On Memorial Day, Let’s honor a War Horse Veteran: Traveller. A difficult horse but Robert E. Lee loved him and made him famous.






On this Memorial Day, I wanted to speak about a loved war horse.

ORIGINALLY POSTED AUGUST 4 2011

The reason I chose Traveller is because I know nothing about Southern history and because it seems that Robert E. Lee was in the minority in his love for this particular horse…  Traveller wasn’t your garden variety, easy to love, easy to ride horse.  He was a bit of a pain.  <smiling>

It gives me pleasure to write about a horse that most would dump but that one cherished – and from that, they built a very strong, unbreakable bond.

General Lee and Traveller

TRAVELLER

From all accounts, Traveller was difficult, high strung, a bit unruly, pranced or jigged wherever he went and was generally on Defcon 1 most of the time.

But, he was also striking and regal.  He wasn’t too tall, conformed well, of good flesh and was a flashy dappled grey horse with a black mane and tail.

Here is how Traveller was described before he was sold to General Lee:

Greenbrier (his name then)… was greatly admired in camp for his rapid, springy walk, his high spirit, bold carriage, and muscular strength. He needed neither whip nor spur, and would walk his five or six miles an hour over the rough mountain roads of Western Virginia with his rider sitting firmly in the saddle and holding him in check by a tight rein, such vim and eagerness did he manifest to go right ahead so soon as he was mounted.

Obviously an artist’s rendition, but fun to see them in color!  Traveller looks asleep… I like to check out the gear!

There are other accounts that don’t hold Greenbrier in such acclaim… Oh sure, he was pretty and spirited, but not that many wanted to ride him, if you know what I mean…

The first time General Lee saw Greenbrier, owned by Joseph Broun, he called the mount, “My Colt”.

Hmmmmm.

I guess you don’t mess with a General when he wants your horse…

Actually, that wasn’t exactly how it happened.  The owner of young Jeff Davis (Traveller’s born name in honor of the Confederate president) was honored to have General Lee take an interest in his colt.

Rare photo of the pair

Luckily, I found a first hand account of that encounter and the subsequent sales transaction.

Here you go:

“In view of the fact that great interest is felt in the monument about to be erected to General Lee, and that many are desirous that his war-horse should be represented in the monument, and as I once owned this horse, I herewith give you some items respecting this now famous war-horse, Traveller.?       

“He was raised by Mr. Johnston, near the Blue Sulphur Springs, in Greenbrier county, Virginia (now West Virginia); was of the ‘ Gray Eagle’ stock, and, as a colt, took the first premium under the name of ‘Jeff Davis’ at the Lewisburg fairs for each of the years 1859 and 1860. He was four years old in the spring of 1861. When the Wise legion was encamped on Sewell mountain, opposing the advance of the Federal Army under Rosecranz, in the fall of 1861, I was major to the Third regiment of infantry in that legion, and my brother, Captain Joseph M. Broun, was quartermaster to the same regiment.?       

“I authorized my brother to purchase a good serviceable horse of the best Greenbrier stock for our use during the war.?       

“After much inquiry and search he came across the horse above mentioned, and I purchased him for $175 (gold value), in the fall of 1861, from Captain James W. Johnston, son of the Mr. Johnston first above mentioned. When the Wise legion was encamped about Meadow Bluff and Big Sewell mountains, I rode this horse, which was then greatly admired in camp for his rapid, springy walk, his high spirit, bold carriage, and muscular strength.           

“When General Lee took command of the Wise legion and Floyd brigade that were encamped at and near Big Sewell mountains, in the fall of 1861, he first saw this horse, and took a great fancy to it. He called it his colt, and said that he would use it before the war was over. Whenever the General saw my brother on this horse he had something pleasant to say to him about ‘my colt,’ as he designated this horse. As the winter approached, the climate in the West Virginia mountains caused Rosecranz’s army to abandon its position on Big Sewell and retreat westward. General Lee was thereupon ordered to South Carolina. The Third regiment of the Wise legion was subsequently detached from the army in Western Virginia and ordered to the South Carolina coast, where it was known as the Sixtieth Virginia regiment, under Colonel Starke. Upon seeing my brother on this horse near Pocotalipo, in South Carolina, General Lee at once recognized the horse, and again inquired of him pleasantly about ‘his colt.’   

 

This is where it happened!

