Battlefield Horse Carcasses

kerry savee
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What was done with horse carcasses that were the result of battlefield action? Does anyone have documentation such as diary entries from soldiers or civilians? For example, we know that during the retreat from Moscow the horses of Napoleon's army were consumed by starving soldiers, but in other campaigns and other eras was any use made of the horses killed in battle? There must have been substantial losses and the hides and sinews could have been salvaged if the carcass had not begun to putrify. This subject is the result of a question posed by a visitor to Fort Tejon SHP and I could only provide conjecture to answer the query.

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A lot depends on where they fell. If there was a starving local population the they tended to dissapear to feed the locals. I have seen plenty of photographs of the aftermath of actions in which the carcasses have been stripped of saddles and bridles but left where they lay.
I believe that they would be disposed of later when it was safe to do so depending on which way the front was moving but if not safe to do so then they were left to rot.
I have read an account from the great war where a horse was killed in a town and the locals bartered with the army for the carcass as they had no meat for months.

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Excellent question!

I recall reading the equivalent to an 'after action report' immediately following WWI where a very detailed process was put in place in regards to American troops, where designated units (Grave Registration or their QM equivalent) would follow battle movements within 4-6 hours, identifying and burying the dead while mapping the sites for later retrieval.

There were comments about dealing with dead animals, as the whole was viewed through the field hygiene perspective. Some of the accounts of earlier wartime conditions were extremely horrifying, especially the 'in-between-the-lines' inferences.

I'll see if I can find that ref and link to it later.

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Todd and Matt, thanks to you both. I had always assumed that the carcasses were left to the wolves or to rot. The civilian reference to bartering with the army for the horse meat gives me a new perspective. As with other types of battlefield salvage, i.e. saddles, bridles, weapons, etc. could there have been enterprising individuals with something like a portable rendering plant for carcasses that were too far gone for the village butcher to make use of? And, the field hygiene aspect is also noteworthy. Was this something the soldiers did as a matter of course to protect themselves from the stench and disease or were there protocols detailed in field manuals for this purpose? I've read numerous books on ACW cavalry that reference the complaints of the smell from decaying horse flesh but no reference as to what they did about it.

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The piece I read was a report from 1919, and it was presented (correctly or not might be debatable) that this was a fairly new practice, instigated on early reports of battlefield conditions in prior years.

IIRC, human remains were buried with a fairly reasonable amount of overburden, while large animals were limed and covered sufficiently, in place, to keep flies from the carcass. These were documented procedures, planned and put into place sometime soon after AEF arrived in Europe. They might have been incorporated in some form or another in post-war manuals, but I've no idea.

What was striking about the document was the obvious understanding that immediate transport of the dead was absolutely out of the picture.

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I have seen a WW1 photo of a sniper's "blind" that was made from a horse carcass; the sniper hid in the blind and plied his trade therefrom. The sniper would move the blind into position under cover of darkness, and wait for shooting light. For that ruse to work, there must a reasonable expectation that a dead horse on the field is an expected sight; also, that there'd be enough dead horses that one more wouldn't be noticed.

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kerry savee
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A blind made to look like a horse carcass, fascinating! A reservist friend who returned from a tour in Iraq told me that IED's were hidden in animal carcasses near roads used by our convoys.

Kerry

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Matt's reference to locals bartering with the army for a dead horse is intriguing in that it suggests to me that the army still had a property interest in the dead animal or at least some sense of responsibility for disposing of it.

Kerry

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<blockquote id="quote"><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica" id="quote">quote:<hr height="1" noshade id="quote"><i>Originally posted by Todd</i>
<br />Image

Todd
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That is actually a fairly effective looking decoy. The leg straight up in the air looks pretty realistic actually.

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One thing that you can find written accounts of, but which no written word can convey, and no film relate, is the horrible smell that some WWI soldiers report experiencing. Anyone whose happened upon a dead horse or cow knows what a horrible smell can develop after a time. On WWI, or some Civil War, battlefields, the dead (and dying) troops, as well as the dead horses, caused a horrendous stench. The bodies couldn't always be recovered, so the men had to live with it.

Not only would it be a horrible thing to have to endure, but it would be one that a person would have to live with. A person can learn to live with all sorts of horrific conditions over time, but the memory of it must have never have left them. Smells can be a powerful enducement for the memory, and the smells of the battlefield must have caused a reaction we can hardly imagine decades later.

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It is said that pilots flying a thousand feet over the Faise Gap battlefield in WWII were sickened by the smell:

http://www.espritdecorps.ca/new_page_234.htm
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“Disposal of dead.–This is a consideration of importance. All carcasses of animals dying as a result of communicable disease should be burned, if practicable; otherwise buried and covered with quicklime, if available. When buried they should be buried at depth. These are the safest methods of disposal and when practicable should be adopted, as the practice of leaving carcasses about the line of march is a great danger to all troops following. Litter should be burned over ground where discharges from the dead have fallen.”

