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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.’
“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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
There is a horse for everyone. The great Traveller was considered gorgeous and difficult. But, he was greatly loved, and still is…
HORSE AND MAN is a blog in growth… if you like this, please pass it around!
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