In addition to the breeders and dealers that provided horses and mules to the war effort, there were other industries that were called upon to increase production dramatically.
Wagon makers suddenly discovered orders for thousands of vehicles, when in peace time their normal production might have been hundreds a year.
Saddlery and harness makers faced a shortage of leather. And the mountain of horse shoes that was required, as each animal wore through a set of shoes every six weeks, can only be imagined.
Click to jump to Saddlery and Harness, or to Horseshoes, or just scroll down.
"“At the beginning of the war it was realized that fulfillment of the Army horse-drawn vehicle program would require mobilization of the entire wagon industry of the United States.”1
This startling statement was made by the War Department (predecessor to the Department of Defense) in its annual report of 1919 – the first post-war report, and a document full of fresh-from-the-front observations. Interesting also is the (perhaps mostly in hindsight) realization that horse-drawn vehicles were in no way going to be superseded by motorized vehicles, at least during this war.
Wagons for War
The 80th Division, Signal Corps passes in review at Camp Lee, VirginiaThe most basic army wagons had a canvas top mounted on curved staves and closely resembled the covered wagon made famous as the vehicle of pioneer settlers in the American west. These “prairie schooners,” as they were fondly called, were general utility vehicles with a wood bed, iron-rimmed wheels, and the ubiquitous tall canvas top, a design that had changed little in a hundred years.
A soldier drives an escort wagon through water logged fields and roads. Note the spare wheel carried behind the driver; attrition of vehicles was high.The standard wagon was known as the escort wagon and weighed about 2,100 pounds. It was drawn by four mules and driven by a single driver seated on the wagon, and carried a maximum cargo of 8,000 pounds.2
By early in 1918, the government found it necessary to place orders with companies that had not traditionally been involved in the wagon industry, such as furniture manufacturers. By the time the war ended, about 75% of the furniture factories in the U.S. were engaged in building wagons or parts for them.3
Purchases by the U.S. were not the first for many of the suppliers involved in production of war materiel.
“Following the outbreak of war in Europe in 1914, industries across the United States recognized opportunity and began to shift their focus to building war materials for the belligerent nations.”4 The role of a St. Louis-based St. Charles Car Company provides a specific example:
Army escort wagon produced by the American Car and Foundry Co., St. Charles, Missouri“Founded in 1873, the St. Charles Car Company produced passenger railcars and streetcars sold nationwide. In 1899 the company, along with 12 others, merged to form the American Car and Foundry Company. With factories in St. Charles, Detroit, Jeffersonville, Indiana, and Berwick, Pennsylvania, among others, American Car and Foundry was tasked with building a variety of artillery support vehicles, artillery shells, and submarine chasers. Among the vehicles to be produced were gun carriages, caissons, battery wagons, and escort wagons.
“The American Car and Foundry Company’s St. Charles plant was tasked with the building of 50,000 army escort wagons. Because the St. Charles plant was set up to build passenger railcars, which required substantial woodworking equipment, they were the ideal plant to produce the wooden four-mule escort wagon.
The 3rd Division moving into Le Carmel, France, July 28, 1918.
Manufacturing limbers with camouflage paint in Detroit.In addition to the escort wagons, the St. Charles plant produced all of the woodwork and chests for the artillery vehicles produced by the American Car and Foundry Company, including: 2,535 chests for spare breech mechanisms, 2,535 chests for spare sights, 2,223 chests for spare cleaning materials, 2,183 chests for small supplies, 2,207 chests for miscellaneous spare parts, 9,992 tompions for gun muzzles, 2,207 grindstone frames, 20,800 packing stripes, 41,794 pieces of wood lining for forge limber chests, and 61,972 pieces of wood lining for store limber chests. The company was also contracted to produce cast-iron stoves used at army camps in the United States and France, of which 2,208 were produced at the St. Charles plant.5
Clearly, army vehicles and their rigging were big business.
Another example of a local economy that benefitted from wartime purchasing was that of North Carolina.
