This story originally posted on July of 2011. I thought it was a nice warrior memory for Memorial Day!
Stonewall Jackson’s horse, LITTLE SORREL.
So I got myself thinking about military horses again…
As I was looking through my files —
I find that phrase interesting nowadays… “looking through my files” no longer means strolling your fingers through hundreds of exactly the same sized manilla folders, suspended in some type of pendaflex gadget, inside a square drawer —
Anyway, as I was looking through my computer files, I found a few tidbits on Stonewall Jackson’s horse, LITTLE SORREL, that I had collected previously.
Hmmmm. That’s the topic for today! The dynamic Morgan, Little Sorrel!
LITTLE SORREL WAS PROBABLY A MORGAN
As the story goes, in 1861 Stonewall Jackson needed a horse in Harper’s Ferry just about the time that a cargo train was seized there that happened to be carrying a load of domestic horses. Fancy that…
The horses were offloaded and led to water where they were observed.
Now, just about everyone said that Thomas Jackson was not the best horseman. So, it stands to reason that he would pick the unruly, fussy, huge and beautiful black STALLION for himself to ride and the sweet little sorrel Morgan gelding for his wife.
After about a day, he ditched the stallion and kept the sorrel for himself.
Anyway, the rest, as they say, is history.
LEGEND HAS IT
Legend has it that this little sorrel Morgan was about 15 hands of solid confidence. They say that horse rode into more battles than any other war horse.
And, since Jackson rarely stopped long enough to rest, many soldiers claimed that he slept atop Little Sorrel while he led himself back to camp.
Luckily, Little Sorrel had beautiful gaits and was of the attitude to take care of his rider. (I love Morgans.) And, he had the stamina to boot! Records show that not only did the gelding charge into untold numbers of battle, he often covered over 40 miles in a day. Troops said they never, ever saw fatigue in that horse. Wow!
Not only was he brave, but he was full of personality… Troopers reported that Little Sorrel would lay down on the picket line and receive apples fed to him by the men.
After surviving the war, the gelding was described as a rascal with a mouth that could undo latches, let down bars and liberate every horse in the barn. And like his earlier master, he would lead his command into new fields of opportunity, removing fence rails whenever he wanted.
Jackson was of the opinion that his faith dictated when he would die. Since he believed his death was ordained to happen exactly as God had planned, he never worried about going into battle. When it was his time to meet his maker, he would die then – and not before.
This bravado spread amongst his men which is why they were known as kinda crazy and daredevily. The name “Stonewall” came about because Jackson stonewalled his fears.
That battle chutzpah went for Jackson’s non-churcghoing horse, too. So, I guess Little Sorrel believed what he was told and went wherever his owner asked him to go. A perfect match.
And actually, Little Sorrel was safe. It was Jackson who was shot off of his back by his own men, on accident…
THE HORSE LIVES ON
After Jackson died, Little Sorrel was cared for by Mrs. Jackson until she could no longer afford him. At that time, he was donated to Virginia Military Institute, where the cadets looked after their ex-instructor’s mount until he relocated once again to the Confederate veterans’ home in Richmond.
He toured as an attraction at country fairs and attended many reunions for Civil War veterans. It has also been written that Southern ladies would sometimes clip hairs from his mane and tail to make wristlets and rings. So, an armed guard was posted next to Little Sorrel to maintain the safety of his locks.
At the tender age of 33, Little Sorrel was a bona fide celebrity sideshow. In 1884, he was photographed with an 85-year-old Confederate soldier named Napoleon Hull, who was said to have been the oldest surviving veteran of Jackson’s army.
By all accounts, the men loved this horse and spoiled him beyond what was normal for those days.
Interestingly, it appears that as Little Sorrel advanced in age, he couldn’t stand. Now how they kept him alive, I do not know. But, it is known that the soldiers fabricated a sling to support the gelding when he had visitors.
It was this sling that broke which sent Little Sorrel tumbling to the ground where he broke his neck.
Reports indicate there was a round the clock vigil in Little Sorrel’s stall until he took his last breath in 1886.
LIFE AFTER DEATH
Complete with mounted cavalry and infantry, a fife and drum corps, a bagpiper, and ladies in period dress, Little Sorrel’s bones were escorted to his grave in a special 18-inch-tall walnut casket created for the event.
As Jackson would have wanted, the invocation, blessing and benediction were offered by the Rev. William Klein, pastor of Lexington Presbyterian Church, where Jackson and his wife, Mary Anna Morrison, had worshipped. Other prominent speakers included Dr. James I. Robertson, author of the recently published definitive biography of Little Sorrel’s master, and Col. Keith Gibson, director of the school’s museum.
Little Sorrel’s skeleton was eventually reassembled by Webster, donated to the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh, in 1903, until being returned to Virginia Military Institute on the morning of August 9th, 1949.
On July 20, 1997, 111 years later, Little Sorrel’s bones were cremated and ceremoniously buried in a grave in front of Stonewall Jackson’s statue. Dirt had been gathered from every battlefield where master and mount had fought, and spectators were allowed to throw a handful of it into the faithful horse’s grave, which was surrounded by wreaths of apples and carrots.
The reburial and ceremony were due to the efforts of the Virginia Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy and echoed the pageantry of days gone by.
After the passing of Little Sorrel in 1886, CSA veterans had his hide mounted and preserved, where it remains on display in the VMI Museum. He is one of only two horses ever to be preserved from the Civil War. The other is Sheridan’s Winchester.
The taxidermist, Fredrick Weber, the leader in his field, was asked to mount the hide of the famous horse. Weber took measurements from life and used a new process he had developed— Plaster of Paris — instead of sawdust and wood sizing to create the body of the horse. Plaster of Paris made the hide much more stable to changes in humidity and less attractive to insects. The contours of muscle and tendons could be more faithfully reproduced by the new technique, giving a much more life-like appearance.
So Little Sorrel is not ‘stuffed’ – the hide is stretched over the plaster model of the horse. When the gelding died at the Old Soldier’s Home in Richmond in 1886, the hide was surgically removed and tanned. Then, his prepared skin was draped over the waiting Plaster of Paris
form of little Sorrel.
His mounted hide remained on exhibit at the Home until it was disband in 1948 at which time Little Sorrel came back to VMI.
I found a few artists’ depictions of Little Sorrel.
This first painting is by John Paul Strain who is a famous Civil War painter.
The next is a famous painting by Mort Kunstler.
I also found this bronze but could not figure out the sculptor. If you know, please let me know!
And, of course, Breyer depicted Little Sorrel. He kinda looks like a saddlebred but I guess he was glamorized in the eyes of Breyer modelmakers!
LAKE LITTLE SORREL
Last but not least, I found this beautiful lake named after Little Sorrel. It is at the Stonewall Jackson Resort Spa. Nice.
So, even though Little Sorrel was thrust into many battles and ridden for untold miles by his new owner – time and time again – he seemed to enjoy it. And, I guess it was better than riding along in a railroad car with destination unknown.
In the end, he was famous, well cared for, depicted in artwork, a Breyer model was made in his visage and a vacation destination lake named after him.
Not bad for a less than attractive, little, sorrel Morgan gelding… <smile>
JEWELRY WITH A PURPOSE – For the horses!
EVERY SALE HELPS THE BUCKET FUND! MANY NEW PIECES!
Click here for webpage, click here for Facebook!
FESTIVAL FALL COLORS HAPPY DANCE NECKLACE/BRACELET $32
Very festive Czech glass discs with complimentary Czech glass beads with silver embossed rings and handmade sterling heart at raw agate closure. 24″
SOLD! THANK YOU, LISA!