 

“My brother then offered him the horse as a gift, which the General promptly declined, and at the same time remarked: ‘If you will willingly sell me the horse, I will gladly use it for a week or so to learn its qualities.’ Thereupon my brother had the horse sent to General Lee’s stable. In about a week the horse was returned to my brother, with a note from General Lee stating that the animal suited him, but that he could not longer use so valuable a horse in such times, unless it was his own; that if he (my brother) would not sell, please to keep the horse, with many thanks. This was in February, 1862. At that time I was in Virginia, on the sick list from a long and severe attack of camp fever, contracted in the campaign on Big Sewell mountains. My brother wrote me of General Lee’s desire to have the horse, and asked me what he should do. I replied at once: ‘If he will not accept it, then sell it to him at what it cost me.’ He then sold the horse to General Lee for $200 in currency, the sum of $25 having been added by General Lee to the price I paid for the horse in September, 1861, to make up the depreciation in our currency from September, 1861, to February, 1862.?       

“In 1868 General Lee wrote to my brother, stating that this horse had survived the war–was known as ‘Traveller’ (spelling the word with a double l in good English style), and asking for its pedigree, which was obtained, as above mentioned, and sent by my brother to General Lee.”  

TRAVELLER IN BATTLE

Evidently, this horse may have been spooky and hot, but he was brave.  It is stated that Traveller went into battle more than any other Civil War horse.

In fact, several accounts stated that General Lee’s men had to often grab Traveller and push him to the back of the pack because General Lee could not be on the front lines – even though the horse wanted to be there.

Cool.

A recount:

Some of the most dramatic incidents involving Lee and Traveller occurred during the Overland campaign in 1864, when soldiers literally grabbed the horse’s reins to prevent their commander from personally leading attacks on six occasions between May 6 and May 12.

The most notable incident occurred in the Wilderness on May 6, when soldiers of the Texas Brigade surrounded Traveller and shouted, ‘Lee to the rear!’ That day Traveller carried Lee until well after midnight, and when they finally returned to camp, Lee dismounted, and overcome with exhaustion, he threw his arms around Traveller’s neck to hold himself up.

Joseph Broun’s brother, Thomas L. Broun, praised Traveller for needing ‘neither whip nor spur, and would walk his five or six miles an hour over the rough mountain road of Western Virginia…such vim and eagerness did he manifest to go right ahead so soon as he was mounted.’  It was often reported that Lee rode Traveller over 40 miles a day.  In fact, Lee re-named Jeff Davis “Traveller” because of his ability to walk quickly.

Monument to General Lee and Traveller

A BIT DIFFICULT, HOWEVER

As much as Lee loved his horse, Traveller was known to be a bit difficult.  He jigged everywhere he went.  He had to be in the front of the line.  He reared.  He spooked.  He was fussy.

There was the time that Traveller reared and broke both of Lee’s hands… and there was the time that Lee has his son, Robert Jr, ride Traveller.   This was supposed to be an honor but here is the tale described by Junior:

The general (his father) had the strongest affection for Traveller, which he showed on all occasions, and his allowing me to ride him on this long march was a great compliment. Possibly he wanted to give me a good hammering before he turned me over to the cavalry. During my soldier life, so far, I had been on foot, having backed nothing more lively than a tired artillery horse; so I mounted with some misgivings, though I was very proud of my steed. My misgivings were fully realized, for Traveller would not walk a step. He took a short, high trot — a buck-trot, as compared with a buck-jump — and kept it up to Fredericksburg, some thirty miles. Though young, strong, and tough, I was glad when the journey ended. This was my first introduction to the cavalry service. I think I am safe in saying that I could have walked the distance with much less discomfort and fatigue. My father having thus given me a horse and presented me with one of his swords, also supplied my purse so that I could get myself an outfit suitable to my new position, and he sent me on to join my command, stationed not far away on the Rappahannock, southward from Fredericksburg.

THE LOVE AFFAIR

It seems the love and respect for each other was mutual.

Here is how Traveller felt about General Lee:

One afternoon in July of this year, the General rode down to the canal-boat landing to put on board a young lady who had been visiting his daughters and was returning home. He dismounted, tied Traveller to a post, and was standing on the boat making his adieux, when someone called out that Traveller was loose. Sure enough, the gallant grey was making his way up the road, increasing his speed as a number of boys and men tried to stop him. General Lee immediately stepped ashore, called to the crowd to stand still, and advancing a few steps gave a peculiar low whistle. At the first sound, Traveller stopped and pricked up his ears. The General whistled a second time, and the horse with a glad whinny turned and trotted quietly back to his master, who patted and coaxed him before tying him up again. To a bystander expressing surprise at the creature’s docility the General observed that he did not see how any man could ride a horse for any length of time without a perfect understanding being established between them.