“North Carolina’s manufacturing prowess at the beginning of the twentieth century made it a prime resource for the goods and supplies desperately needed by the United States government as it prepared the nation for war. Tar Heel manufacturers secured wartime government contracts for everything from finished items like ships and airplane propellers to more basic supplies like leather, cotton yarn, and processed timber.Caisson wagons with two horse teams.
"Period records indicate that in Catawba County alone, at least fourteen different manufacturers held government contracts. Piedmont Wagon Company was among these fourteen.
“Established in 1878 near Hickory, North Carolina, Piedmont Wagon became an early supporter of the allied war effort when in March 1915 they entered into a contract with the French government to supply 1,000 ammunition wagons for use on the battlefield. Each wagon weighed in at 1,400 pounds and required three horses to pull, as opposed to the typical wagon produced by Piedmont, which weighed just 800 pounds and only needed two horses. The value of the contract, according to newspaper reports of the time, came in at around $130,000.
“The contract required the company to produce the full amount, all one thousand wagons, within sixty days. Company leaders, who had months earlier started running short shifts on account of slow business, doubled the size of their workforce and ran crews night and day to meet the deadline. Three to five carloads of wagons left the factory daily, making their way to the coast by rail where they were loaded onto ships bound for the European continent. When news of the Lusitania sinking broke in May 1915, it was reported that a shipment of Piedmont Wagons was in the hull.
Piedmont Wagon Company wheel production area.“Following the United States’ declaration of war with Germany in April 1917, Piedmont Wagon shifted its focus to supporting its country in its time of need. A new government contract, this time with the United States, sent Piedmont Wagon wheels to the battlefront with American soldiers.6
A major issue for all producers was finding a supply of wood to build the wagons. According to the War Department Report, “the wagon industry had always required and used air-dried lumber, which required a long period for seasoning and drying. The entire supply for such lumber was soon used up and in became necessary to arrange immediately for kiln-dried lumber.”7
None of the wagon manufacturers had kilns and building them was expensive. In an early version of what would eventually be dubbed “the military-industrial complex,” the government agreed to defray half the cost of the kilns by paying a $10 surcharge for each wagon or group of spare parts.8
But wagons were just one of the many vehicles that were pulled by horses and mules.
Ambulances for Men and Animals
The light ambulance wagon was introduced into the British army in 1905, and was designed to carry eight seated persons. During the Great War they were used mainly to transport stores and medical equipment.Early in the war the only ambulances available were animal-powered. As casualties mounted, motor vehicles were pressed into service. Private families would even send their own cars to France to fetch back loved ones.
In this chaotic situation, and as the British began to plan for a longer conflict, motor ambulances were introduced and over the course of the war, both horse drawn and motor ambulances brought the injured to medical facilities at the rear of the fighting. They were pulled by teams of two or sometimes four draft horses. These two photos of human ambulances are sourced from post cards that were created as mementos of the war experience.9A horse being loaded into an equine ambulance. Note the front leg being held up to prevent kicking of the man who is bandaging the rear leg.
The Mark V ambulance was introduced into the British Army in the 1880s. It was built at a cost of £136 and accommodated 12 sitting or four stretcher cases.
U.S. ambulances being washed in a stream, France, 1918.
Gun Carriages and Ammunition Supply Trains
A 1918 U.S. caisson limber with saddles and harness for the team that pulled it. Courtesy Lovett Artillery Collection.Guns were carried on a two-part vehicle which when hitched together had four wheels, with a two-wheeled limber in front and the gun on its two wheels pulled behind. Ammunition and supplies for an artillery division required 162 cargo wagons; for an infantry division, 287 vehicles were needed, which could carry a total of 740,550 pounds and take up a net road length of just under two miles.10 The infantry division also had three veterinarians, five wagonmasters, 30 assistant wagonmasters, 20 horseshoers, 10 farriers (with more advanced training than the horseshoers), 10 saddlers, and 298 teamsters, as well as cooks, agents, mechanics, and other personnel.11
Photos of restored wagons, gun carriages, limbers, and the harness that went with them, are shown courtesy of Ralph Lovett, Lovett Artillery Collection.12
A U.S. 75mm gun carriage with harness for a six-horse team. Courtesy Lovett Artillery Collection.
