The Model of 1887 McClellan Artillery Saddle


Reports to the Chief of Ordnance, Appendix 41
Improved Artillery Harness

All text between the lines following is directly transcribed from the original document.  Any clarifying comments are colored in blue, between brackets, [as an example].



(1 plate.)


Washington, D. C.:

GENERAL: Artillery harness has not thus far been improved in our service to meet the requirements of the present or prospective service.

Some suggestions have been made tending to modernize the present regulation harness, and some of them have been given a practical trial, but the idea to simply modernize the harness does not appear to be all that is or may be desirable.

At this time, when the light artillery is about to be equipped with new guns and carriages, it seems to be proper to submit some suggestions regarding a more suitable harness. Serious defects are known to exist in the present regulation harness, as well as in the method of attachment to the carriage. The modern armament of field artillery and its tactics, the introduction of machine guns and small arms of long range and increased accuracy, the mobility required, and the welfare of the horse, seem to require a radical change in harness and attachments. The life and well-being of the horses should be matters of the greatest solicitude, as on their condition depends the efficiency of the arm to a great degree. Simplicity in construction and interchangeability should receive due consideration.

The equipment of the cavalry and light artillery should be as nearly alike as possible consistent with their different duties. It is not understood why the field artillery should have a different saddle, bridle, halter, etc., from those used in the cavalry service.

There are many good reasons why the equipment should be the same, and in future constructions the saddles, bridles, bits, halters, saddle cloths, girths, etc., should be the same for the field artillery as may be prescribed for the cavalry at the time.

The harness should be as similar to the draft harness in use by civilians as the requirements of the field artillery will permit. Not only will the best principles of draft be applied, but in wars of sufficient magnitude to require the services of volunteer light artillery the harness and attachments will be familiar to the drivers. This will only reduce the period of necessary instruction but will promote the welfare of the horses, for the men from previous experience will understand the proper use and adjustments. The use of attachments similar to those in use in civil life will prove advantageous in many ways. With such attachments harness need not be issued with machine-gun batteries turned over to the National Guard, for every village, town, and city will have in it draft harness that can be used with the carriages. A close study of foreign systems of harness and means of attachment does not appear to warrant the introduction of any one of them into our service..

There should be but one model of harness for field artillery and machine-gun batteries. So far as possible the use of bright metal-work should be avoided, for in action it serves to attract the attention of the enemy while at other times it causes unnecessary work and a waste of time that might be more profitably employed. Brass is not deemed necessary for ornamentation, for nothing can be handsomer than a perfectly plain black harness, in proper condition.

Means must be provided to increase the celerity and ease with which the teams or single horses can be attached to, or detached from, the carriages.

Under existing battle conditions it becomes very desirable at times to detach or attach the teams with great quickness.

The pole-yoke is heavy and expensive, and is not the device best suited to carry out practically the idea upon which it is constructed.

The pole has been changed by removing the pole-yoke and attaching an iron stop near the end, and underneath, which prevents the ring of the neck-yoke from passing it.

This arrangement is manifestly superior to the present one.

It is not known that there exists one good reason for attachment to the splinter bar, or why a barbaric and antiquated method should be longer adhered to.

The objections are many and serious

Being a rigid attachment the draft is unequally distributed among the horses, no play possible, and in consequence they are strained and galled.
Unless every horse moves directly to the front and each trace is exactly the correct length the bearing of the collars is uneven.
In changing direction the wheel team is obliged to pull nearly the whole load, the swing and lead teams pulling enough to throw their collars out of adjustment.
The traces on the side toward which the change is being made “sag,” while those on the other side “ride up.”
By the use of the double-tree and single-trees the required play is secured, and the objections to the splinter-bar attachment overcome.
Double-trees should be placed above or underneath the pole, according to the equipment
If the equipment is heavy, and power but not great speed is desirable, they should be placed underneath; when mobility is required, they should be placed above.

Double and single trees should be used on all field and machine gun carriages. They are not experimental; all kinds of transportation intended for horse or mule draught in civil life are supplied with them. No citizen owning horses or mules would allow of the use of a splinterbar attachment for them. Single-trees not only assist in giving the necessary play and case required, but they are arranged so as to greatly facilitate the attachment and detachment of the teams.

They are provided with an eye by means of which they are hooked to the double-tree hooks: by unhooking the two single-trees the whole team is detached from the carriage, the ring of the neck-yoke slipping over the pole-pad at time end of the pole. The single-trees can be hooked behind the saddles of wheel-horses on to the cantle-hooks provided for that purpose. They are provided with a spring-hook, which greatly facilitates the hitching and unhitching of the traces.

With the regulation equipment the wheel-horses are obliged to support a. varying load at times excessive, by their necks, causing very objectionable results.

The practical solution of the problem of a hinged pole not having been made, and appearing to be remote, it is necessary until that desirable improvement is effected to adopt the next best device. which appears to be to reduce the weight at the end of the pole to a minimum.

