An Equine Casualty on the Road to Gettysburg

The citizens of the Loudoun Valley awoke on Sunday morning, June 21, 1863, not to the sound of church bells. Instead, the thunder of cannon ripped through the region as the cavalry of the Army of Northern Virginia sought to buy another day for their infantry comrades to make their way north unimpeded. Alfred Pleasonton’s Federals drove Stuart’s southerners closer and closer to the Blue Ridge Mountains. Stuart’s back was against the wall. He found a hill outside the town of Upperville called Vineyard Hill and determined to make his stand there and keep the Federal eyes away from the foot soldiers of the Army of Northern Virginia.

This wartime sketch of the action at Vineyard Hill shows the vineyard in the center and the Blue Ridge Mountains in the background.

Mounted soldiers dashed back and forth in charges and countercharges across the rolling landscape. With the stakes so high, the fighting became desperate. Commanders embedded themselves among their soldiers and slashed and shot with them. Brigadier General David M. Gregg rode his mount into the fray. One of his staff officers recorded what happened next:

For a few minutes the situation seemed most critical, and just then a piece of shell struck General Gregg’s horse in the stomach behind the saddle girth, grazing the General’s leg. The horse sank under him and in an instant one of his orderlies dismounted, gave the General his horse, and took the saddle from the wounded animal. At this moment General Gregg ordered a cavalry regiment, I think the Sixth Regulars, who were nearby in a field, to make a counter charge, which, after a little delay caused by the presence of a stone wall, they did. This charge, with our men, who rallied, co-operating, resulted in driving the enemy back into and through the town. To our surprise, the General’s wounded horse had struggled to his feet and was running beside him with his nose against his leg, his entrails dragging on the ground. Noticing this, he exclaimed, “For God’s sake, somebody shoot him!” Whereupon I discharged my pistol in the horse’s ear, which killed him.

It was not a person but it was another unfortunate casualty of a brave soul on the road to Gettysburg at the conclusion of the battles of Aldie, Middleburg, and Upperville.

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