Army Horses: An Overview of Markings

Hardtack, muskets, and haversacks are synonymous with the 19th century U.S. Army.  Aside from being used by soldiers, what do these articles have in common?  Army horses and mules transported all three items, and hundreds more like them.  All government property included some form of labeling and unique identification.  Packages of provisions had the contents, and often the name of the supplier, stenciled on the outside.  Muskets included arsenal marks.  Rifles, which replaced muskets, were stamped with unique serial numbers.  Some soldiers labeled their haversacks with indelible ink.  Later versions often had unit information (company and regiment) stenciled on the outer flap.

As previously discussed, horses and mules represented a substantial financial investment and required more thorough tracking.  How were the army horses and mules identified and described?  The Old Army used several methods to characterize those important assets.

A Wide Color Spectrum
examples of leggings markings found on army horses.
Examples of horse and mule leg markings. Top (left-right):
stocking, sock, fetlock. Bottom (left-right): pastern, coronet, partial pastern. Illustration prepared by Sara Sander and courtesy wikimedia commons.

Army horses and mules came in a wide range of colors and color combinations.  Color, therefore, was the basic descriptor, of government livestock.  Hues included chestnut, bay, gray, flea-bitten gray, buckskin, strawberry roan, dun, and black, just to name a few.  Animals often had distinctive body markings with patterns on the face and leg markings being most prevalent.

Early in the 19th century, U.S. Army regulations stipulated that units maintain descriptive books for horses.  The 1821 regulations stated that the books should include the age, height, and color of the animals.  The registers provided a ready reference for animals lost, injured, or sold.  For example, in July 1868, Lieutenant Ephraim Tillotson desired to buy a public horse.  Department of Platte headquarters consented to sell the animal once a board of survey convened to determine the purchase price.  The three-member panel valued the light bay horse with black feet, mane and tail and “no other marks upon him” at $61.66⅔.  More often, colors and markings were used in conjunction with brands.

Hisroric photo, from the Civil War,  of a U.S, Army soldier holding an army horse. This animal has a star on its face.
Old Army horses often had unique descriptive markings. The horse shown in this frequently used photo has a star on its face. Photo from Francis Miller’s The photographic history of the Civil War (1911) and courtesy wikimedia commons.
Army Horse and Mule Brands

In addition to requiring units to maintain descriptive books of public horses, the 1821 Army Regulation also required that “horses and draft cattle, in the use of a regiment, or of individual officers, will each be branded with the letters “U. S.” on some conspicuous part.

Example of brand placement for army horses in the Department of the Platte.
Regulations detailed the size and placement of brands on army horses and mules. In 1867, for example, the Department of the Platte provided the following illustration for horse brands.  The top characters represented the regiment and branch ( cavalry or artillery). The bottom letter denoted the company or battery.

The 1895 edition of army regulations further specified that horses for cavalry and light artillery “will be branded ‘U. S.’ on the hoof of the left fore foot, other animals on the left shoulder. Cavalry and light artillery horses will also be branded under the mane with the number of regiment and letter of troop or battery [emphasis added by author].”  The War Department clarified the branding further in 1897 by issuing General Order No. 62.  The order provided detailed instructions of the size and placement of brands provided by the Quartermaster’s Department.  For example, soldiers branded the fore foot 1” below the coronet.  The fore foot marking also included the regiment and troop or battery.  Regulations called for the ” U. S.” brand to be 2 inches high.

Brands provided ready identification of government stock.  More importantly, brands identified former horses and mules deemed unworthy of federal service.  For example, an “I.C.” brand showed that an animal was inspected and condemned.  A “C” brand simply meant condemned while an “S” indicated that the animal was either sold or destined for sale.  Together, the three brands were meant to prevent unscrupulous horse contractors from reselling unserviceable livestock to the government.

Descriptions of Army Horses and Mules Direct From Old Army Records

Unfortunately, few descriptive books of army horses and mules are extant, for the eighty-year period ending in 1900.  However, Old Army Records recently found a record kept at Fort Custer from 1887 – 1896.  It includes about 1,200 animals, many with names assigned to the horses and mules.  We also found descriptive data of public animals in other, seemingly, unrelated record sets.  Here are few examples of animals described in the records.