 

Such a sweet expression on that horse.  Nice.

Here is how General Lee felt about Traveller… this excerpt is from a letter to his daughter when she had commissioned an artist to paint Traveller:

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, strong haunches, flat legs, small head, broad forehead, delicate ears, quick eye, small feet, 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, heat, and cold, and the dangers and sufferings through which he passed. He could dilate upon his sagacity and affection and his invariable response to every wish of his rider. 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 he is a Confederate grey. I purchased him in the mountains of Virginia in the autumn of 1861, and he has been my patient follower ever since — to Georgia, the Carolinas, and back to Virginia. He carried me through the Seven Days battle around Richmond, the Second Manassas, at Sharpsburg, Fredericksburg, the last day at Chancellorsville, to Pennsylvania, at Gettysburg, and back to the Rappahannock. From the commencement of the campaign in 1864 at Orange, till its close around Petersburg, the saddle was scarcely off his back, as he passed through the fire of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, and across the James River. He was almost in daily requisition in the winter of 1864-65 on the long line of defenses from Chickahominy, north of Richmond, to Hatcher’s Run, south of the Appomattox. In the campaign of 1865, he bore me from Petersburg to the final days at Appomattox Court House. You must know the comfort he is to me in my present retirement….Of all his companions in toil, ‘Richmond,’ ‘Brown Roan,’ ‘Ajax,’ and quiet ‘Lucy Long,’ he is the only one that retained his vigor. The first two expired under their onerous burden, the last two failed. You can, I am sure, from what I have said, paint his portrait. R.E. Lee

 

An artist’s depiction

RETIREMENT AND DEATH

Lee spent his final years as president of Washington College in Lexington, Va., where Traveller was allowed to graze the campus. He lost numerous hairs from his mane and tail as admirers plucked them for souvenirs.   Ha!  I read a letter from General Lee to his daughter where he stated that Traveller is going BALD from all the students grabbing hair samples!

Lee became ill in September 1870, and on October 12 he died at his home in Lexington.

Traveller walked behind the hearse at Lee’s funeral and continued to be well cared for up until his death in June 1871. After stepping on a nail and contracting tetanus, commonly known as lockjaw, Traveller was euthanized.

Traveller was initially buried behind the main buildings of the college, but was unearthed by persons unknown and his bones were bleached for exhibition in Rochester, New York, in 1875/1876.

In 1907, Richmond journalist Joseph Bryan paid to have the bones mounted and returned to the college, named Washington and Lee University since Lee’s death, and they were displayed in the Brooks Museum, in what is now Robinson Hall.

The skeleton was periodically vandalized there by students who carved their initials in it for good luck. In 1929, the bones were moved to the museum in the basement of the Lee Chapel, where they stood for 30 years, deteriorating with exposure. (So sad…)
Finally in 1971, Traveller’s remains were buried in a wooden box encased in concrete next to the Lee Chapel on the Washington & Lee campus, a few feet away from the Lee family crypt inside, where his master’s body rests.

It is tradition for the students to put overturned pennies and offerings on Traveller’s grave.

I love this part…  The stable where he lived his last days (directly connected to the Lee House on campus) traditionally stands with its doors left open; this is said to allow Traveller’s spirit to wander freely as he did when he was alive.

However, the 24th President of Washington & Lee (and thus a recent resident of Lee House), Dr. Thomas Burish, caught strong criticism from many members of the Washington & Lee community for closing the stable gates in violation of this tradition. Burish later had the doors to the gates repainted in a dark green color, which he referred to in campus newspapers as “Traveller Green.”

I guess he was trying to redeem himself… but I like it.

Nice that he is finally buried next to his beloved human companion

WAS TRAVELLER A WALKING HORSE?

Many people think Traveller was a Tennessee Walking Horse.  I’ve heard he was what became a Kentucky Saddler which then became the Saddlebred.

Maybe…  But for sure, his sire wasn’t.  Traveller’s sire was Grey Eagle, a great Thoroughbred race horse who was also grey.

