Writing Homework One Answers - Student Four

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The Confederate Gray - AnnaM


The horse truly is a remarkable creature. He lends himself to the makers of history, over and over again, only to have his name, face and heroic deeds lost in the pages of time, over shadowed by his great rider. But the horse has contributed his energy, love, valor and nobility to mankind. His courage, strength and loyalty have made him the chosen mount for great leaders. Everyone has heard of the great General Robert E. Lee. If you’re a true student of horse history, you may even have heard of Traveller; but what is the true story behind this legendary horse? And how much is fact or fiction?

In the year 1857, a steel gray colt was born in the backwoods of West Virginia. This little gray horse was sired by a $20,000 stakes Thoroughbred named Gray Eagle, and a no account Saddle Horse mare named Flora. By rights of breeding, he was nothing special, and would have remained so, if it hadn’t been for a famous Civil War general, Robert E. Lee.

Originally owned by a Mr. Johnston in Greenbrier county, West Virginia, the steel gray colt with black points won two first place ribbons in the Lewisburg fairs. He was shown under the name of Jeff Davis, in honor of the Mississippi Senator. In 1861, the United States of America was at war with herself, and the Wise Legion’s Third Infantry Regiment of the Confederate forces was stationed near the farm of Mr. Johnston.

Major Thomas Broun of the Third Regiment was in need of a good saddle horse, and authorized his brother to choose one from the best Greenbrier stock. His brother soon discovered the four year old gelding, and Major Broun purchased him for the sum of $175 dollars (approximately $4000 dollars today), and renamed him Greenbrier. The energetic little horse was soon renowned throughout the regiment for his quick walk, bold carriage and high spirits. Major Broun remarked that the horse would, “walk his five or six miles an hour over the rough mountain roads of Western Virginia…such vim and eagerness did he manifest, to go right ahead so soon as he was mounted.”

Shortly after this purchase was made, General Robert E. Lee took control of the Wise Legion, and it was in the shadow of the Sewell Mountains in West Virginia that he first beheld the horse that was to change his life. He was quite taken with the lively young gray, affectionately calling him ‘my colt’, and commented “I will use this horse before the war is over.”

Unfortunately, soon afterwards General Lee was ordered to South Carolina. Barely six months later, the Third Regiment, and consequently young Greenbrier, was relocated to the same area. When General Lee spotted the gelding, he immediately recognized him and inquired as to the health of ‘his colt’. The General was so obviously taken with the horse that Major Broun’s brother, who had been riding him, offered the gray to Lee as a gift, which the General promptly declined, saying “If you will willingly sell me the horse, I will gladly use it for a week or so to learn its qualities.” And Greenbrier was promptly transferred to General Lee’s stables.

It is obvious that the General was smitten with the horse from the start, and after the week trial, purchased the horse for $200 in February, 1862. After purchasing his new horse, General Lee rechristened him ‘Traveller’, spelled with two ‘L’s’, because of his ability to walk at a fast pace.

Despite Robert E. Lee’s strong association with Traveller, he did not start to regularly ride him until the spring of 1862, nearly three months after he was purchased. From that point on, however, he was the General’s best used, and best loved, mount.

Traveller, being a young, rather flighty horse, was not without faults, and threw his master several times, once injuring Lee’s hands so badly that he was unable to mount him for nearly a month. Some of the pair’s most dramatic incidents occurred in the Overland Campaign of 1864, when soldiers were literally forced to grab the General’s reins to keep their commander from personally leading at least six attacks on separate occasions.

Perhaps the most remembered incident of the Confederate General and the Gray occurred on May 6th, 1864. General Ulysses S. Grant had enacted his Wilderness Campaign and was engaging Lee in combat. Lee was in the front line, when members of the Texas Brigade, concerned for their commander’s life, surrounded him, shouting “Lee to the rear!” The cry was soon taken up by the entire confederate force, and Lee moved to the rear, but continued on the battle field until midnight. Upon their return to camp, Lee dismounted and overcome with exhaustion, threw his arms around Traveller’s neck to hold himself up. And like the great, noble friend that he was, Traveller stood perfectly still until his master recovered.

The impact of Lee and Traveller on the battlefield is unmatched by perhaps any other leader and his horse in history. After the Battle of Antietam, Lee sat astride Traveller for hours watching the retreating Confederate Army cross the river Potomac. The Union General Carter wrote, “The sight of General Lee and his splendid war horse, Traveller, was a graven image in the heart of every redblooded soldier no matter under which flag he fought.”

After the Civil War ended, Lee spent his final years as president of Washington College in Lexington, Kentucky, where Traveller was allowed to graze on campus. Strands from the gray horse’s tail were soon prized as souvenirs and Lee commented to his daughter Mildred, “The boys are plucking out his tail, and he is presenting the appearance of a plucked chicken.” The pair stayed together throughout the remainder of Lee’s life, and Lee once said: “Traveller is my only companion, I may also say my pleasure. He and I, whenever practical, wander out in the mountains and enjoy sweet confidences.”

On one occasion after the war, a woman related the following story to the son of General Lee. On a July afternoon Lee was by the canal-boat landing, bidding goodbye to a friend of the family. Traveller, who had been secured to a hitching post, broke loose and began to trot quickly away down the road, in the direction of his home, increasing his speed as men tried to catch him. General Lee immediately called for the crowd to stand still and, stepping forward, gave a low, peculiar whistle. Traveller stopped and pricked his ears as the General whistled a second time. With a glad whinny, the horse turned and trotted back to Lee, who praised him before tying him up again. A bystander expressed his amazement, to which Lee responded, “I do not see how any man could ride a horse for any length of time without a perfect understanding being established between them.”

Unfortunately, in the fall of 1870 General Lee fell ill and passed away. Traveller was present at the great General’s funeral, walking pole position, a place of honor. No one thought it should have been any different for the great horse. Barely eight months later, after having trodden on a rusty nail, the gelding contracted tetanus and was euthanized at the age of fourteen. He was buried near Lee Chapel, in Lexington Kentucky, where he remains today.

Before Lee died, he dictated a letter to his daughter, Agnes, for an artist who wished to paint a portrait of Traveller. No words could better express Lee’s love than what he said: “If I were an artist like you I would draw a true picture of Traveller – representing his fine proportions, muscular figure, deep chest and short back, delicate ears, quick eye, and black mane and tail. Such a picture would inspire a poet, whose genius could then depict his worth and describe his endurance of toil, hunger, thirst and the dangers and sufferings through which he passed. He might even imagine his thoughts, through the long night marches and days of battle through which he has passed. But I am no artist; I can only say that he is a Confederate gray.”

The courage and loyalty exhibited by the horses of great leaders is only matched by their rider’s devotion to them. Some might say that it is something in the horse’s stature, something in his face or regal mane, but the horse of a commander, the horse that makes history, above all possesses an uncommon boldness of heart. History will remember some as tyrants and some as saviors, but one can always be assured that the horse of a mighty leader will forever be revered in the hearts of men.

Traveller, the no account Saddle Horse from West Virginia, rose from humble beginnings to carry General Robert E. Lee safely through innumerable battles. General Lee’s utter devotion for his gray gelding is so honest, it would seem that horse and man were predestined for one another. And it can be said that Traveller united a broken country with awe of him and his rider from the North to the South. Truly, it is these great horses chosen by great men that will grace the pages of history forevermore.

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