Take, for instance, “Signal” a 15-year-old black cavalry horse stationed at Fort Custer, Montana Territory.  In addition to a blaze on the face and small patch of white on his right hind foot, Signal had an “S” branded on the right hip.  “Fox”, a 15-year old sorrel mule driven by a man named Archer at Fort Custer, had a white spot on the left side of his neck.  Descriptive data also listed scars and physical deformities.  For example, a black mule driven by a H. Brown was blind in its right eye.  A quartermaster employee or soldier sarcastically named her “Blinky”.

Scanned image of a portion of a page from "Company C, Indian Scouts, Animal Descriptive Book (1882)"  showing private brands used on army horses and mules.
Horses and mules used by Co. C, Indian Scouts in 1882 had several different brands. Does anyone recognize them?

In 1882, Company C, Indian Scouts served in Arizona.  The unit assembled an extensive herd of saddle horses and pack mules.  The small herd consisted of animals with wide-range of colors and private brands (see photo at left).  Does anyone recognize the marks?  Several of the Scouts’ animals also had distinctive marks left by collars and aparejos.

Interested in learning more about horses and any other 19th U.S. military topic?  Drop us a line to learn how you can connect with the Old Army.

Sources

Unpublished Sources (indexed by Old Army Records)
Company C, Indian Scouts, Animal Descriptive Book (1882)
Fort Custer, M.T., Animal Descriptive Book
Proceedings of Boards of Survey, Fort Phil Kearny, D.T.

Army Regulations
General Regulations for the Army (1821)
Military Laws and Rules and Regulations for the Army of the United States (1814)
Regulations for the Army of the United States (1895, appended 1899)

Old Army Records Update

Jim and I are back from our most recent Old Army records acquisition trip.  As our journey through Old Army records continues, we always encounter new information that refines our knowledge on the daily operation of the 19th century U.S. Army.  For example, in 1864 the Adjutant General issued General Order No. 75, which clarified several personnel issues, including the designation of draftees and the transfer of soldiers to the U.S. Navy.  Last week we found a document that tabulated the number of copies and distribution of general orders in the 1860s.  The Adjutant General printed and distributed over 5,900 copies of G.O. 75 to various military commands, states, installations, and generals.  This example illustrates the civilian and military manpower required to maintain the War Department.  With that being said, we are excited to announce that soon thousands of names will be indexed related to the following Old Army topics:

  • Soldiers who qualified as marksman/ sharpshooters
  • Lists and assignments of army sutlers/ post traders
  • Charges and specifications against soldiers
  • Lists of soldiers fitted for artificial limbs
  • Lists and assignments of civilian nurses
  • Rosters of noncommissioned officers serving in regular army units
  • Lists of officers detailed to teach military science at high schools and colleges
  • Individuals issued specific firearms
  • Lists of soldiers detailed to perform specific jobs
  • Lists of civilian clerks working at various staff departments
  • Prisoners at Forts Leavenworth and Pulaski
  • Individuals serving as scouts during the Civil War

Old Army soldiers performed a wide-range of daily duty. For example, this list includes the names of soldiers from the 47th New York Infantry assigned to picket duty in North Carolina.

Wide range of Old Army Subjects

What distinguishes Old Army Records apart from other databases, is our commitment to not only capture the names of soldiers, but index the events, places, material, and other subjects associated with the period.  Together, these subjects, or what we call searchable units (SUs), put soldiers into context with the Old Army.  We are therefore pleased to announce the following additions to our dataset:

  • 500+ names and descriptive data for army horses and mules
  • List of countersigns and paroles used during the Civil War
  • List of safeguards issued during the Civil War
  • Tabular data of the types of firearms lost, damaged, and rendered unserviceable by regular army units
  • The causes of desertion from the regular army
  • Lists of items received by soldiers confined to prison
  • Accounting for ammunition expended in the southwest during the 1860s
  • Lists of ordnance and ordnance stores lost by the Union Army in key Civil War battles

Army officers were responsible for all government property and could be called upon to account for expenditures. One enterprising officer maintained a ledger which included the loss and usage of ammunition. This excerpt, for example, includes ammunition used in combat and by the the butcher for Company C, 1st California Cavalry in November and December 1865.

Following the Paperwork Trail

With each document digitized, we are amazed at the breadth of records kept by the 19th century U.S. Army and that survive, yet, today.  The details contained in those documents helps fulfill our goal of presenting the rich day-to-day life of an Old Army soldier.  In the coming months, while we index the new data, we will publish articles on these topics.  So, keep checking the Records Inventory page for updates.  In the meantime, feel free to contact us with questions or your research requests.