Three Times Horses Changed the Course of American History

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e’ve all seen that meme floating around the Internet with a picture of a horse being loaded into a posh trailer with some caption like, “Well played, horse, well played,” acknowledging the humor in that horses used to pull carriages and now they ride in them.

It’s true, of course—aside from humans, horses might be the only living species that benefited so much from the industrial revolution. Though the use of modern technology has been kind to the horse, their comfortable stalls and fancy ice boots have been well-earned.

American history is filled with valiant men and women who fought for the stars and stripes, but we can’t forget the horses who have served this nation faithfully in battle since long before the Constitution was ratified. From rebelling against the British monarchy and helping to achieve the freedom necessary to establish a new nation, to bridging what seemed to be an insurmountable gap between the Union and the Confederacy, horses have been a vital addition to the American forces since Puritan ships landed on North American soil.

American military history is dotted with many triumphant battles, honorable last stands, and even some events we wish we could undo, and yet, no matter the purpose of the mission, horses served in blind faith, simply going where their soldiers steered them. Without a horse’s speed and strength, so many critical moments could have gone another way, and for that, we remember and honor four-legged soldiers, too.

Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride


The year is 1775 and tensions between Britain and her colonies are at an all time high. British warships sit in Boston harbor and rebellion is brewing on the horizon. The Sons of Liberty, a secret group consisting of many men who would go on to sign the Declaration of Independence, hid in the shadows and prepared for the imminent war.

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Paul Revere, a Bostonian member of the group, gets word on the night of April 18 that British troops are coming, mounts his horse, and gallops to Lexington, Massachusetts to notify fellow Sons of Liberty Samuel Adams and John Hancock. The next day, the Battle of Lexington Green between Massachusetts militia men and British redcoats marked the beginning of the Revolutionary War.

George Washington’s Crossing of the Delaware River

The year of 1776 is drawing to a close. Things are already looking grim for the colonies—the British Army is just too big and too experienced. Supplies are running low, morale is almost nonexistent, and many American soldiers were thinking about returning home to warm their toes by a raging fire rather than fight for the cause.

And then, just as all hope is almost lost, General George Washington rallies his troops and plans a secret crossing of the icy Delaware River on Christmas night. Washington, an accomplished horseman, oversees the late-night crossing aboard one of his trusted mounts—Nelson and Blueskin were two of his favorites, though it is not officially known which horse he rode that night—and ensures that his men achieve a victory before retreating to winter quarters.

Ulysses S. Grant Riding to Meet Robert E. Lee


After four years of fighting between the North and the South, both armies are tired. Though Robert E. Lee, commander of the Confederate forces, does not intend to surrender in April of 1865, General Ulysses S. Grant surrounds Lee and leaves him with little choice. Grant rides to meet Lee at the Appomattox Court House on April 9 aboard his famous Thoroughbred, Cincinnati, to discuss the terms of surrender. In a surprising act of kindness, Grant allows Lee to keep his sword and his horse, Traveller.

Thank you to all of the men, women, and horses who have served.

Feature photo by Joe deSousa. Other images via Wikipedia. 

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Written by Kate Kosnoff

Kate Kosnoff is an equestrian journalist, blogger and photographer. When she isn’t working, Kate can usually be found sipping green tea, scrolling through Twitter, or petting her horses—sometimes a combination of the three. She is based in Indiana and can often be spotted in jumper rings across the Midwest and Florida aboard her strawberry roan, Waffle.