Of Rolling Kitchens, Water Carts, and Pigeon Lofts
Though vastly out-numbered by supply wagons and gun carriages, some of the most unique vehicles of the war were those which were built for very specific purposes. In addition to the ambulances there were rolling kitchens, water carts, sprinkler wagons, and even pigeon lofts.
Among the horses and mules who served the war effort were other animals. Dogs carried messages and pulled carts; camels were used in the middle east as riding animals, and homing pigeons carried tiny cylinders on their legs that held tissue paper messages.
Easily capable of flying 100 miles or more, the pigeons had an innate and unerring ability to navigate back to their home loft, carrying messages between the front lines and command posts in the rear. No statistics are available on the reliability of this service in World War 1, but in later wars messages were reported to have been delivered successfully over 98% of the time, sometimes even by injured birds.
With tens of thousands of men to feed every day, the rolling kitchens were essential. Despite the fact that the conditions if France emphasized a static, slowly moving force, there were distances to be travelled in the supply and food replenishment process as they brought supplies from ports, to storage depots, and on to the front lines.
Mule wagons could travel up to 18 miles a day fully loaded under ideal conditions, but in the mud of France, this was sometimes reduced to a mile or two, and a reliable distance from supply depot to drop point was about 10 miles.13 If food could be loaded into several rolling kitchens, the supply wagon could return to its own depot for another load, rather than having to make the trip all the way to the front. Moreover, after the kitchens took on their provisions, cooking could start before the vehicle reached the men it would feed.
Sgt. Campbell and Cook Spencer with their rolling kitchen. Photo courtesy of U.S. Army Veterinary Corps Historical Preservation Group.Field kitchens were reliant on steam technology to surround a central cooking vessel with an outer cylinder in which steam circulated. A constant temperature could be maintained and the central vessel was actually a pressure-cooker, using not only heat but pressure to cook food much more quickly than over an open flame.
The rolling kitchen was originally developed in Germany in the 1880s, and by the time of World War 1 was widely used by many armies. The cookers had various designs but all had some version of the central chimney which gave them their German nickname, “gulaschkanone” or Goulash Cannons.14
The U.S. used both motorized and animal-drawn kitchens in WW1; there were over 7,000 of the latter in France. Each kitchen consisted of a limber and a stove unit. The stove unit had a bake oven and three kettles, while the limber held three bread boxes/water containers, the cook's chest, four fireless cookers, and four kettles.15
A British army water cart.A fireless cooker was an insulated pot into which boiling food was placed; the heat of the food continued the cooking process for hours as the heat was held in by the insulation around the pot. Soups and stews were excellent choices for this style of cooking. Thus, the meal could be started in the morning over open fires, placed in the fireless cookers, and ready by the time the kitchen reached the fighting men. The stove unit could meanwhile be cooking additional food or boiling water for coffee or tea.
An interesting offshoot of wartime rations was the development of instant coffee, which by the end of the war was being consumed at the rate of 37,000 pounds a day!16
In total, about 190,000 horse-drawn (and mule-drawn, of course) vehicles were ordered between April 7, 1917 and July 1, 1919. After the armistice was signed on November 11, 1918, all undelivered orders that could be terminated were cancelled; in total, about 117,000 vehicles were actually delivered, plus spare parts to the equivalent of about 60% parts for each vehicle.17
Just as the American horse industry benefitted from wartime procurement from many nations, so did the wagon industry, including the production of rolling kitchens. In January 1915, France ordered eight thousand portable kitchen wagons from the Kentucky Wagon Manufacturing Company of Louisville, Kentucky. "...work on them was started at once, according to announcement made by R.J.V. Board, president. The value of the order is placed at between $200,000 and $250,000. The wagon company will manufacture the wagon beds, wheels and all other wooden parts of the portable kitchens. Other American concerns have received contracts for manufacturing the utensils and steel parts.”18
1909 schematic for U.S. Quartermaster Corps military ambulance procurement.
