From the American Saddlebred Magazine
Perhaps the most famous and beloved horse was Traveller, the mount of Confederate General Robert E. Lee during the Civil War. Traveller was also his most visible companion after the war, when General Lee served as president of Washington College, today Washington and Lee University, in Lexington, Virginia.
What kind of horse was he?
Grey Eagle, pride of Kentucky
As a four-mile race horse, Grey Eagle was the pride of Kentucky and most famous for running in a $20,000 stakes race at the Oakland Race Course in Louisville in 1839, He was defeated by Wagner, and broke down in a subsequent challenge a week later. Grey Eagle was described as having a "lofty carriage, a magnificent gray. Sixteen hands high with the step of a gazelle."
Racing stallions, ambling mares
Hamilton Busbey wrote in his 1907 book Recollections of Men and Horses, that General Nelson A. Miles, a Civil War hero, contemporary of Custer under Sheridan, and later a noted Indian fighter told him that the best horses used by both armies in the Civil War "were gathered from such riding states as Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, and Virginia. General George A. Custer was partial to the type of Saddle Horse found in Kentucky."
General Basil Duke, second in command to General John Hunt Morgan, was the first to describe the breed as "Saddle-bred." He wrote, "If I be correct in my estimate of the Thoroughbred, then it must be conceded that the nearer he approximates him, the better another horse (the Saddlebred) will be. But the Kentucky Saddlebred horse has not only inherited in a large measure the excellence of the Thoroughbred in respects to which I have called attention, but has also retained certain desirable characteristics which have more peculiarly distinguished the humbler (non-Thoroughbred) strain from which he is descended." The desirable characteristics to which Duke alluded were "the peculiar gaits which make their descendants so valuable for the saddle."
Frederick Volck took actual
Bred by sheriff
Common sense dictates that Johnson purchased Flora, a grade mare, in foal to Grey Eagle, at Maysville, Kentucky, and shipped her home via steamboat. It simply doesn't make sense that a mare not a pedigreed Thoroughbred would be sent that distance, when there were surely other stallions standing in the area.
However, the Kanawha River is navigable to within about 30 miles of Blue Sulphur. The Kanawha joins the Ohio River at Point Pleasant and from there, it is a relatively short distance downstream to Maysville. Kentucky was famous for its Saddle Horses and what better way for a Virginia breeder to acquire a good one than go to the source?
Foaled in the spring of 1857, the gray colt was named for the prominent Mississippi Senator Jeff Davis. The handling and training of the young horse was done by Jim Johnson. Jeff Davis was taken to the horse show at the Greenbriar County Fair in Lewisburg as a two-year-old, and again at age three in 1860. Jeff Davis won the blue ribbon both times.
At the outbreak of the Civil War, Johnson and the Broun brothers joined Wise's Legion, commanded by former Virginia Governor Henry Wise. Wise's Legion and a brigade under John B. Floyd, who had been US Secretary of War under President Buchanan, set out to clear Federal troops from western Virginia. When they had little success, General Robert E. Lee, then commander of Virginia State troops, was sent to the area not to command, but to advise.
Lee meets Traveller
is Robert E. Lee as those who
After he awakened and was conversing with the Johnsons, including Captain James "Dick" Johnson, who was home visiting, General Lee saw the gray gelding grazing in a clover field near the house. He immediately offered to buy "the Kentucky thoroughbred," as Mrs. Feamster called him. Captain Johnson, who was in the infantry and not in need of a mount, told the General he had tentatively sold to Captain Broun for his brother Major Broun.
Generals Wise and Floyd did not cooperate, and that fall the military effort to keep West Virginia in the Confederacy failed. General Lee was promoted to personal advisor to President Jerrerson Davis, and was reassigned to oversee the coastal defenses around Charleston, South Carolina.
Lee calls him "my colt"
After several weeks, Greenbriar was returned to Captain Broun with a letter from General Lee which said the horse suited, but he could "no longer use so valuable a horse in such time, unless it were his own." It was February 1862.
An allowance for inflation
New name: Traveller
Ajax was another of Robert E. Lee's mounts. He was a big chestnut gelding who also survived the war. He was accidentally killed in the late 1860's when he ran into a gate latch.
