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Heroic Horses: Tales of Equine Courage & Endurance in Wars From Waterloo to Korea

Heroic Horses

Heroic Horses tells the tale of a number of military horses and their contributions in a range of wars and conflicts across the globe, from the Napoleonic era to the Korean War.

The book recounts the stories and exploits of some famous warhorses and some far less well-known, along with those of their riders, and in so doing describes the history of those wars and campaigns. The theme is the heroic nature of the horses' service and how different breeds have made varying contributions, based upon the breed characteristics and the individual nature of the mounts concerned. The breeds of horses which feature include Thoroughbreds, Arabians, Basuto Ponies, Mustangs, Australian Walers, South African Boerpeerds, Hunters, Appaloosas, and even a Mongolian Pony, along with mentions of numerous others. The objective is to tell the war story from the horse's perspective and hence understand the campaigns from an equine perspective. This is the first book that will tell the stories of many equine heroes, rather than of a particular horse, and the first to base the history not only around the war concerned but also around the breed.

The first chapter focuses on the life of the Duke of Wellington's Thoroughbred, Copenhagen, who carried him through the Peninsula and the 100 Days of the Waterloo Campaign. The descendant of one of the most famous racehorses of all time, Eclipse, through Copenhagen, we learn of the early development of the Thoroughbred racehorse and then of the Duke of Wellington's military career, culminating at Waterloo. Finally, we enjoy Copenhagen's years of fame as an equine superstar.

Next, the book considers the Crimean War. Despite his many flaws, it took great courage for Lord Cardigan to lead his cavalry into the Russian guns at Balaclava. We hear his story from the perspective of the incredibly honest and brave Thoroughbred, Ronald, who led the Charge of the Light Brigade. We hear of Ronald's life, the Crimean War, and also the story of another Thoroughbred who charged that day, Sir Briggs, an ex-Steeplechaser owned by Lord Tredegar. Through Sir Briggs, we learn something of the early development of the sport of Steeplechasing.

Turning to the United States, we discuss the remarkable career of the Mustang, Tartar, from surviving the winter snows of the Utah campaign against the Mormons in 1857/8 and on through the entire Civil War. The stories of other equine battlers of the war are also told, including General Meade's horse, Old Baldy, who saw action in nine major battles, before we move back out West to discover how, after the Fetterman Massacre at Fort Phil Kearny, John "Portugee" Phillips rode Dandy for three days and nights through snow drifts and sub-zero temperatures to raise help from Fort Laramie. They arrived on Christmas Day, but the effort was too much for poor Dandy who collapsed dead of exhaustion on arrival. Staying in the West, we discuss possibly the most famous military Mustang of all, Comanche, the only survivor of Custer's Last Stand at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. The mount of Captain Myles Keogh, through Comanche we retell the story of both Keogh and Custer, and in so doing learn much about the Mustang breed and Indian warfare on the Great Plains. Finally, despite his many wounds, it is a story with a happy ending as Comanche enjoyed a celebrated retirement as mascot for the 7th Cavalry.

A year after the Little Bighorn, the peaceable Nez Perce tribe of Idaho were provoked into conflict and gave the U.S. Army a consummate lesson in mobile mounted warfare. Accomplished horse breeders, they had developed the spotty Appaloosa from native stock into a hard, sure-footed breed of great endurance and adaptability. Throughout 1877 on their Appaloosas, they were to out-run the U.S. Army over 1,700 miles of Idaho, Wyoming, Yellowstone and Montana for 113 days, defeating the soldiers on numerous occasions despite being outnumbered. We discover the history of this remarkable breed, and tell the story of this epic campaign of maneuver and endurance which culminated in their defeat and capture just 40 miles from the Canadian border.

Turning to the Zulu War, the book looks at the Basuto breed. With the British Central Column defeated by the Zulus at Isandlwana and the southern column besieged at Eshowe, Lord Chelmsford hoped that Colonel Wood's Northern Column might provide some much-needed success. In one of the lesser-known battles of the Zulu War, the then-Lieutenant-Colonel Redvers Buller led his men to the summit of Hlobane Plateau in the hope of capturing Zulu cattle. What he discovered was a Zulu Impi which trapped his mounted infantry and left them with the 400-foot knife-edge drop of Devil's Pass as their only escape. On his brave, sure-footed Basuto Pony, Warrior, Trooper George Mossop leapt down that pass and despite impaling himself, Warrior went on to carry Mossop the twelve miles to safety at Khambula. The chapter covers the history of this campaign and the development of the Basuto breed, along with the story of how Buller won his VC that day.