Just from the period between June 30, 1917 to June 30, 1918, the Quartermaster Corps ordered the following:
After The War
After the armistice was signed, the Quartermaster Depot at Jeffersonville, Indiana was designated as the depot for the storage of all surplus horse-drawn vehicles and harness.
Inbound shipments actually increased as goods already on order before the armistice (and too far along to cancel) were delivered. At the peak, about eighty rail cars a day were unloading goods at Jeffersonville, none of it needed for the peacetime army. Extensive temporary storage sheds were erected to house the influx.
The depot stored 4,000 rolling kitchens of the trail-mobile type: the kitchens were packed in boxes, each package weighing about 4,300 pounds. The piles of boxes were each 45 feet wide, 30 feet high, and 1,000 feet long. Corrugated-iron roofing was placed on the sides and tops, thus forming waterproof buildings.
Wagons were stored in galvanized-iron warehouses, each one capable of receiving 2,500 wagons, without wheels. Wagon wheels were stored in specially adapted sheds.20
Eventually, all of this would be disbursed, most for pennies on the dollar.
- U.S. War Department Annual Reports, 1919, Government Printing Office, Washington DC, Volume 1, page 789.
- Baker, Lieut. Col. Chauncey B. “Wagon Transportation for the Army,” A Lecture Delivered Before The Officers Of the Quartermaster Reserve Corps, At Washington, D.D. on May 15, 1917. Washington, Government Printing Office, 1917, p.8.
- Ibid, War Department Report, p. 789
- Ibid, Baker, p. 12.
- Ibid, Baker, p. 12.
- Ralph Lovett, Lovett Artillery Collection, www.lovettartillery.com
- Ibid, Baker, p. 11.
- Haak, Kathleen. “The Goulash Cannon,” The Carriage Journal, Vol. 55, No. 4, August 2017, p. 223.
- Ibid, Haak, quoting American’s Munitions 1917-1918, Report of Benedict Crowell, The Assistant Secretary of War, Director of Munitions, Government Printing Office, Washington – 1919.
- Ibid, Haak, p. 226, quoting Mark Pendergrast, Uncommon Grounds.
- ibid, War Department Report, p. 790.
- The Hub, January 1915, p. 35.
- Report of the Quartermaster General U.S. Army to the Secretary of War, 1918. Washington, Government Printing Office, 1918. p. 30.
- U.S. Army Veterinary Corps Historical Preservation Group, https://web.archive.org/web/20171222213802/http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com:80/~gregkrenzelok/veterinary%20corp%20in%20ww1/veterinary%20corp%20in%20ww1.html
With special appreciation to the staff of the Carriage Association of America for assistance in researching this topic.
Saddlery and Harness
The tack (harness, saddles, bridles, halters, etc.) used in World War 1 had changed little since the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s, fifty years before. For that matter, there have been few changes in the hundred years hence, though saddles are much more padded for both horse and rider, and synthetic materials, not yet invented in 1917, may be used for padding or in place of leather.
An experienced horseman in 2017 would easily recognize all the parts of a WW1-era saddle or harness and could quickly put it on his or her modern horse.
Army escort wagon mule team harness spec drawing. Courtesy of the Lovett Artillery Collection.
When the war began, practically all Army purchases of harness were made thorough the Jeffersonville, Indiana Quartermaster Depot.1 Early in 1918, purchasing was moved to Chicago because most of the suppliers were near that city. Given the vast extent of the stockyard and cattle slaughter industry in Chicago, it is not surprising that leather-related industries also grew up there.
Just as in the wagon industry, the beginning of the war saw shortages of manufacturing facilities for harness. The Quartermaster Corps made a careful survey of all possible suppliers, and “every manufacturer having proper facilities has been consulted regarding needs, and in a majority of cases induced to take on his proper share of the work.”2
This hardly sounds as if the manufacturers were eager to jump into war work!
