150 Years Ago: Animals lost at Stones River

A few weeks back, my friend Eric Wittenberg posted an article discussing the use of horses during the Civil War.  Eric indicated that just short of 5.2 million horses lived in the U.S. prior to the outbreak of war.  The Federals used around 825,000 horses during the war.  He does not offer a figure for mules, but I’ve seen a like numbered figure from other sources.  And although Eric did not offer statistics for the Confederates, the estimates are around 2/3rds that used by the Federals.

The numbers alone are impressive, but indicative of a time when steam power was state of the art.  With the horse and mule so vital to military movement – at both the operational and tactical levels – it is of no surprise many of those animals became casualties of the war.  As Eric noted:

More than 1,000,000 horses and mules were killed during the Civil War. In the early days of the conflict, more horses than men were killed. Just at the July 1863 Battle of Gettysburg alone, the number of horses killed was about 1,500—881 horses and mules for the Union, and 619 for the Confederacy.

Shortly after the battle of Stones River, Lieutenant Colonel John W. Taylor, Chief Quartermaster for the Department of the Cumberland, produced a very detailed report of the losses experienced in the battle.  Taylor tallied, by headquarter and regiment, the number of wagons, ambulances, harnesses, horses, and mules lost during the period from December 26, 1862 to January 16, 1863. I’ve pulled the data from that table and posted it as a PDF if you care to review the details:

Statement of public animals and means of transportation captured by the enemy, killed in battle, and lost and destroyed from December 26, 1862, until January 16, 1863.

The bottom line totals were – 229 wagons, 28 ambulances, 1,540 harnesses, 774 horses, and 1,34 mules.  Yes, the total number of animals lost by the Federals during the Stones River Campaign was 2,108.    (The totals Eric cited for Gettysburg are just for the days of that battle, so don’t try an apples to oranges comparison here.)  The totals include animals killed in battle, destroyed as consequence of the campaign, or captured by the Confederates.

The losses at Stones River hit the artillery arm particularly hard.  For the campaign, the Army of the Cumberland had 27 batteries.  By regulation the number of horses per battery was between 110 and 150, depending on the type and number of guns used by the battery.  And recall the army’s batteries were horribly mixed in terms of weapon types.    That translated to a requirement for somewhere between 3,000 and 4,000 horses.  During the campaign, the army lost 555 artillery horses.   Thus the loss was somewhere between 13% and 18% of the artillery’s motive power.   Without the means to move, field artillery is of little good on the battlefield.

By contrast, the Federals lost only 80 cavalry horses at Stones River.  Then again, many will make the point that the cavalry was not fighting on the most contested portions of the field.

Offsetting the Federal losses somewhat were the capture of 196 horses and 223 mules from the Confederates after the battle and during the brief pursuit.   Still the Army of the Cumberland had to make up what amounted to a 1700 animal net loss.  Battle or no battle, animals die or otherwise become incapable of performing the required tasks.  So in addition to making up the shortfall due to campaign loss, the army had to factor in the attrition rates even standing still.  Long story short, the Army of the Cumberland needed many more horses and mules before proceeding on the next march towards Georgia.

Horses, as you are no doubt aware, don’t grow on trees.  They must be procured.  After the first of January 1863, there was a lot of “procuring” going on.