In holding back the tendency is to pull down on the collar, and this causes at times great strain on the neck and fore-legs, resulting occasionally in throwing the horse.

Another result following the checking of the wheel team is equally objectionable caused by the present method of attachment to the end of the pole. As soon as the horses commence to hold back their heads are brought closer together, they are forced into an unnatural position, and one that prevents their doing what is required with a minimum expenditure of labor and strength.

It is proposed to overcome these objections and others arising from the same cause by means of a direct front attachment for the wheel horses, and by reducing the weight at the end of the pole to a minimum.

The neck-yoke takes the place of the pole-yoke. It is a construction unlike the pole-yoke and it, with its attachments, are of the simplest kind. The ends are attached to the collars by means of breast-straps, furnished with double hooks. It can be easily repaired in the field, or a new one can be made in any battery. There is nothing about it to get out of order, even with such rough usage as would ruin a pole-yoke.

The neck-yoke should belong to the limber, and be considered as forming a part of it as much as the double and single trees.

The gun detachments must often be carried under fire by the pieces alone, the caissons remaining under cover; consequently it may be advantageous to have the off horses available for riding purposes. If so, it follows that all of the saddles of a battery should be alike, and all riding saddles. Simplicity and interchangeability in the mounted equipment of the Army requires that they be of the regulation cavalry pattern. whatever that may be.


M1887 McClellan artillery saddle cantle hook.
M1887 McClellan artillery saddle cantle hook.

In the new harness the regulation cavalry saddle has replaced the Grimsley riding and valise saddles. Valises on off-horse saddles would prevent the use of the saddles for riding purposes. Saddle-bags are better for the use of the men and do not interfere with the riders. They should be of regulation cavalry pattern, and carried on all team horses. The cavalry bridle with the California (lash) reins is used. The Shoemaker bit is made use of, as well as the hair girth issued to the cavalry. The cantle-hooks are securely fastened to the rear part of wheel-horse saddles but can be removed and attached to another saddle, if necessary, in the field. These serve to hold time single-trees when detached from the double tree. They do not interfere with the saddlebags or prevent articles from being attached to the saddle as usual.

Whitman stirrups are used. Experience in the field has proved that brass wears better than iron, steel, or nickel plate. The rubber pads prevent the feet from slipping; stirrups on off horses should be kept crossed when the horses are not ridden. The Whitman safety-bar is employed.  Not only does this device appear to lessen danger at times but it facilitates the cleaning of the stirrup-strap and sweat-leather

The stirrup-strap has been modified so as to dispense with the buckle and permit of a convenient manner of removing the stirrup when desired.

The latigo straps are made of a very strong, pliable, oiled leather of a kind much better adapted to the purpose for which they are intended than the black leather now used. This oiled leather resembles the material used by the Mexicans for latigo straps, viz, rawhide, softened by hand-rubbing with tallow, and which are the most durable and best known.

Ever since two horses have been conducted abreast with a rider on the near one, the fact has been obvious that in checking the off horse by means of the lead-line he simply turns his head to the left and slackens his pace, but does not assist his mate but slightly if any. The result of this want of proper control makes the near horse do all of the work in holding back. To overcome this difficulty a roller has been devised. It is a light but strong construction, intended to be attached to the saddle of the off horse: the rein of the bridle passes through it, the end (lash) tailing on the left side of the horse, convenient to the driver’s hand: desiring to check the horse, the driver pulls on the rein, and as it acts equally on each side of the bit, the result is that the horse is forced back without turning his head from the direction in which he is going. Trials have shown that the results from the use of the roller are as stated, and that the off horse soon becomes so educated that he holds back of his own accord as soon as he sees the driver reach for the rein.

The lead-line is arranged so that it can be made longer or shorter as desired. and has a snap-hook for attaching the end to a ring on the near horse saddle when desireable

Tests made at the Watertown Arsenal to determine the tensile strength of traces disclosed some curious facts. The samples sent were made of new material, of dimensions prescribed for wheel traces of the present harness. The tests show that tensile strength varies from 1,590 pounds to 5,970 pounds, showing lack of strength in some places amid excess in others. The strength of a trace, like that of a chain, is only that of its weakest part. Traces should be equally strong in all parts; they should be wider, and there should be as few thicknesses of leather as consistent with the necessary strength. A wide trace will not twist easily; it call be kept in good condition, as the thinness insures complete permeation by the oil, thereby keeping it pliable and prepared to resist moisture. The oil never properly permeates our present trace, as an examination of old ones shows conclusively, the inside thickness being found to be stiff and dry. With traces made of more than two thicknesses of leather, frauds are possible the “filling” not being of the best leather, but generally scraps. An examination of traces made during the late war by contract proves this to be the fact. It is almost impossible for the inspector to detect this cheat. Thick traces are more expensive to manufacture than the ones proposed. Wide traces are not as liable to chafe as narrow ones. Trace chains are made 24 inches long, with a ring at one end and a double hook at the other. The ring can be attached to the front end of traces or to the single-tree The double hook can be fastened in to any link of the chain which passes through the D ring at the rear end of traces, making a rapid and correct adjustment of the trace easy. Several of these chains can be fastened together if desired.

