Horse Power

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“In the June 2015 issue of Civil War Times Magazine is an article by the noted historian James I. Robertson entitled A Dead Horse at Antietam wherein he discusses the roll and fate of the noble horse.

The article proceeds to detail numerous statistics regarding the roll of horse-power in the war. Some notable examples are the equine requirement for a single six-gun field battery is 72 horses for full efficiency. It should be noted that these horses had to be larger than cavalry mounts and were specified as such. And the standard of the day for infantry supply wagons was 12 wagons per 1000 men. Four horses pulled a wagon with 2800 pounds of supplies. A similar hitch of mules could pull a load of 4000 pounds over good roads. Few roads qualified as good. The supply train also carried oats and hay for the livestock and as in the case of Grant’s “Cracker Line” at Chattanooga they almost consumed so much they could not bring adequate supply to their destination.

At the time of the Pennsylvania Campaign into Gettysburg, Meade’s army used 4000 wagons and 1100 ambulances. Assuming the ambulance uses four animals that is an estimated total of 26,400 hay burners. Considering the number of animals that were killed or injured it is understandable how Meade had a problem with pursuit as Lee retreated. It also gives an interesting perspective on the 125 wagon train and 900 mules captured by JEB Stuart at Rockville, Maryland. These brand new wagons and teams plus the supplies they contained were a prize no Confederate could easily discount.

As the Civil War began in 1861 no one expected it would last as long as it did. No one ever thought that the 3.4 million horses in the North and the 1.7 million in the Confederacy would not be enough to support the war. The supply of mules was also considered plentiful. The war cost 1.5 million horses and mules their lives and a million more were returned home lame and broken down from over use. Some officers were relentless in their efforts and brutally abused the men and animals in their commands. General “Kill Cavalry” Kilpatrick was well known for pushing his command and horses with abandon. Morgan’s Raiders covered 1100 miles in July 1862 and while the cavalrymen could sleep in the saddle the horses had to keep moving. Stuart’s ride from Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania to join Lee at Gettysburg was a similarly taxing ride for the horses, so much so that Lee ordered Stuart out of action to rest his command prior to the cavalry action on 3 July. A detailed account of the condition of his horses might explain the outcome of the day’s action. Numerous other cavalry raids occurred with comparative equine punishment.

Gen. Sherman was aware of the need to care for his livestock on his “March to the Sea”. He required taking “every opportunity at a halt during a march should be taken advantage of to cut grass, wheat, or oats and extraordinary care be taken of the horses upon which everything depends”. Sherman’s previous army experience as a logistician served him well.

During the early period of the war the North suffered from poor cavalry stock due to a faulty procurement system rife with graft. General Joe Hooker corrected this during his brief period as Commanding General where he established an effective depot and procurement system. This began to have telling effect as the quality of Federal horseman improved as the quality of Southern horses began to decline.

Severe weather conditions affected battlefield performance as forage became scarce and cold and freezing weather followed by the following thaw and muddy conditions plagued the livestock. Thomas’ delay at Nashville was a classic example of such delay and almost cost him his command. McClellan complained of the condition of his horses causing President Lincoln to question what he had done to tire his animals. The Civil War was the last war where muscle power was so heavily depended upon. Later conflicts began the ever increasing use of mechanical devices for movement and mobility.

The fall of Vicksburg is often cited as the last obstacle restricting the free movement of the Mississippi to the sea. What is not often understood is that once the last stretch of the river was controlled by the Union movement of replacement horses and mules from Arkansas and Texas was ended. This shortage of horseflesh caused Lee eventually to reduce the number of his artillery batteries as the required replacement horses were not available.

Horses were deliberately slaughtered at times to keep them out of enemy hands. A lame or disabled horse was regularly killed rather than let it be recovered and returned to health by the enemy. Farriers were in great demand and were paid a higher rate because of the need to keep the stock shod. 2.3 million horse and mule shoes were required annually for every 60,000 animals. Again, having the supply and talent at the right place and time was a clear challenge and failure caused the stock to suffer and eventually break down.

Horses and mules require considerable roughage in their diet. Feeding only grain causes diseases like colic and other ailments. Grains are easier to transport and hay is so bulky that often the stock consumes more than they can carry. When there is a shortfall again the animals suffer. Water is also a necessity for man and animal and the logistics of water supply is complicated even for today’s army.

All this deals with the health and well being of the horses and mules. Combat conditions like the one involving Col. Strong’s horse led to large numbers of losses. The Army of the Potomac lost about 881 artillery horses during the three days of combat at Gettysburg. Rufus Ingals, the Army quartermaster eventually estimated he would need 5000 replacement horses for the cavalry and artillery. Such losses must have seemed daunting. Then there is the question of disposal of the carcasses. Burning was the only reasonable method and in some cases, such as after the Battle of Perryville, this horrible chore was left to the civilian population as the armies withdrew.”