Next, we turn to the breed of endurance specialists, the Arabian Horse, and describe how it contributed to British Colonial conflicts in the later 19th Century. Vonolel was the Arabian that carried Lord Frederick Roberts 300 miles across Afghanistan to Kandahar to win a famous victory. Also there on that campaign was Lt. Col Francis Brownlow of the 72nd Highlanders, who rode his remarkable chestnut Arabian, Maidan, who had been bred in the Nejd of Saudi Arabia. A remarkable horse that was born in 1869, and had already won many races, Maidan went on to further campaigns and to win many more races before his death in England. Finally, we hear of Maharajah, the Arabian mount of the Imperial Yeoman, Captain Jack Seely. Against the Imperial Yeomanry were the Boer Commandos of Christian De Wet on their mobile, hardy Boerperds. Maharajah carried Jack throughout his tour in the equine holocaust of the 2nd Boer War, and was one of the few horses to return home.

The story of horses in World War I has become associated with the futility of the charge against trenches, machineguns and barbed wire. However, in the Middle East where mobility was key, cavalry had notable success, such as that of the Australian Light Horse at Beersheba on 31st October 1917. Trooper Sloan "Scotty" Bolton charged that day on his Waler horse, Monty, and we tell their story, as has been told in the 1987 feature film The Light Horsemen. We tell of the development of the Waler breed and their adaptability to the dessert, and also of the contribution of British cavalry, such as the magnificent charge of the Queen's Own Dorset Yeomanry at Agagia against the Senussi tribe in Egypt. In addition to describing Allenby's cavalry campaigns, we also link back to the story of the now-General Jack Seely, and hear of the equally heroic and magnificent, but sadly more costly, charge of Lord Strathcona's Horse of the Canadian Cavalry Brigade at Moreuil Wood on the Western Front. Closer to a scene out of Spielberg's Warhorse, we describe how Lieutenant Gordon Flowerdew earned his VC on 31th March 1918, and helped to stop the German advance on the Western Front.

Equine involvement in war did not cease with the Treaty of Versailles. An Italian Equestrian of Olympic standard named Amadeo Guillet was to show that in the terrain of Abyssinia, mounted troops could still be successful. In telling his story, we describe the Abyssinian Crisis of 1935, and how on Christmas Day he charged on his Arabian, Sandor, to defeat Haile Selassie's troops at Selaclaca Gorge. Subsequently during the Second World War, again astride Sandor, he charged with over 500 mounted men against British and Indian troops in armored cars and tanks at Keru, throwing grenades as they went.

Our final equine hero comes from the U.S. Marine Corps at Outpost Vegas during the Korean War. Purchased by 2nd Lt. Eric Pedersen, of the Recoilless Rifle Platoon of the Anti-tank Company of the 5th Marine Corps, Sergeant Reckless was a chestnut Mongolian pony from the racecourse at Seoul who was trained to carry 75mm ammunition. On 25 March 1953, Sgt Reckless carried those shells by himself, without being led, across paddy fields and up steep hills a distance of 1,800 yards. He made that trip 51 times, carrying wounded men back down as he went, and earning two Purple Hearts for his wounds in the process. Back in the U.S.A. at the end of the war, he was a highly decorated veteran and celebrity who in 1990 was ranked by Life Magazine as one of the top 100 U.S. heroes of all time alongside Washington and Lincoln.

The book should appeal to anyone with a general interest in military history who is after a new perspective on otherwise familiar, or in some cases, little-known history. However, the book is written in such a way that it will also be of interest to anyone with a love of horses or equestrian pursuits. With the courage of horses not limited to one nation, there are stories from across the English-speaking world, notably, U.K., U.S.A., Australia, South Africa, Canada, and New Zealand. It should also appeal to the Arabian world due to the many references to Arab horses, and there is even the story of an heroic Arabian owned by an Italian. By telling the story of conflicts with the horse as the protagonist, Heroic Horses brings alive the histories for a wider range of readers than would be the case if the viewpoint were that of the leader. In focusing on the stories of the horses rather than the riders, Heroic Horse, in non-fictional form, taps into the same spirit as Michael Murpogo's War Horse, the tale of the fictional horse Joey. These real stories of equine endeavor are equally moving, since they relate to an innate and global human affection for the horse, and enable the horrors and gallantry of war to be examined afresh from the perspective of the morally blameless servant of the soldier.

Paperback
234mm x 156mm
216 pages
8 pages of plates

Out Now on Helion & From Amazon!

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