A 1928 model McClellan saddle, little different from the ones used in World War 1. Courtesy Lovett Artillery collection.Some insight can be gained into this seemingly-odd response by looking at the specifications that were being laid on the manufacturers. The Society of the Military Horse has this explanation:
“The familiarity of the McClellan [saddle] and its equipments was well known to many manufacturers around the country, with many of them having provided these items during the Spanish-American war, and in the twenty years following that. To effect a rapid mobilization while minimizing potential production bottlenecks, the Ordnance Dept. decided that the McClellan equipments would be the most rational choice, given the short turn-around times required.”
“To assist in this effort, updated schematics and drawings were prepared in April and May of 1917, to be used by these private firms to fulfill the flood of contracts that was being prepared.
“The manufacturers, for their part, had been on a war footing since late 1914. A vast amount of material had been produced for European nations since the beginning of the war in Europe, and their processes, equipment and labor was (for many) firmly established and ready to go.”
Why, then, would they be reluctant to enter into contracts for the U.S. Army?
The answer almost certainly lies in the new specifications.
McClellan saddle with the bridle laid on top of it. The presence of a curb bridle indicates that this is tack used by a riding horse; a gun horse would have worn a snaffle bridle. Courtesy Lovett Artillery Collection.
“The prepared drawings of April and May were similar to those that had been around for years, but show a distinctly different focus on absolute precision. Comparison to drawings of even a few months before show greater specificity in angles, radii, measurements and small finish details. Contractors were clearly informed that their product would be inspected and judged by the specification drawing that they were provided with.”3
The producers were probably reluctant to sign up to the new and stricter specifications – but sign up they did, eventually, and huge amounts of leather goods were produced. A congressional investigation in 1922 estimated that well over 900,000 saddles were produced – more than 3 saddles for every horse the A.E.F. had the entire time it was in France, and most of those being draft or pack animals. These saddles flooded the army surplus market for years thereafter, and McClellan saddles were quite commonly used for recreational riding for at least 50 years after the war ended.
The greatest difficulty in the harness industry was the supply of leather. The army managed the supply to some extent via the Quartermaster Corps consolidated purchasing process.
The Quartermaster of the Army reported that, in the one-year period between June 30, 1917 - June 30, 1918, the Corps contracted for 1,500,000 halters at $3 each, though only 1,300,000 were delivered. During the same period, 40,250 aparejo pack saddles were ordered, but only 3,000 were delivered.5 A halter is perhaps the simplest and most common of all harness equipment, and surely every factory would have been capable of manufacturing them. The aparejo, on the other hand, would have been a far more specialized item with only a few suppliers. Still, the report does not provide an explanation as to how so many could have been ordered while so few were received.
Three major types of saddles were used by U.S. troops during World War 1.
The McClellan Saddle
Randy Steffen image.The cavalry - though bear in mind that by the time the U.S. entered the war, cavalry battles were not being fought - would have used a version of the McClellan saddle. Resembling a stripped-down U.S. stock or western saddle, the McClellan was first introduced not long after the Civil War and had changed little over the years. It had a wooden framework, or tree, which was leather covered but had no padding on the side presented to the rider (on some saddles, there was sheepskin on the side for the horse.)
A saddle blanket, folded several times, provided some additional cushioning for the horse’s back but the rider was left to sit on a thin covering of leather stretched directly over the wooden saddle tree. Some found this quite comfortable, many did not, and the long open channel that divided the two halves of the tree over the horse’s spine was a particular source of rider irritation.
Courtesy Lovett Artillery Collection
The stirrups were made of wood and had leather covers over their fronts, both to protect the front of the rider’s foot and to provide warmth in cold weather.
There were no saddle flaps, that is, the leather panels that hang down the sides of the horse and cover the girth. Rather, there were on each side, two angled straps which formed a triangle, fastened to the front (pommel), rear (cantle), and at their base to the billet straps, which in turn fastened to the girth, or cincha.
The cincha was made of 24 strands of 6-ply spun and twisted horsehair rope, knotted on the ends to a ring to which the billet straps were tied.6
Other than having the wrong headgear, these troopers are outfitted for duty in France. In the field they would have worn tin hats. Randy Steffen image.
To keep the trooper’s leg from being rubbed by the straps and the horse’s side, the rider wore short boots topped with canvas leggings, which had buckles that fastened around multiple levels between knee and ankle.
