Old Army Numbers: Horses and Mules

This is the first of a series of posts that presents a statistical summary of the Old Army.  The 19th century U.S. Army, as with today’s government, was rooted in paperwork.  In addition to the volumes of personnel data (descriptive information, casualty lists, desertion statistics, etc.) the army itemized supplies and equipment issued and consumed.  Some summaries, such as the Record of Animals on Hand at Posts in the Military Division of the Missouri, were short-lived.   Nevertheless, information in these documents helps us understand the sheer volume, expense, and paperwork involved with manning, equipping, and supplying the 19th century U.S. Army.

Horses and Mules

In 1866, and part of 1867, the Division of the Missouri headquarters staff compiled an inventory of army horses and mules present at the various posts and stations (71 in number) within the division; six posts did not have any listings.  At the time the division consisted of the Departments of the Arkansas, Missouri, Platte, and Dakota.  Quartermasters filed these reports every three weeks (ending on the 10th, 20, and 30th or 31st) of each month January – September.  Horses were reported as being either for cavalry or artillery use.

Of the stations reporting, Keokuk, Iowa had the fewest animals; only three cavalry horses during the week ending January 10th.  The number of cavalry horses reported ranged from 849 (January) to 3,906 (September) with an average of 2,179/month.

Profile of a horse showing the areas that should be closely inspected for fitness for artillery service (from The Artillerist’s Manual by Brig. Gen. John Gibbon, 1863).

Contracts issued for horses in the Department of the Platte in 1866 and early 1867 specified that cavalry mounts were typically 15 to 16 hands high and between the ages of 5 and 9 years old.  The government did not consider mares, studs, or white horses.

Only 11 posts reported artillery horses.  Weekly reporting numbers ranging from 4 to 125 and averaging 46/month.  Fort Bascom, New Mexico reported five horse during one week.   Fort Leavenworth and St. Louis had the most reporting periods (11 and 14 weeks respectively).

The mule represented the main livestock asset of the Old Army.  With the limited reach of railroads west of the Mississippi in 1866, mules were essential for supplying troops.  They were the transport vehicle of the day.  The number of mules reported in the division ranged from 3,912 (January) to 13,562 (February) with an average of 9,589/month.

Livestock represented a substantial financial investment for the government.  Contracts for 463 cavalry horses in the Department of the Platte averaged $148/ horse.   The Quartermaster Department (QMD) purchased artillery horses at an average cost of $174.78.  The QMD purchased mules for, on average, $150.18 each.  Based on a weekly reporting average of 2,179 cavalry and 46 artillery horses, the government spent about $330,532.00 in the Military Division of the Missouri.

Average # of Animals/ Month Cost (1866) Cost (2016)
46 artillery horses $8,039.88 $125,000.00
2,179 cavalry horses $322,492.00 $4,500,000.00
9,589 mules $1,440,076.02 $22,500,000.00
Total: 11,814/ month $1.8 million $27.1 million
Feeding Government Livestock

Army regulations stipulated that horses and mules were to be fed 14 pounds of hay and 12 pounds of grain, typically oats, barley, or corn, daily.  For remote posts the daily forage requirement of 26 pounds was difficult to maintain.  Posts established late in the year, before adequate supplies could arrive, often experienced supply shortfalls.  For example, in November 1866, Colonel Carrington, commanding Fort Phil Kearny and the Mountain District, issued Special Order 81: “[u]ntil further orders the issue of hay to public horses and mules will be eight pounds per day instead of fourteen and special care will be exercised to prevent waste of any kind or the access of any animals to the public stock of hay or corn in store.”

Contracts for hay ranged from $10.47 – $60/ ton and averaged $33/ ton (1.6¢/ pound), oats averaged 3¢/ pound, and corn 9¢/ pound.  Based on the average rates, the government was spending between 58¢ and $1.21/ animal/ day.  The following summarizes the average amount spent on forage for army livestock (11,814 animals), within the division every day, month, and year.  Cost estimates are for 1866 and 2016:

  Daily (1866) Daily (2016) Monthly (1866) Monthly (2016) Yearly (1866) Yearly (2016)
58¢ $6,852.12 $104,000.00 $205,563.60 $3.04 million $2.5 million $37.4 million
$1.21 $14,294.94 $223,000.00 $428,848.20 $6.7 million $5.2 million $81.1 million
Closing Thoughts

Horses and mules were an integral and expensive requirement of the Old Army.   Old Army Records is actively compiling and tabulating lists, such as the Animals on Hand at Posts, in an effort to understand how the supplies, equipment, and livestock affected the day-to-day activities of the 19th century U.S. Army.   If you have a topic suggestion for a By the Numbers post, please contact us.



The foregoing information was compiled from the Annual Report of the Secretary of War (1866) and the following documents and document sets digitized and indexed by Old Army Records:

Record of Animals on Hand at Posts in the Military Division of the Missouri (1866-1867)

Register of Contracts, Department of the Platte, Office of the Quartermaster (May 1866-March 1870)

Special Orders, Fort Phil Kearny (1866-1868)


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