FINAL THOUGHTS

There is a horse for everyone. The great Traveller was considered gorgeous and difficult.  But, he was greatly loved, and still is…

 

Some say that they were much alike…

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36 comments have been posted...

  1. Laurie Roy

    Beautiful,excellent,touching article.I learned a lot.Thank you!

  2. Terri V

    I, too thought that Traveller had the characteristics of a hot blooded Arabian type gaited breed, which was the ancestor of the paso fino. Christopher Columbus brought some of them on his voyage to the new world. Having been a showman and breeder of Paso Finos, this horse’s personality reminded me of my very own favorite horse. Though some would have thought him jiggy, I understood his high spiritedness and hot blood… it was part of his nature. He took care of me in the show ring, riding trails, parading, playtime and finally as my trusted steed for my students. Short backed and strong, he reminded me very much of my own sweet boy.

  3. Thomas j Owens adopted birth name Jeff jefferson

    My grandmother was a direct descendant of the lee name and I damn proud of it Jeff Jefferson. That statue was paid for in blood

  4. Cheryl Knobloch, DVM

    Was Traveler a gelding? Gen. Lee called him “his colt” but was he? Can’t imagine trying to handle a stallion all that time and constantly moving so many miles.

  5. Abe carson

    My two cents.. Those who say Traveller was not a walking horse are correct, the breed specific was,not established then..but his breeding suggests foundation stock, the walkers came from Kentucky saddle horses and saddlebred, somewhere they picked up the gene C RT 3 which all broken gaited. horses have but trotting horses do not. Also that terrible ride described in the article, could have been avoided with some collection and speed control, sounds like a hard pace or a rack which do jar your brains out ! Great story, loved it !

  6. Connie Losee

    Thank you for such a great horse article. As an avid horse lover and owner, I appreciate such storiss as this that demonstrate what incredible souls these amazing creatures are. Thank you

  7. Shirley VerH

    Wonderful to read such a great feeling article about Gen Lee and Traveller. They were true heroes. Here in Texas (Austin) they are taking the statues of the heroic fighters of the civil war off some college campus because they were confederates. And this is at the COLLEGE level You’d think the folks could see the History involved and not be so petty. I just do not understand. Look forward to reading the book.

  8. Sandy Ray

    I so enjoyed this article about my favorite General and his beautiful mount . I have many prints of Lee and Traveller , that I purchased on campus at Lees Chapel .

  9. Pegram Johnson III

    Adams [author of “Watership Down”] wrote a wonderful novel which he called simply “Traveller” as if the horse was telling the story of their experiences. I get teary every time I read the ending, particularly Lee’s death through his horse’s eyes which he simply cannot understand.
    I wrote about this for a column I did for the National Sporting Library a few years ago.
    .

  10. dawndi Post author

    When I write from my own voice, I use my own references. ‘Defcon 11’ was a reference to the famous line in the movie, Spinal Tap.
    However, I am happy to change this for you.

  11. Suzi C

    I wish I could PM the author and editor. This is a nice article that will inspire more. But there’s one small thing that clangs like an out of tune chime.

    A historical article should be accurate, yes? Being an article about a war hero would make accurate military references important, too, yes?

    Then, it should be noted that the DEFCON 11 comment is really inaccurate. Being raised with brothers who made it a point that I know these things, this attempt at hyperbole stuck out like a sore thumb to me.

    First, DEFCON 1 is the most severe level. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/DEFCON
    We want to think the higher the number the more severe.

    Second, DEFCON scale only goes to 5, which is the least severe.

    If the author and editor wish to be accurate, if they hope to be quoted in the future by a student writing a history paper, this it’d bit should change. Further, it’s never a bad idea to do a little more research for the article.

  12. Ping Shar-Lin

    My understanding was that both “Ajax and “Lucy Long” both, along with “Taveller”, survived the war and, rather than “failed”, died quite some time later. (“Lucy Long” of extreme old age; and the too–tall–for–short–legged–Lee, “Ajax”, like “Traveller”, of an unfortunate accident.

  13. dawndi Post author

    Hi: I am only the blogger and I wrote this piece long ago. I so know that I took all those photos off of the internet. You can
    easily Google the photos you want and potentially find a page that sells them.

  14. carol husfeld

    Do you have copies of the pictures with robert e lee and traveller that are for sale and if not, could you recommend a website?