(Para. 186 (e), “Basic Field Manual,” Vol V Transport, 1929)

“Disposal of the dead.–This is a consideration of importance. Glandered carcases may be burned or buried. Anthrax carcases should be buried whole, or if this cannot be satisfactorily done, burned. Those which have died of cattle plague should be burned or well slashed to destroy the hide and prevent it being used, and buried with some disinfectant, such as quicklime. Surra carcases may be buried or burnt. These are the safest methods of disposal, and when practicable, should be adopted, as the practice of leaving carcases about a line of march is a great danger to all troops following. Litter should be burnt over ground where discharges from the dead have fallen.”

(p. 310, “Animal Management, “ Prepared in the Veterinary Department, for General Staff, War Office, London, 1908, reprinted 1916,–copy marked on inside front cover: “Detachment Veterinary Corps. Fort Riley, Kansas”– note the similarity to passage in the US Army Basic Field Manual above)
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I seem to remember that after Waterloo there were something in the area of 25,000 dead horses on the field...far more than could be buried. They were dragged into piles (with draft horses?) and burned.

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And the end of the line for an artillery mount in the Civil War

http://www.vahistory.org/horse_film/ima ... file_id=47

We used to have one up here from WWI of horses dead in front of an ambulance, I believe. Pretty grim thought.

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Here's the WWI photo I was thinking of, although it's a transport wagon the horse are in front of.

http://www.gwpda.org/photos/bin09/imag0806.jpg

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It was my assumption that the dead animals were usually burned, which would be easier than burial. If the army was on the move, it was more likely a task left to the local inhabitants, but if the army occupied the ground for a few days or weeks, they probably had to contract it out or do it themselves. The task of cleaning up a battlefield must have been horrific, and would be expected to get worse before it got better, especially in the summer.
I guess if there was a river close at hand, the dead animals could be disposed of more easily.

I have heard, anecdotally, of Union forces dumping dead horses down wells, and of at least one instance of dead CS soldiers being dumped in a well.

I also recall being told by a "real son" of a Confederate soldier that his father, on one occasion, hid from Union pickets inside a putrid mule carcass. He had to stay there a couple of hours, until it got dark. When he got back to his lines, his comrades wouldn't let him anywhere near them until he stripped and bathed completely. As it was his only uniform, the other fellows pitched in and got him a shirt and trousers.



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As sort of a gross footnote to this, I wonder how the presence of all those dead things impacted the horses.

Horses fear dead things as a rule. Some other animals do not. Cows find dead cows fascinating. Horses fear them. Earlier this year I was driving cattle past a long dead cow, and all the cows ran up to sniff it. That meant I had to ride up to drive them off, which was extremely frightening to my horse. I had the horse under control, but clearly he wanted to bolt.

Several years ago I had the experience of riding for several days in a row past the same spot in the woods. Every time I did this, every horse came to an abrupt halt and was difficult to get to move forward. It happened every time. I never saw anything, and I never smelled anything. But clearly there was something there. There were a lot of mountain lions and bears in the area, and I suspect a lion or a bear had killed something in the woods. Given as they were the unfriendly bears, I never walked in to see what it was.

Probably most riders in the west have seen somebody try to get a dead animal on to a horse. Horses can and are routinely used to transport game animals, but one that hasn't done it before can be violently opposed to it. At least at one time it was common to tie a horse up so tightly it couldn't buck in the process, in order to get it used to it. Recently I've heard of an example in which a person was introduced to a horse, a very gentle horse, just after he'd butchered a game animal. The horse went berserk, and the horse remembers who he is. The horse will not allow him to ride him, but has no problem with anyone else.



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<blockquote id="quote"><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica" id="quote">quote:<hr height="1" noshade id="quote"><i>Originally posted by Pat Holscher</i>
<br />As sort of a gross footnote to this, I wonder how the presence of all those dead things impacted the horses.

Horses fear dead things as a rule. Some other animals do not. Cows find dead cows fascinating. Horses fear them. Earlier this year I was driving cattle past a long dead cow, and all the cows ran up to sniff it. That meant I had to ride up to drive them off, which was extremely frightening to my horse. I had the horse under control, but clearly he wanted to bolt.

Several years ago I had the experience of riding for several days in a row past the same spot in the woods. Every time I did this, every horse came to an abrupt halt and was difficult to get to move forward. It happened every time. I never saw anything, and I never smelled anything. But clearly there was something there. There were a lot of mountain lions and bears in the area, and I suspect a lion or a bear had killed something in the woods. Given as they were the unfriendly bears, I never walked in to see what it was.

Probably most riders in the west have seen somebody try to get a dead animal on to a horse. Horses can and are routinely used to transport game animals, but one that hasn't done it before can be violently opposed to it. At least at one time it was common to tie a horse up so tightly it couldn't buck in the process, in order to get it used to it. Recently I've heard of an example in which a person was introduced to a horse, a very gentle horse, just after he'd butchered a game animal. The horse went berserk, and the horse remembers who he is. The horse will not allow him to ride him, but has no problem with anyone else.



Pat
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In this area, when packing elk, it is common practice to rub elk blood on the nose of the pack horse if he balks. It works pretty good too.

John Fitzgerald
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