Thursday, February 28, 2013

Animal Sacrifice: The Other Casualties In Our Un-Civil War

The “Coaling,” a fiercely contested hill in the Civil War Battle of Port Republic just south of us, was the bloody scene of numerous engagements where Confederate and Union troops battled for control on June 9, 1862. A historical marker near the little Grace Memorial Episcopal Church that stands there today describes some of that battle’s terrible toll, not only in human casualties, but in the losses of horses and mules deemed vital to the war effort.

Confederate Brigadier General John D. Imboden describes an incident in the Port Republic battle in which he took his men, along with his mules carrying the guns and ammunition into a shallow ravine about 100 yards behind Captain William Poague's Virginia battery, with Union artillery screaming overhead:

"The mules became frantic. They kicked, plunged and squealed. It was impossible to quiet them, and it took three or four men to hold one mule from breaking away. Each mule had about three hundred pounds weight on him, so securely fastened that the load could not be dislodged by any of his capers. Several of them lay down and tried to wallow their loads off. The men held these down and that suggested the idea of throwing them all to the ground and holding them there."

Historian Gary Ecelberger, in a special edition of the Blue and Gray magazine, XXVIII #2  2011, describes the terrible fate of Union horses in the conflict at the Coaling:

“The Louisianans swiftly gunned down artillery horses by the score. Those that were not killed by bullets were bloodied by Bowie knives drawn across their throats. By the time they abandoned their positions, no fewer than 50 horses were slaughtered to keep the guns in place.”

According to historian Deborah Grace, in an article on “The Horse in the Civil War,” the total number of horses and mules killed in the entire bloody conflict from 1861-1865 may be over a million, as compared to recently revised human casualties being estimated at 750,000. At the Battle of Gettysburg, for example, the number Union horses and mules killed was 881, and the Confederacy lost 619. Some estimates are even higher.  Other sources have more conservative numbers.

I’m dismayed at how we tend to glorify a war that in my mind was one of the most barbaric and insane of all the bloody conflicts throughout all of history. The cost in human and animal lives lost and property destroyed is truly horrendous.

Anyone with a heart for human beings--as well as for animals--should weep.

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