The galling of artillery horses in the field is a very great evil, and one that causes great expense and decrease of efficiency

Among other causes may be mentioned

The collar.
The splinter-bar attachment.
Excess of weight at the end of the pole.
Improper adjustment.
Method of attachment.

The regulation collar is very objectionable; it fastens by means straps at the top, just the place where it should be firm; consequently is not always properly closed ; the straps stretch, and the holes for the buckle-tongues become enlarged. Frequently the collar is not properly closed because circumstances prevent, or the horse objects. Under favorable circumstances it is hard work for a short man to buckle the strap of a collar properly, and if the horse is galled and restive or the harnessing is done at night, it is almost impossible to do so. It is not uncommon to resort to the objectionable method of putting the closed collar over the head, and then reversing the ends. It is almost as difficult to take the collar off as to put it on. It does not seem to be necessary or desireable to have the hames separate from the collar. It is almost impossible to keep the hames properly adjusted to the collar; straps are continually stretching, and buckle tongues cutting the leather.

It is believed that the best collar for artillery service is one hinged firmly at the top and fastening at the bottom with a spring-catch, the hames to be permanently attached thereto; it appears to overcome the manifest objections to the present collar and hames. The collars made for this harness are of the kind described. Two of a similar kind have been in constant use in one of the light batteries since 1881, and have given complete satisfaction.

The collar-hoods arc made large enough to cover the hinge of the collar and protect the back of the neck. They give a smooth, solid bearing on the neck, and do not interfere with the proper working of: the collar.

The collar-pads are small, and made of solid leather. They are intended to shorten the interior length of the collar 1 inch, and when used, are placed under the hood between it and the hinge. The hood holds the pad firmly in place. Martingales and side-straps are utilized in this harness. These articles form, in effect, one construction. The principal advantage claimed is, that by the use of these articles the horse exercises his maximum power naturally and to the best advantage when holding back.

The martingale is a heavy leather strap with folded edges, one end or which fastens to the neck-yoke, passing thence between the fore legs to the girth. It through a standing loop on the girth, and is attached to the hooks of the side straps, which, at the other ends, buckle into rings at the ends of the breeching. The horse when checked holds back from a point directly in his front; hence there exists no tendency to throw him down or out from his natural position, and the force exerted being equally and evenly distributed to the breeching, he acts naturally and with his greatest power. The martingale prevents strain on the collar, for it should be so adjusted by means of the side straps that when holding back there will he no tightening of the breast straps. When holding back the horse also gets the advantage derived from his own weight.

The martingale and side straps being under his body and connected with the breeching and neck-yoke have the effect of holding him up, and the more sudden the check or the more the load pushes him the greater the effect. Instead of being pulled down on his nose he is held up and assisted in being surefooted. The action of the martingale and side straps prevents the end of the pole front flying up or about. This is accomplished simply by the weight of the horse without effort on his part. By using this harness the weight at the end of the pole can be reduced to a minimum, and the necessity for a pole-lift obviated. The hair-pad manufactured at the Rock Island Arsenal and issued to some of the batteries seems to give satisfaction and to be far superior to the blanket. Hair is practically indestructible, and the pads are easily kept clean. They allow of free ventilation, and do not when wet act as a poultice on the back of the horse. It might be an improvement to make the strands looser, if practicable. In the long run these pads are cheaper than blankets. They should be made of black hair, and should not have anything attached to them or stamped on them.

For parade purposes scarlet saddle-cloths have been provided. It is intended to have these used on each team-horse and saddle-horse ridden by the enlisted men of a battery. They are made of heavy cotton canvas, a very durable material, dyed bright scarlet. At present, owing to the fact that the color of our blankets is not fast, little uniformity exits as to color, which greatly detracts from the appearance of the battery. This will be avoided by the use of the saddle-cloths, the color not being affected by moisture or light.

The lead harness has been made to conform as nearly as possible with the wheel, and some changes suggested by field experience have been made.

A very simple cannoneer harness has been made, intended for use with horse artillery, but especially with machine guns. It can be used on any horse having a saddle on, and when not in use does not in any way interfere with the rider.

A very decided improvement in the new harness is its lightness, as compared with the regulation harness, and the consequent facility in handling. It is nor uncommon for drivers to be severely strained and injured while harnessing and unharnessing, caused by the weight of the present equipment This proposed harness can be manufactured more cheaply than that now in use.

Two of the light batteries have had this harness on trial over a year, and the reports received warrant the assertion that it has proved to be satisfactory and worthy of further and more exhaustive trial.

respectfully submitted.


Major, Third Artillery.