of the other Civil War horses. In this discussion on Civil War Talk, I did find reference that Hero was an Irish Thoroughbred. Hero most likely looked very much like one of these beautiful horses:
I can imagine what a commanding presence Longstreet would have had on the battlefield as he was astride Hero.
Despite the way he was treated after the Civil War, Longstreet has not been forgotten. Nor has Hero. The two have a statue together at Gettysburg and it is one of my favourite ones in the park. I remember the first time I saw it, I was amazed with the level of the detail. This was one of my favourite photos that I took on the day I spent at Gettysburg in May of 2012.
In researching this post, I discovered that there were mixed feelings about this monument. There are a few people who simply don’t like it. Me? I love it. It’s one of my favourites in the park, mainly because it is an equestrian statue. Sure, I don’t love it as much as I love the equestrian monument to John Reynolds but Longstreet’s is still a favourite. In discovering the mixed feelings as well as how different this monument is from others, I’ve decided to write a separate post about the monument itself at some point soon.
Just briefly: this monument, unlike many of the other equestrian monuments in Gettysburg (and elsewhere at Civil War battlefields) is not on a pedestal. Longstreet and Hero are at ground level. It allows one to see the great level of detail that encompasses the entire statue. Of course I was most drawn to Hero. That’s what attracted me to the statue in the first place.
Despite Hero & Fly-By-Night not having the same level of fame as Traveller or Rienzi, I still felt they were worthy of a post. Horses played a huge role in the Civil War, and I feel they deserve to be remembered too.
Living up to his name, Fly-By-Night is clearly the more mysterious of two horses, with next to nothing for information about him (or her?). For us to know this horse’s name must mean he (or she), meant something to Longstreet.
As for Hero, he’ll go down in history as Old Pete’s favourite horse, having been mentioned in his memoirs. He’s also been somewhat immortalized in the paintings by Mort Kunstler as well as in the monument at Gettysburg.
Do y’all know any stories about the lesser known horses of the Civil War? Also, if you’ve seen the Longstreet monument at Gettysburg, please let me know what you thought of it!
Thanks, as always, for reading. Y’all are awesome.
P.S. If you want to see more of Mort Kunstler’s beautiful painting, check out his website here.
Casteel, Gary. “It’s About Time: The Sculpting of the James Longstreet Memorial”. http://www.garycasteel.com/longstreet.htm.
Longstreet, James. “From Manassas To Appomattox”
Statue/Monument to General Longstreet. http://civilwartalk.com/threads/statue-monument-of-general-longstreet.10198/
Wert, Jeffry D. “General James Longstreet: The Confederacy’s Most Controversial Soldier”. Simon & Schuster: New York, 1993.