Periodic efforts to improve the McClellan saddle had surfaced from time to time in the cavalry. In fact, when the U.S. entered the war, a trial design had recently been tested but had failed to perform adequately and was being re-worked. But because there was a large supply of saddles already in the army inventory, and a general reluctance to move to a relatively untried design, the army chose to use the old 1904/1908 model through the war years.
Randy Steffen image.The saddle had several rings, holders, and straps on which to fasten things like bedrolls, ammunition pouches, and of course the rider’s sabre. Fully loaded, the saddle and the rider’s equipment weighed about 45 pounds.
McClellan saddles were also used with horses who pulled guns and limbers. These vehicles did not have a place for a driver to sit, and consequently, one horse in each pair of pulling horses or mules was also carrying a rider, who guided and controlled that pair. In fact, most of the McClellan saddles in France were worn by draft horses, not by saddle horses.
Just as numerous as the McClellan in France were quartermaster saddles, that is, those used for horses that were in harness and were pulling supply wagons, water carts, ambulances, rolling kitchens, etc. – everything but guns. Just as with the gun horses, one horse in each pair carried a rider. But rather than using a McClellan saddle, a simple flat saddle was used for service other than in the artillery.
The quartermaster saddles were a very plain design, with minimal hardware and smooth leather flaps and seat. The stirrups were open, not covered, and were metal with arched uppers and flat treads. They resembled officer’s saddles but were made of a lesser grade of leather and overall were less well finished.
Officers of all specialties used horses to get around the battlefield, and usually used saddles that were much like the quartermaster saddle – that is, plain, with a flat seat, sometimes with panels that extended behind the seat to spread the weight of the rider over a larger area. They had open metal stirrups and ample flaps. This design was known as the Whitman saddle, or with slight variations, the officer’s field saddle.Randy Steffen image.
While upper level enlisted men sometimes used McClellan saddles, senior officers and in particular cavalry officers, always used flat saddles. Cavalry officers were more attuned to saddle type than many other officers, and preferred saddles of French design and manufacture. These would not have had the extended panels and altogether were more trim and minimalist than the field saddle.
According to the Cavalry Journal, “the end and aim of the flat saddle is comfort for horse and not for the rider (though the latter was not admitted) in that it conforms more readily to the average back and is much less conducive to sores and no other or better reason for its use is required. Then, too, a high pommel and cantle, either impose an inflexible seat or encourage lounging and both must worry and chafe a troop horse ridden day after day by the same trooper.”7
Randy Steffen image.There were, however, some who disagreed with the desirability of the open metal stirrup, claiming that they were “cold, not easily found by the foot if lost at a rough and rapid gait and may on occasion drag the rider. The wooden hood-stirrup protects from cold or wet and mud and, if lost, swings back automatically until the ball of the foot holds it.”8Randy Steffen image.
Officers wore knee-high leather boots rather than the ankle boots and canvas leggings worn by enlisted troopers. Dress boots had no laces at the instep, while “undress” or field boots had laces at the instep and a buckle at the top.9
Randy Steffen image.Mules have backs that are shaped differently from horses, and a special saddle was designed for the mules that were ridden alongside pack trains. It had two cinchas and a horn, clearly marking it as a piece of working equipment rather than a fighting saddle. The horn could be used as an attachment point for rope which then led backward over the thigh of the rider to a small load being dragged behind, or for a multitude of other uses.
Saddle blankets deserve a bit of attention because they were essential for the health of the horse’s back. With the McClellan saddle having virtually no padding, a 72” x 84” wool blanket folded multiple times was the only thing between the wooden saddle tree and the horse’s back.
