This has been a week of reading about how dead horses were handled in the American Civil War.
The first case of dead horse I read about was from my boy, Jenkin Lloyd Jones, who I’ve posted from before. He mentions how 8 of their artillery horses died on the road, where an even greater number of horses lined the sides of the road, dead from starvation to be sure. I imagine that must have been some sight to behold, even amidst the stench!
The second piece of dead horse I read was from a book my wife recently bought me for my birthday: Hardtack & Coffee. This book is right up my alley; it’s the quintessential book on what day-to-day life was like for the American Civil War soldier. I encourage you to take a gander.
Background: In chapter 6, Billings writes in length about the necessary yet awful task of burying a horse and the diverse crew of soldiers recruited, mostly kicking and cussing, to carry it out. After the hole is dug and the body of the horse is rolled in,
the noxious gases begin to make their presence manifest, and the Hardened Wretch [the commanding officer overseeing yet not participating in the work] hands him [a new Army recruit, eager to be considered a comrade so much so that he signs up for this dreadful task, not knowing what it entails] an axe to break the legs that would otherwise protrude from the grave… turning his back on the deceased, he utters something which sounds like ‘hurrah! without the h,’ as Mark Twain puts it, repeating it with increasing emphasis. (Page 106)
Suffice it to say, everyone standing around the grave joins in the vomiting! I never would have thought about how dead horses were dealt with during the war. Then again, this is the benefit of Billings’ work and the diaries of soldiers, letting us in on what life was really like for the everyday soldier.
Until next time, DO NOT beat a dead horse!