An indelible image
Veterans remember Lee sitting on Traveller for hours, watching his troops in retreat across the Potomac River after the Battle of Antietam. His staff recalled that at Fredericksburg, a hen nested in Lee's tent and laid an egg there nearly everyday. She roosted on Traveller's back and he never seemed to object.
The handsome 16-hand gray gelding was said to have a fiery spirit and would raise his head and arch his neck, yet Lee could maintain complete control. This can't be seen in any of the photos of Lee and Traveller, but there is an eye witness sketch made by the respected artist Alfred Wauld at Appomattox Court House at the war's end. Wauld's sketch indicates a sharp horse wearing himself proudly. Traveller was said to have a high, bouncy trot, a fast walk and long, loping canter, and General Lee was one of the few who could "make him saddle."
After Pickett's charge at Gettysburg was repulsed in bloody fashion by Federal troops, General Lee remained aboard Traveller until well after midnight, planning the retreat from Pennsylvania. When he finally rode to his tent and dismounted, Lee was so exhausted that he threw his arms around Traveller's neck to hold himself up. Neither man nor beast moved for several minutes.
A month later when Lee reviewed General A.P. Hill's Third Corps, he galloped some nine miles around the front and rear of the entire unit, leaving his escort in the wake. When General U.S. Grant took command of the Union Army he went on the offensive, but Lee attacked in the jungle-like forest of The Wilderness. In the heat of battle. General Lee attempted to lead a charge himself, but veterans surrounded their Commander-In-Chief and Traveller, and sent them back with cries of "Lee to the rear." There was a similar incident a week later at Spotsylvania with similar results, only this time Traveller was said to have reared just as a cannonball whizzed under his front legs.
Object of adoration
Robert E. Lee's riding companion during these times was his daughter Mildred who rode Lucy Long. They went for long rides, sometimes for several days and they visited Natural Bridge and the Peaks of Otter. Lee often rode 40 miles to Staunton and thought little of it. Robert E. Lee died in 1870, probably the result of heart failure caused by pneumonia.
Traveller succumbed to tetanus in June 1871. The horse was buried near Lee Chapel. His bones were then exhumed and displayed in the Washington and Lee Museum in 1907 and later, in the basement of Lee Chapel until the early 1960s. The bones were reburied just outside the front of the chapel and are there today.
Then in 1994, while visiting Lexington, Virginia, Dr. e.r. Wasemiller, of Wahpeton, North Dakota, went to the museum at Virginia Military Institute. Dr. Wasemiller, whose hobby is woodcarving, has donated much of his work to the American Saddle Horse Museum, most recently "Sky Watch and Imperator". At the VMI Museum, Wasemiller luckily happened upon another statue of Lee and Traveller; one done from life that confirms Traveller's ancestry!
The Volck statue
Volck and Brooke became close friends and in his spare time, Bolck carved busts of Captain Brooke and Jefferson Davis. The Brooke bust was destroyed when Federal troops occupied Richmond, and the fate of the Confederate President's bust is unknown.
Done from life
A contemporary art critic who praised the statue concluded his remarks by saying "It is Robert E. Lee as those who knew him saw him."
Frederick Volck died after the Civil War, before competition for a sculptor to do statues on Richmond's Monument Avenue was held. Shortly after the war, Volck gave the Lee bronze to Virginia Military Institute "because of (his) regard for the Institute's (professor of Physics (Stonewall Jackson)."
The statue resided at the VMI Library until Dr. Wasemiller came across it in the museum, where it was in storage before shipment to VMI's new Hall of Valor at Newmarket, Virginia. The Hall of Valor Museum commemorates the May 15, 1864, battle which involved the VMI Corps of Cadets. General John C. Breckinridge Castleman, first president of the American Saddlebred Horse Association.
How does this 135-year-old bronze statue become the final piece of the puzzle of Traveller's heritage? When combined with pedigree, eye witness descriptions and photos, the Volck statue, done from life, seems to confirm that Traveller was a prototype American Saddlebred. Can there be much doubt? The horse is racking!
This article, its photos and all the
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