If the blanket was not shaken out, aired, and re-folded before every use, it would quickly become worn and rotted on the surface that faced the horse. Though this might seem obvious, it was not army protocol and only some units adhered to this practice.10
Army specifications were very clear about the blanket: “The blanket will be made of pure wool; no Colorado wool, or what is known as “carpet wool,” or kemp, to be used. The yarn to be evenly spun with a moderate twist and free from lumps or shreds.”11
Cavalry trooper bridle and watering bridle, 1902 designs. Randy Steffen image.All saddle horses in the army wore either a curb bit with a single rein, or for officer’s mounts, a double bridle with a curb and a snaffle bit together. The curb bits were made in three mouthpiece sizes: 4.5”, 4.75”, and 5”and the middle size was needed for seventy-five per cent of animals.12
In 1912 a new model of cavalry bridle was issued on an experimental basis, basically permitting the double bridle to become a standard for cavalry troopers as well as officers. Snaffle bridles were issued as “watering bridles,” not for riding.
Cavalry double bridle with halter worn underneath. Randy Steffen image.
In 1912 a new model of cavalry bridle was issued on an experimental basis, basically permitting the double bridle to become a standard for cavalry troopers as well as officers.
Horses and mules in harness wore snaffle bits, sometimes with a full cheek piece. The bridles were simple headstalls without cavessons (nosebands). Courtesy Lovett Artillery Collection.
Other Mounted Equipment
Cavalry soldiers carried a great deal of other equipment, all regulation and all made to specifications. This included a canteen with a cup made to fit over the bottom so the two nested together; currycomb, horse brush, wire cutters, saddle soap box, and small sponge to clean tack with.Randy Steffen image.
There were also feed bags and grain bags, one for feeding the horse out of, the other for carrying extra grain while on the march.
A tent, raincoat, bed blanket, rifle carrier boot, saber and saber carrier, intrenching tool, picket pin for staking out the horse, ration bags for the trooper’s own food, and lariat might all be carried, though if possible and to spare the horse, the bed blanket and some of the other equipment might be carried in wagons.13
Vast quantities of harness for draft horses and mules were produced for use during the war. Most of this would be very much like harness worn by driving horses both before and after the war. Unlike saddlery, harness design has not changed very much over the years.
No detail was left to chance in the new drawings. These mules are wearing harness with neck collars. Can you spot the differences between this and the drawing above?
Manufacturing neck collars, which were stuffed with either wool or straw, or both.
Two basic designs of harness allow horses and mules to pull vehicles. One uses a neck collar, a padded roll of leather stuffed with wool, that places the load on the front of the shoulders and on the upper breast. Collars cannot, of course, be placed in such a way as to obstruct the neck or hinder breathing. The remainder of the harness basically serves to keep the collar in place, and to attach the animal to the vehicle.
These gun horses are wearing modified McClellan saddles with leather panels over the stirrup straps to protect the legs of the riders from chafing on the harness. The harness is a breast collar style, rather than neck collars. Image courtesy Lovett Artillery Collection.
The second design uses a strap across the breast, known as a breast collar. This is a wide, flat leather strap, usually doubled and with stitching and some padding, that fits horizontally about mid-way down the animal’s chest between the base of the neck and the top of the front legs.Saddles and breast-collar style harness for pulling a limber, 1918. Courtesy Lovett Artillery Collection.
Although there is some choice in which harness design to use, it is largely determined by the vehicle that is being pulled and how high the attachment point on the vehicle is in relation to the harness and animal. This is known as the “line of draft (draught)” and for greatest efficiency, this line should angle slightly up from the vehicle to where it attaches to the harness.
Most photos, but by no means all, show World War 1 horses wearing breast collars.
For some areas of information there emerges a single authoritative source that is unlikely ever to be surpassed. Randy Steffen’s four-volume work The Horse Solder 1776-1943 is such a work. Its subtitle, “The United States Cavalryman: His Uniforms, Arms, Accoutrements, and Equipment” sums up the contents, but Steffen’s meticulous attention to detail and inclusion of every possible piece of equipment from saddle soap box to picket pins, bridles to longe lines, is what sets this work apart. Many items are illustrated with his own line drawings, and many of the illustrations in this section are reproduced from his books.
Photos and diagrams of harness as noted, are reproduced courtesy of Ralph Lovett and the Lovett Artillery Collection, http://www.lovettartillery.com.
- Report of the Quartermaster General U.S. Army to the Secretary of War, 1918. Washington, Government Printing Office, 1918. p. 30.
