War Chicken Redux: The War Horse War Chicken

ECW is pleased to welcome back historian Joe Owen, co-author (with Randy Drais) of Texans at Gettysburg: Blood and Glory with Hood’s Texas Brigade.

Every one in a while, I find a humorous story about the soldiers of Hood’s Texas Brigade. I would have loved to sit at the campfire and listen to their stories—to laugh and cry with these brave men.

Here is a wonderful story of “Jim Longstreet” (no, it’s not who you think it is), and his demise at Gettysburg, as told by S. O. Young of the 5th Texas. It comes from True stories of Old Houston and Houstonians: historical and personal sketches (1913).

Please tell me if you’ve heard this one before:

Best Fighter in the Army
by Private S. O. Young
5th Texas Infantry

The other day I told about James Longstreet, the famous mule that was the mascot of Hood’s Texas Brigade. Soon after the article appeared I met with Captain Mat Ross, who was a member of Company H, Fifth Texas Regiment of that brigade and he jumped on me for not having mentioned another equally famous member of the brigade, another James Longstreet, too. That was a little red rooster, the pride and glory of Company H, but the immediate property of Mat Ross and Major E. G. Goree, now a resident of Huntsville.

That rooster was the greatest little fighter in the Army of Northern Virginia, said Mat. That is how he got his name. He would fight anything that feathers on it and when he got stirred up would tackle a man or anything that got in his way. Why, it is a matter of regimental history that our rooster kept Ed Goree and me in ready money for a year or two. There was no rooster anywhere that could stand up in front of him. He whipped everything and never put on the least bit of airs over the fact. He got one eye knocked out in one of his battles, but that did not seem to interfere with his fighting qualities the least bit. I really believe it helped him, for it had a kind of demoralizing effect on the old roosters to have Jim Longstreet come at them with his head turned sideways so he could get a focus on them. They were not accustomed to that kind of an advance and he generally ‘got their goat before the fight lasted one round. We kept him in perfect condition and while we had no gaffs, we took charcoal and rubbed down his spurs so that they were always bright and sharp as needles.

Ed Gore and I thought as much of that rooster as though he had been our son. We took turns in carrying him when we were on the march and if we had only one handful of corn for our ration, Jim got half of it. He was always getting in some trouble by being too familiar with me. Usually he roosted on me by being too familiar with the men. Usually he roosted on me or Ed Goree, but one night he took a notion to roost on Jim Langston, who was perfectly bald. About daylight, Jim Longstreet woke up, and stepping over Jim’s bald head, he threw back his head and sounded revile. Now if Jim had remained quiet nothing would have occurred, but instead of doing so he made a grab for Jim Longstreet, who, in his haste to get away, closed his claws and cut three or four long gashes on Langston’s head. He jumped up and, grabbing his gun, tried to shoot Jim. It was all we could do to keep him from shooting Jim, but finally we got him quieted down.

When we went down to the peninsula Jim went with us and won a small fortune for us, for we met some North Carolina troops down there and they had some fighting chickens with them. One great secret of our success was that Jim was mighty deceiving in his looks. He was mild mannered and to look at him you would not think butter would melt in his mouth. He would walk about looking as if he would rather eat than do anything else and would actually pretend not to know what we were talking about when we were trying to arrange a fight. He was awfully cute that way. But after he found we had covered all the money the other fellows could rake and scrape his whole manner would change and he became a warrior at once. It would have done your heart good to see Jim going into battle with his head on one side so he could get a focus on the other fellow with his one good eye, and picking out the exact spot he was going to puncture. Ed Goree and I had as much faith in that rooster winning as we did in General Lee, and neither one of them deceived us. We would follow Lee everywhere, and we would bet our last dollar on Jim Longstreet.

It is rather remarkable that both of our favorites, Lee and Jim should have met their first reverses at Gettysburg. General Lee had taken us into Pennsylvania and we had taken Jim Longstreet with us of course. When I realized what a big fight it was going to be at Gettysburg, I took Jim back to the commissary wagons and gave him to Jim Stanger of company A, who was acting commissary clerk. I told Jim that from the look of things there was going to be hell to pay and that some of us were going to get hurt. I told him if anything happened to me to give Jim to Ed Goree, and that if anything happened to both Ed and me that he could have the rooster, but he must promise to take good care of him.

We had been in the fight all the morning when the fire grew so fierce that we could hardly hold our position. So many men had been killed and wounded that our line was dreadfully thin and weak. Colonel Powers(*) ordered me to go back and bring every available man to the front, and even those who were wounded but not entirely disabled. I went back and got about twenty. I went as far as the wagons and there I saw Jim Stranger. He was almost crying and pointed to a wrecked wagon and several dead horses. ‘Mat’ said he, ‘poor Jim Longstreet is gone. A little while ago a stray shell landed square on that wagon and you see what it did. Jim was roosting in the wagon and the shell did not leave a grease spot on him.’

You see, said Mat, ‘Jim died the death of a soldier and warrior. I know that if he had been given the choice of deaths he would have taken what he got. After I had gone back to the firing line and broken the sad news to Ed Goree we lay behind some rocks and discussed the matter. We finally concluded that the shell had come up on Jim’s ‘blind side and thus caught him for we knew him so well that we felt certain he would have gotten well out of the way before it lit, had he seen it coming.

Jim Longstreet, the mule, was all right in his way, but at best he was a camp follower and a loafer, when Jim Longstreet the rooster was an ornament to the regiment and a producer. After we had camped near any other troops for a few days there was not a dollar left among them, for Jim would whip any chicken they could produce and we would rake in the money. The loss of Gettysburg was a sad blow to General Lee, but the loss of Jim Longstreet just naturally knocked the stuffin’ out of Ed Goree and me. It was a great financial disaster.

————

(*) Probably Colonel Robert M. Powell, commanding officer of the 5th Texas Infantry Regiment

from: Young, S. O., True stories of Old Houston and Houstonians: historical and personal sketches, Houston, TX: Book, 1913, p. 157-158.

 

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3 Responses to War Chicken Redux: The War Horse War Chicken

  1. Meg Groeling says:

    Ah Joe–may I warn you about posts like these–they will haunt you forever! All the hours I’ve spent, all the money and eyesight I’ve lost–you sweat and worry over pieces, and they get a few hits, and then its is over. But “War Chicken?” Now that is a post that keeps on laying golden eggs! Rarely a year goes by that that little post of mine is not in the Top Ten, or at least the Top Twenty. The United daughters of the Confederacy published it in a cookbook!! It is, by far, the most successful thing I ever wrote. May the Curse of the War Chicken fall far from your own door! (although personally, I think it would make a great t-shirt!). Huzzah!

  2. David Corbett says:

    Entertaining anecdote !

  3. Great story. I think it’s fascinating to learn what animals became pets or mascots of military units. Thanks for sharing!

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