The Remount Service
As the Quartermaster’s annual report for 1919 put it, “At the outbreak of the war with Germany there was no Remount Service worthy of that name.” 1
At the beginning of the war, purchase of horses and mules for the army was the responsibility of the Quartermaster Corps, Transportation Division. Later, after multiple reorganizations during and after the war, the Remount Service became a household name in the U.S. horse world. But at the beginning of the war, the animals were bought by the same group that bought wagons, motor vehicles, harness, and spare parts.
Supplying all the needs of the mobilizing army fell to the newly-selected Remount Branch director, Capt. John S. Fair, a Cavalry officer tasked to work in the Quartermaster Corps organization.
In addition to supplying horses and mules, he had to lead his group in developing procedures, staffing plans, designs for remount depots, regulations, and all the other background framework of the self-sufficient army organization that the Remount Service was to become.2
This, without any real source of staffing, for remount duties had been considered as part of other, more important career paths, and rarely were officers and enlisted men broken free from these other duties willingly. From this unpromising beginning, by the end of the war, the Remount Service counted 948 officers, 30,661 enlisted men, and 789 civilians. (all but 5 of the civilians were stateside). 3
Because animals were a permanent part of the army transportation structure, there were already three remount depots in the United States when the U.S. entered the war in April 1917. They were located at Front Royal, Virginia, Fort Reno, Oklahoma, and Fort Keogh, Montana.
There were also two auxiliary remount depots in Texas, at Fort Bliss and Fort Sam Houston, (these latter a response to the needs of Mexican border patrol duty).4 As well, there was a purchasing headquarters at Kansas City, Missouri. The country was divided into four zones, headquartered at the three permanent depots and the purchasing office in Kansas City.
In total, the Army owned only a few thousand horses and mules in 1917, the reasoning being that there was an abundant supply in the civilian sector that could be made available on short notice if they were needed for military purposes.
But “no one had ever dreamed, and even if they had it was only vaguely, that the United States would ever be called upon to put a huge army into the field. No one knew for certain it would be – perhaps a million men; in a few days the figures jumped to possibly two million men, and when it was finally decided that five million men would be called to the colors and it was realized that an army of that size would require approximately one million horses and mules, there was consternation among those responsible for the procurement, care and issue of such an unheard of number of animals.”5
Greg Krenzelok, in his extensive website covering all aspects of the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps, explains how the next few months unfolded:
“When it became certain that the Army would need a large number of horses, some of the most celebrated horsemen and riders in the country offered their services as buyers. Some fifty of them were commissioned as captains in the Quartermaster Reserve Corps and sent to the various purchasing headquarters for short training in the proper types of horses and animals required by the Army. These buyers purchased a large number of excellent animals.” 6 This approach got the system moving and was used for a few months, but eventually was found wanting.
In his 1918 Annual Report, the Quartermaster General said: “due to the inexperience of officers from civil life who were assigned to duty purchasing animals for the Government and in charge of remount depots where these animals are cared for, many animals were purchased that are below the standard required and that do not come up to the specifications called for in regulations”….7
By July 1917 a system had been established that prevailed for the rest of the war. “Any responsible dealer, breeder, or farmer who was capable of supplying the Government with one or more carloads of animals at any sanitary shipping point was afforded an opportunity to place animals before inspection and purchasing officers in each zone.” 8
To accommodate the rapidly increasing needs of the army, there were eventually 33 auxiliary remount depots established, plus two animal embarkation depots (for a detailed account of the embarkation depot at Newport News, click here).
As the animals were purchased they were shipped by rail to the remount depots for training and conditioning. Shortly before the armistice was signed there were approximately 400 officers and 19,000 enlisted men in the remount service, all engaged in the care and training of the tens of thousands of animals then owned by the army.9
Many Stayed In the U.S.
As is often the case in war, supplies did not get to where they were needed – in this case, living animals, many of which remained in the U.S. because of lack of ships to carry them across the ocean.
When the war ended the animals that were being held at remount depots across the U.S. were auctioned to local buyers, mainly dealers because the animals could not be tried out prior to purchase and farmers would not buy animals they could not try.
The sales netted about 60% of what had been paid for the animals, with horses going for 44-54% of their cost but mules selling for 70-90% of cost – and the army carefully noted that the best animals had been retained and not offered for sale.10 Also noted was a savings of over $19,000,000 in feed and animal care costs for the 170,355 animals that were sold – an amount just over the actual total sale revenue, and further softening any perceived loss from the sales.
The remount depots varied widely in size. Front Royal, Virginia was the smallest, with 2 commissioned officers and 12 enlisted personnel and an authorized capacity of 500 animals (but during the war had an average of 784 animals in residence.) The largest was at Camp Jackson, Columbia, South Carolina, with a capacity of about 10,000 animals. Most others were in the 4-5000 range.11
The depots were located in 23 states spread over most of the U.S., incidentally providing war economic stimulus to states that might not otherwise have benefited from the vast federal wartime spending:
The depots were established partly to facilitate rail transport, but also to be near the mobilization camps for each army division. At the camps, in addition to caring for the riding and draft animals, there were schools to train horseshoers (4 months), teamsters (2 months), packers (2 months), saddlers, and stable sergeants for the combat divisions.12 These same services were offered at the depots in France.
Remounts in France
When horses and mules arrived in France they first went to remount stations, which served as sources of supply for animals needed at the front. The Engineer Corps was in charge of construction of the stations, and built stables to accommodate 48,000 animals.13 Most of this construction was accomplished in the first months of the war, and clearly, all of it was done within the 19 months that the U.S. was involved in the war – an extraordinary accomplishment, but just one among many as the American Expeditionary Force grew in that same period from zero to two million men.