- Ibid, Quartermaster Report, p.30.
- Society if the Military Horse, 1904 McClellan War Contract Saddle (Pattern III). https://www.militaryhorse.org/mcclellan-saddle/the-model-1904-mcclellan-saddle-pattern-iii
- Ibid, Quartermaster Report, p. 31.
- Ibid, Quartermaster Report, p. 31.
- Steffen, Randy. The Horse Soldier: The United States Cavalryman - His Uniforms, Arms, Accoutrements, and Equipments, Vol III, 1881-1916. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1992. p. 194.
- Journal of the U.S. Cavalry Association, Vol XXV, No. 106, April 1915, p. 575.
- Ibid, Cavalry Journal.
- Steffen, Randy. The Horse Soldier Vol IV, The Horse Soldier: The United States Cavalryman - His Uniforms, Arms, Accoutrements, and Equipments - World War I, the Peacetime Army, World War II, 1917-1943, Vol. 4. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1993. p. 26.
- Journal of the U.S. Cavalry Association, “Care of the Saddle Blanket.” Vol XVII, April 1917, p. 56.
- Ibid, Steffen, Vol III, p. 195.
- Ibid, Steffen, Vol III, p. 196.
- Ibid, Steffen, Vol III, p. 245.
Discarded horseshoes at a British army camp. Can you find a front shoe, a hind shoe, and a mule shoe? Photo courtesy of British Royal Logistic Corps Museum.
For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.
Medieval English proverb.
Horseshoes have also not changed much, especially utility shoes such as those worn by horses and mules in the battlefield.
They are still made of iron, and are still heated at a forge and hammered on an anvil, shaped to fit each individual animal's feet.
Front shoe, hind shoe, and mule shoe. The front shoe is for a draft horse and is substantially larger than the hind shoe, which is for a riding horse. They still come in the same sizes and shapes, front horse shoes round, hind horse shoes narrower and more pointed, and mule shoes with their characteristic U-shape, nearly identical front and back.
There is little information about horseshoes during the war, probably because they were considered a routine item of supply not worth further mention. There were advertisements in the Cavalry Journal for both shoes and nails – evidence that true horsemen did think about these necessities.
Thinking about horseshoes can lead to a little fun with math:
Estimates vary of how long each animal served after being bought for the army, but 30 months would seem a reasonable average – some of that in training in the U.S., some standing around in remount depots waiting to be shipped overseas, and some on the battlefield. Much of that time, the animal might not have been shod – for instance, part of the time in the remount depot in the U.S.
Preparing to shoe a reluctant mule. Notice the sling under his belly and the stocks to hold him in place, as well as the rope around the pastern of the foot that is being shod. But on arrival in France, and for the entire duration of its tour of duty there, every animal wore a full set of four shoes.
So for the sake of averages, let us say that the animal wore shoes for 15 months – probably conservative.
Horses and mules need to have their shoes either replaced or, at a minimum, re-set, every 6 weeks, because their hooves grow at the rate of about ¼ to 3/8 inch during that time – the amount varies with the time of year, nutritional status of the animal, terrain, and probably other factors as well. One set of shoes will often last for 12 weeks, that is, for an initial shoeing and one re-set.
So, each animal would go through at least 6 sets of shoes in those 15 months. Perhaps more, because in the mud, many shoes were lost, and the animals were being worked long hours, with more wear on their shoes as a result, and probably not as many re-sets.
Shoeing a draft horse at St. Nazaire, December 4, 1918.Horse shoes weigh about a pound each – more for draft horses with big feet, less for small pack horses or mules.
So, if there were 243,360 animals used by the A.E.F., and each wore shoes an average of 15 months, that would be 6 sets of shoes x 4 shoes per set x 243,360 animals = 5,840,640 shoes, at about 1 pound per shoe – or 2,920 TONS of horseshoes!
To try to get an idea of how much this really is, it is about the same as the weight of 1,150 pickup trucks.
Each shoe requires 6 nails: over 35 million nails for just the A.E.F. horses in World War 1.