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7 Responses to Horse Power

  1. Stephen Truslow says:

    Hi Alice,
    So did I imagine the post on solar energy’s ERoEI, or was it withdrawn because you received a wave of criticism about its veracity. It would be good to explain what happened. It feels like censorship.

  2. ivo says:

    Yes, Alice…what’s the story. Came back this morning to finish reading it and it disappearred.

  3. Mark says:


    Your new posts show up via an RSS feed on my PC. I can read your 1/29/18 rss post entitled- “Solar Energy has a net energy loss in Germany and Switzerland- EROEI = 0.82

    noting this:
    “Preface. Some items of interest from the article below-

    The capacity factor during the winter period is only about 3% (or more recently in Germany during January 2015, only 2%)
    In the winter PV is producing at peak power for only 1.7 hours per day on average, and in the summer only 3.3 hours daily.”….

    When I clinked on the link embedded in the RSS post the link did not work. Thought you might like to know.

    • energyskeptic says:

      Mark, I removed the article because I’ve angered a large number of solar advocates and they attacked me in troll-like language rather than citing the various papers they feel debunk it. I could have done more work and stated what the criticisms of the other articles said after too much time spent finding them. But at this point it’s clear solar EROI is negative from the systems it depends on, which are left out of EROI, such as energy storage systems, transmission grid, manufacturing, transportation, and labor energy costs. Above all, solar can’t keep diesel trucks moving, cement and metal blast furnaces (too intermittent to power 24 x 7 x 365 x 20 years), manufacturing, chemicals, and so on, let alone the electrical grid. It’s not worth my time to criticize solar. It is irrevelant.

      • Mark says:


        I wasn’t aware that capacity factors in Germany could be as low as your non-post (a complete post via my RSS feed) indicated. Our PV system is still working as designed- almost 12 years of operation now. But, we would never try to meet all our energy needs solely with PV- if we did we would likely be dead by now.

        I just saw Space Ex’s launch on the boob tube. I saw a Gemini launch in person a few decades ago. I wonder how many gallons of FF were used to run the experiment. Likely a lot more than the 2.5 gallons we used last week to efficiently heat our 1920’s addition.

        A few years ago we would of used an electric heater to heat the kitchen. Back then if we managed our loads very carefully we paid 10 cents a kWh. These days our costs are more like 24 cents a kWh.

  4. It is likely Germany lost both WWI and WWII due to the army’s reliance on horses. Germany’s agriculture sector was only partially mechanized by 1914: the military requirements emptied farms of prime movers causing food shortages that emerged the following year and intensified thereafter. Increased military demands outstripped the empire’s ability to provide replacements, the horse shortages in turn cut supply of fodder. The problem was also amplified by the Rathenau emphasis on producing military hardware at the expense of goods that ‘did not shoot’. The army was liberally supplied with rifles, machine guns, artillery, shot and shell, aircraft and personal supplies like boots, but the producers failed to manufacture sufficient numbers of trucks because of material ministry failed to recognize the need.

    The Allies had the same horse problems but compensated by building thousands of motor trucks. By 1918, the Germans had to rely on human porters to move supplies. On the Western Front, thousands of horses were killed in gas attacks, in the East, they froze, starved or broke down. The great German ‘Michael’ offensives of Spring 1918 failed because the advancing soldiers could not be supplied, porters had difficulties crossing old churned up battlefields and rail lines could not be built over them in time.

    In 1941, the Germans attacked Soviet Union w/ 3.4 million soldiers … and 600 thousand horses to haul supplies on sledges and wagons. Again, the German materials branch failed to recognize a need and built very few trucks. While the German agriculture sector was entirely modernized, that of the subject nations in Eastern Europe was not. Farmers in Poland, Romania, Czechoslovakia and elsewhere had their horses ‘conscripted’ by the Nazis; by the end of 1941 these almost entirely ‘used up’; broken down and dead. The outcome was a logistics breakdown on the eastern front and ultimate failure of the Barbarossa offensive. This was followed by severe food shortages across the Reich beginning in 1942 as Eastern European agriculture failed for shortage of prime movers.

    Soviet military had a similar problem but this was solved by import of thousands of low cost Studebaker and Dodge trucks from the US. Meanwhile, German army became more dependent upon railroads and what few trucks they either made or scrounged up from subject nations.

    • energyskeptic says:

      Thanks Steve, very interesting. And what trucks and planes the Germans did have were fueled by liquefied coal, not petroleum, so when the allies bombed these sitting duck refineries, even more dependent on horses…