Historical research on all 19th century saddlery, leather, and other miscellaneous services.
Overview: Horse Equipment in the Civil War
Just how important was horse equipment in the scheme of battlefield victories? Arguably, just as important as were arms, ammunition or any other article of military necessity. Despite the evolving tactics of mid-19th Century warfare, the cavalry and field artillery’s role nevertheless remained central to an army’s effectiveness.
Mounted cavalry served several important functions; as the virtual eyes and ears of the huge armies, their escorts and couriers, flankers and shock troops in battle, behind the lines as piercing raiders and partisans, and as an independent fighting force. For artillery, the deployment of field pieces into a battle, offensive and defensive tactics, pursuit of an enemy or even siege operations required artillery cannons to be mobile. Horses were the fastest and most reliable method of transportation at the time. Thus, for both branches the adequate supply of horse equipment and therefore their usefulness, was undeniably important.
From its uncertain beginnings to the war’s end, the history of Confederate saddle manufacturing is a cloudy and convoluted story of profound struggle. One might think that after the thousands of years that man has ridden the horse, by 1860, something so simple as the saddle would be universally acceptable in western civilization. However, the answer was not at all so obvious.
Throughout the four years of struggle for Southern independence there was a constant battle being waged within the Confederate Ordnance Bureaus’ arsenals to find and manufacture satisfactory cavalry and artillery saddles, bridle bits, saddle blankets even curry combs. Still, the Confederacy’s difficulties in adopting adequate horse furniture was not due to a lack of ingenuity nor was it unique to the South. The War Between the States occurred during a period of tremendous world wide change in the composition of riding saddles. For two hundred years Americans relied upon European influences to guide their preferences for saddles. However, since the 1820s, the Spanish (also referred to as ” Mexican”) methods of tree configuration and construction increasingly altered saddle designs for usefulness, durability and the comfort of both horse and rider. Most notably, the new design of the pommel, cantle and side bar, and the method of encasing the tree with wet rawhide for strength, significantly and forever changed the way Americans and others saddled the horse.
In the North, the pre war adoption of the McClellan and Grimsley horse equipment as generally described in the Ordnance Manual of 1861 set a standard that saw little substantive change throughout the conflict. Conversely, though the Confederacy was initially guided by the earlier Federal manuals and General Orders, in practice they instituted numerous changes. For both sides, the war provided the ultimate field test for its horse equipment but in stark contrast to their Northern counterparts, the Confederate Ordnance Bureau would prove intrinsically more flexible and less encumbered by bureaucracy when it came to the need for decisive change or adaption. When necessity dictated, which it often did, the bureau routinely utilized less than officially sanctioned materials and methods such as substituting enamelled cloth or rope for leather, hand forged instead of cast iron bridle bits, saddle blankets made from Spanish Moss and collars made of corn shucks. Some equipment evolved during the course of the war including both the artillery driver’s and valise saddles, traces, cavalry halters, and their most renown piece of equipage- the Jenifer cavalry saddle. In fact, its adoption, evolution and subsequent replacement by the McClellan and Texas saddles represent the most striking examples of the Confederate Ordnance Bureau’s fluidity.
For a far more complete and detailed overview we recommend you purchase Mr. Ken R. Knopp’s book: CONFEDERATE SADDLES AND HORSE EQUIPMENT.
MY NEWEST SADDLE BOOK IS NEARING PUBLICATION!!! It is with the Editor for lay out now. Next is printing. Unfortunately, the process has been slow (life keeps getting in the way), but we are now progressing nicely. I remain “cautiously optimistic” that it will be published by the end of this year or shortly after.
NOTE: I am very proud to announce…..that B. Bryon Price has written the Forward for my book. Mr. Price is no stranger to the subject matter. He has written, edited or co-authored over twenty books on the American West including “Saddles of the Frontier West”, “Fine Art of the West”, “Cowboys of the American West” and “Cowboy Spurs & their Makers”. In addition to television and movie consultant work, Mr. Price was former curator for several renown western museums including the National Cowboy Hall of Fame and Western Heritage Center in Oklahoma City, and the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming. Currently, he is the Director of Charles M. Russell Center for the Study of Art of the American West at the University of Oklahoma and is the Director of the University of Oklahoma Press.
My book: AMERICAN RIDING & WORK SADDLES (and Horse Culture), 1790-1920. It encompasses all the major American “non-military” riding and work saddles. The effort is to provide the origins, history and development of the major American “riding” and “working” saddle patterns, the saddle making industry and the American horse “culture” relative to our great country’s history. This will include the origins of their Spanish and English influences and the story of the rise and demise of American saddle manufacturing from the late 18th through early 20th centuries. This is NOT an effort to recapture the military saddle. That has been done quite well by others. Rather, it will cover all other saddles including treatises on the major American patterns: Spring seat, American, English, Wagon saddles, Somerset, Attakapas, Spanish, Half Spanish, Hope, Texas, California, Kilgore, Morgan, Morgan Muley, Kentucky Spring Seat, Wilbourne/Buena Vista, multiple Stock “Cowboy” saddles (Texas, Cheyenne, Pueblo, Miles City, Applehorn, etc.) and their California (o) influences, Ladies side saddles, Ladies Astride saddles, Princess saddles, Children’s/Youth saddles, Park & Police saddles and, commercial military saddles. Many others including some well known national commercial patterns and regional makes will also be included (Shaftoe, Shackleford, Granger, Ferguson, Race, Polo and Pad saddles,….McBride, Richardson, Ferguson, Florida, etc. ). Other historical topics related to the saddle manufacturing industry are covered as well: trees, leather, hardware, patents, manufacturing #’s, exports/imports, influential persons and regions, etc and,….The “Golden Age of the Horse”. Yes, a massive undertaking!
Of particular note will be inclusion of excerpts from the VERY FIRST American saddle catalog, The T. Smith & Co. catalog c. 1858, (today: Smith & Bourne) made up of water color saddle illustrations commissioned by the iconic Hartford Connecticut saddle making firm. The saddle patterns and styles that were offered by this firm prior to the Civil War are incredible and will most certainly stand conventional wisdom and understanding of pre-war saddle patterns, on its head!
Expect quite a bit of new research information that confounds heretofore general knowledge of American saddlery along with photos of never before seen saddles from private and public collections. The breadth of this project is extensive but will include nearly 600 saddle photos and illustrations to enable one to identify 19th century saddles. I have finished the writing, it is now being laid out for printing. Watch here for more details.
In the meantime, Check out my saddle and horse equipment photos in PHOTO GALLERIES! The ONLY place on the web to see such a wide assortment of “Pre-1900” saddlery! In addition, tons of photos of civilian saddles, bridles, bits, stirrups, etc.; Confederate and Federal Saddles, Confederate/Federal Horse Equipment, Dragoon and Indian War saddlery; photos of CW artillery teams, artillery horse equipment, quartermaster wagons and ambulances; mounted Federal and Confederate Cavalrymen and more! All from public and private collections, some have NEVER before been published or seen the light of day. Over one thousand photos!
HEY! my book, MADE IN THE C.S.A. SADDLE MAKERS OF THE CONFEDERACY is OUT OF PRINT and ALMOST OUT OF STOCK!!! Right now I have only a very few left! On Ebay these go for $60! From me ONLY, $40 plus $8 shipping. Look under “Ken’s Books” Soon out of inventory! LESS THAN 10 REMAIN! Better get it now while they last. They will NOT be reprinted!
The hardbound CONFEDERATE SADDLES & HORSE EQUIPMENT still available at “full” price. Signed copies available.
Last updated: Nov. 2, 2017