  15. Mar Bennett

    I grew up at the foot of Big Sewell Mountain. The mountain where General Lee camped and bought Traveler has been called Lee’s Tree since he was there. The drive off the mountain is beautiful. There was a restaurant across the road during my youth that afforded a beautiful view of the mountains. We from that area are honored to know that General Lee was there and bought his horse there. West Virginia did not secede from the Union. President Lincoln made a proclamation making it a state. Can you imagine the heartache our families and ancestors felt being separated from their beloved Virginia? I am happy that I came across this blog.

  16. Wayne Sims

    The picture of the General leaning on a tree and Traveller looking on is marvelous. Can anyone give me info about the picture, who took it, where it was, etc.,etc. Its the one with the caption: “Such a sweet expression on that horse. Nice.”

  17. Nancy Yost

    I read a book years ago by an author from England who wrote the story of Traveler from the “horse’s mouth” and with a Southern accent. Does anyone know that author?

  18. Edward Mayer

    Thank you for a wonderful article. My first and greatest horse was a Grey TB Ghostbuster born in Argentina and was very high strung, athletic, and a fabulous Fox Hunter who took care of me for many years in Middleburg area hunts. He shared many personality traits with Traveller. He became family and lived to be 31.

  19. May Scott Sutelan

    Thanks for the article. We’ve always loved traveller, even have a steel engraving of Lee on Traveller in our dining room!

  20. Mark Hunter

    Thank you so much for your article. A couple of comments. Traveller looks to me like he has Arabian blood. His spirit and his face belie the intelligence and good grace of the breed. The rock carving pictured in the article is Stone Mountain in Georgia. It is said that the carving is so large that a bus could be parked on Traveller’s rump! In the laser light shows, the figures do come alive and gallop around the mountain.

  21. cathy

    It would make sense that Traveller had some thoroughbred/Arabian blood in him. The jigging, stamina, small hooves and ears all point to a hot blood

  22. Charlton Griffin

    “When General Lee took command of the Wise legion and Floyd brigade that were encamped at and near Big Sewell mountains, in the fall of 1861…”

    Actually, what happened here is that President Davis sent Lee as an observer to that area in 1861, not as commander. Lee made suggestions, but because he was not the actual field commander, those suggestions were not binding as orders. Lee only took a field command in 1862 when General Johnston was wounded in the opening days of the Seven Days campaign. Had Lee been made field commander in 1861 and placed in command over the Wise and Floyd troops, I have no doubt he would have been able to disrupt the Union’s flow of material and communications between the east coast and Great Lakes basin. That would have been fatal to the Union strategy. As it turned out, the failure of the West Virginia campaign meant that the war would be fought out in Southern territory (for the most part).

  23. Michael A. Padgett, son of Alabama

    God bless General Lee and his eternal friend Traveller. Thank you!

  24. Ray Rappold

    Proud graduate of Gauley Bridge High School (now closed) in Fayette County, WV. We were the Gauley Bridge ‘Travellers’ and everyone there knew the story of this fine animal.

  25. Goyathlay

    Thank you for this article. It seems that in contrary to popular belief General Robert E Lee did indeed consult Jeff Davis before the Farewell Address. Traveller’s name at birth was Jeff Davis, and the only thing Gen. Lee had to do was to consult his horse.

  26. Jan Landman

    What a wonderful story. I could relate to it very keenly because I own a difficult horse myself and in a strange way it makes him all the more endearing. Thanks for sharing this.

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  28. Pat Dye

    Mary Ann,

    You are thinking of “Traveller” by Richard Adams.

    Pat

  29. RiderWriter

    Mary Ann, the book is called “Traveller: A Novel” and was written in 1988 by Richard Adams (author of “Watership Down”). I just read it last year and thoroughly enjoyed it, though the narrative style can be a bit difficult to follow. Dawn, you ought to check it out! :-)

  30. Mary Ann Martineau

    Does anyone know the name and author of the Novel written about Traveler? Read it YEARS ago and can only remember I loved the story a fictional story told from Travelers point of view….

  31. Kitty Bo

    As someone who grew up in the south and in Dallas, TX, where Lee Park has the big statue you have included in your piece, I grew up in the shadow of Lee and Traveler. We regularly drove by Lee Park. Gotta love that big horse, and Lee, forever the gentleman, bought the horse, did not just take it. What a special bond they had.Thanks for sharing this great story.

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