All told, there were 33 remount depots in France, some built by the army and others taken over from the French, with a total capacity of 63,500 animals.14
In addition to receiving animals that had just been shipped to France, the depots took all animals that were found wandering in the battle zone, and all that were discharged from veterinary hospitals. All of these animals were recycled into battle service.
Unfortunately, some of the depots in France did not provide adequate care for the animals entrusted to them. The reasons for this were many, and included poor site selection, inadequate staffing, and lack of veterinary care. The selection of locations was done without consideration of soil conditions, and the deep clay soil of France quickly became a quagmire after heavy rains.
Most of the depots were also very overcrowded, often having twice the number of animals for which they had been built. Even in the summer of 1918, over a year after the U.S. entered the war, conditions at some of the depots was deplorable. With untrained staff, some of whom had never seen a horse before being assigned to the depots, and in some cases poor discipline and leadership, the worst of the depots became a permanent stain on the memory of the remount service during the war.
This situation led to the formation of a joint inspection group made up of U.S. and French veterinarians who visited dozens of U.S. facilities in the summer of 1918. They documented the conditions and their report, though suppressed at the time, undoubtedly did much to spur needed improvements.
They noted that in some of the depots horses were in corrals in mud up to their knees, unable to move and dying where they stood.15 No one wants to remember this kind of thing but it happened, and was part of the truth of the war.
Only after the fighting had ended did the remount depots actually catch up enough to provide uniformly adequate care.
After the War
The greatest impact of the Remount Service to the horse industry came after the war was over.
Even in 1917, the Quartermaster Corps was having difficulty purchasing quality riding and cavalry horses, though draft horses meeting Army standards were plentiful.
In his 1918 report, the Quartermaster General described a program begun in 1913 in conjunction with the Bureau of Animal Industry (part of the Department of Agriculture), of placing good quality stallions around the country to provide farmers with quality sires to be bred to their own mares for a nominal fee. But, the Quartermaster cautions, this still will in all likelihood not meet the government’s requirements because the quality of the mares could not be controlled.
Thus, the army decided to purchase mares and begin a breeding program of its own at the Remount Depots. Over time, this was expected to provide a steady source of quality riding animals. But the scale of what was needed during World War 1 should have damped this enthusiasm; there was never a desire on the part of the government to go into the horse breeding business to the degree that would have provided even a tiny fraction of what was needed during that war. Instead, a few hundred offspring per year came from the Army in-house program.
The civilian side proved much more of an impact on the quality of horseflesh in the U.S..
By 1921, the Remount Service had taken over all responsibility for the nationwide horse breeding program from the Department of Agriculture, and from that time onward, the perception of the general public was that the Remount Service was the source of good breeding stock for American farmers.
Significant effort was expended to select the stallions and keep them healthy. The vast majority were Thoroughbreds, but a few Morgans, Standardbreds, and Arabians were also included. There were one or more stallions stationed in nearly every state.
To some extent, mares were also selected from those presented by the public as candidates for breeding, in that notably unhealthy or unfit mares could be refused.
The resultant foals were the property of the mare owner, but it was assumed that if a future war required the purchase of horses, that the government would favor and perhaps pay a premium for animals produced from these sires; in the meantime, the upkeep of the horses cost the government nothing and a source of quality riding horses was assured.
Government cost for standing about 500 stallions was about $125,000 per year as of 1928. (This figure takes into account an appropriation of $150,000 offset by $25,000 collected in stud fees.) About 18,000 mares were being bred per year, from which came about 12,000 foals.16
In the next two decades its production was considerable. Though operating on a reduced scale caused by manpower shortages, rising costs, and reduced military demands for horses, the Army Horse Breeding Plan even in the 1940s during World War II gave origin to 39,000 foals from about 500 government-owned stallions. In the 1945-46 breeding-foaling season, 450 to 500 Government-owned stallions were bred to more than 11,000 civilian-owned mares; the resulting foal crop totaled 7,293 horses.17
This still would not have come close to supplying the needs of World War 1. What did come from the nationwide program was a general improvement in the quality of grade, or half-bred, riding horses throughout the country, a legacy quite apparent at the time the program was discontinued in 1948 and still noticeable even in the latter half of the twentieth century.
- War Department Annual Reports, 1919, Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., p. 747.
- Cederwald, Major A.A.., Q.M.-Res. The Remount Service Past and Present, The Quartermaster Review, November-December 1928, p. 27.
- Ibid, Cederwald, p. 28.
- Ibid, Cederwald, p. 27.
- Ibid, Cederwald, p. 27.
- Krenzelok, Gregory. U.S. Army Veterinary Corps Historical Preservation Group. Accessed online at https://www.facebook.com/US-Army-Veterinary-Corps-Historical-Preservation-Group-127549193983683/
- Report of the Quartermaster General of the U.S. Army To the Secretary of War, 1918. Washington, Government Printing Office, page 33.
- Ibid, War Department Report, p. 748.
- Ibid, Krenzelok
- Ibid, War Department Report, p. 751.
- Ibid, Krenzelok
- War Department Annual Reports, 1919, Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., p. 750.
- War Department Annual Reports, 1919, Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., p. 618.
- Ibid, Cederwald, p. 28.
- Merrillat, Lt.Col. Vet-Res Lewis A. and Campbell, Lt.Col. Vet-Res Delwin M., Veterinary Military History of the United States Vol II. The Haver-Glover Laboratories, Kansas City, Missouri, 1935. p. 696.
- Ibid, Cederwald, p. 29.
- The U.S. Army Veterinary Service in World War II, U.S. Army Medical Department Office of Medical History, p. 512, accessed online at http://history.amedd.army.mil/booksdocs/wwii/vetservicewwii/chapter13.htm