How many horses were needed by the Federal Cavalry? Stoneman: 435,000 per year

Major-General George Stoneman, the US Army’s Chief of Cavalry in the fall of 1863, knew a thing or two about keeping cavalry fit for field operations.  Facing the problem of keeping a three division corps of cavalry in the field supporting the Army of the Potomac, Stoneman had some suggestions.  Looking at operations between May and October 1863, Stoneman noted the raw number of horses used and, for lack of better words, used up by the Army of the Potomac.  In a letter addressed to Colonel J. C. Kelton, Assistant Adjutant-General of the U.S. Army, on October 30, 1863, Stoneman detailed the number of horses forwarded to the Army of the Potomac for use in the cavalry over the preceding six months:

  • May – 5,073
  • June – 6,927
  • July – 4,716
  • August – 5,499
  • September – 5,827
  • October – 7,036

The grand total over those 184 days was 35,078 horses – again just for cavalry use.  That averages out to just over 190 horses per day, forwarded to the Army of the Potomac.  And those numbers did not include captured horses or requisitioned in the field from civilians.  The peak month was October, averaging over 225 horses per day (give or take).

Going back to Brigadier-General Rufus Ingalls’ table for horses on hand on June 1, 1863:


The total number of horses in the cavalry corps, derived by adding the number of transportation, cavalry, and artillery horses on that line, was 14,170.  So add that to as an “on hand” number of horses in the cavalry to the total forwarded to the Army as replacements.  That bumps the total number of horses used and used up over those six months to 49,248.

Stoneman mentioned 17,000 unserviceable horses on hand at the depots around Washington.  He deduced that 18,078 horses were “killed in action, been captured, or have died, or been sold at auction” during the six month period.  In other words, the turnover rate in horses in that six months was about 250%.

Reviewing documents forwarded from the Army of the Potomac, Stoneman offered three suggestions to reduce attrition of the horses:

1. Disease of the foot and tongue, both of which yield readily to the remedies used in the hospital at the Cavalry Depot. Great care has been taken in sending forward horses to the army, not to allow any horse to leave the depot afflicted with either of these diseases, as each horse is inspected when he leaves the stables and before he is sent off.

2. The severe duties which the horses have to perform. The remedy for this is within the control of the commanding general of the army with which the cavalry is serving.

3. The great want of forage, without which horses cannot be expected to last long, or be able to perform much service of any kind. The remedy for this is either to furnish more forage, or to keep the cavalry force where it can procure forage if it is [not] furnished.

With the first firmly under his control, Stoneman could only stress the second two suggestions to the field commanders.

Looking beyond the Army of the Potomac, Stoneman added:

There are two hundred and twenty-three regiments of cavalry in the service, and thirty-six of them are in the Army of the Potomac.

At the rate horses are used up in that army it would require 435,000 per year to keep the cavalry in the army up, and then, according to the inclosed papers, it would be inefficient.

That’s an estimate of 435,000 horses, just for cavalry, across all theaters of war.  Let that number sink in for a moment.

Horses are both “recovering” and “regenerating” resources.  When given proper care, a horse can recover strength, to a degree.   Some of the 17,000 unserviceable horses in the depot as of October 1863, would return to the cavalry. As for regenerating a horse, the gestation period is around eleven months.  But a horse does not reach maturity until the fifth year.  And if you are wondering, the 1860 census tallied 6,249,271 horses in the states and territories.

At Stoneman’s estimate, one year of war would use 7% of the nation’s horses… just for the cavalry.   One year of the war… just counting the cavalry horses.

I challenge you to come up with a more direct figure to relate the wastage of war.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 29, Part II, Serial 49, page 398-9.)


4 thoughts on “How many horses were needed by the Federal Cavalry? Stoneman: 435,000 per year

  1. One of the Confederacy’s many problems was that it required its cavalrymen to furnish their own horses. I believe that rroopers were reimbursed if a horse was killed or died due to wounds in battle, but otherwise they were on their own for covering the cost of a replacement.

    When a trooper’s horse died, he was often furloughed for several weeks – if far from home – to procure another mount. That meant the loss of a horseman for that period of time. If the cavalryman couldn’t come up with a replacement, they often ended up being transferred to infantry or artillery units, which meant the permanent loss of the trooper to the cavalry.

    Given the figures you’ve provided regarding the Union cavalry’s needs, it would seem apparent that the South – with its limited financial resouces and decision to force cavalrymen to handle providing their own mounts – had even greater challenges keeping its army stocked with horses.

    I would have to imagine that it took several years for the nation’s horse stocks to be replenished after the war.

  2. Each year would use close to 10% as 1.7 million of those horses seceded. There were also more than a million oxen but, from your 1863 chart, they did not enlist in the Army of the Potomac.

  3. […] Halleck went on to discuss particulars in regard to horses sent to Tennessee and Major-General George Thomas’ command.  In particular the “loss in killed, starved, and broken down has probably been not less than 10,000…” over the period between October 1 and December 31, 1864.  Yes, another chilling measure of the toll on horses and mules as the war drug along. […]

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