Horse Equipment, Material Culture

The McClellan Saddle and Its Proposed Modifications

 

By Lieut. Colonel Edgar M. Whiting, Cavalry

The horse equipment of the cavalry trooper has been improved in a number of ways during the past twenty-five years, but its improvement has not kept pace with the improvement of weapons and other articles of equipment. Although a better saddle than the McClellan might be devised, the large number on hand precludes any change of saddle other than modification of those on hand.

whiting1_1            whiting2_1

We have done away with quarterstraps, spider rings and hair cinches and substituted a girth, which, buckling to leather billets, reduces the weight and reduced the time needed in saddling. The long cylindrical cantle roll, so difficult to make and attach to the saddle and so difficult to climb over, has been changed to a broken roll, which is lashed down by coat straps and lies close to the horse. The old nosebag, so wasteful of grain, has been replaced by a very practical and efficient grain bag. The picket pin and lariat have served their purpose and departed. The bridoon came to relieve tortured jaws of the curb, and now the curb is disappearing from most troops, and the horses are bettered mannered in consequence. The bit and bridoon is the ideal thing in the hands of a good rider, but we do not get many good riders in war. Horsemanship was not taken account of on the qualification cards of the last war. Taking account of it might have saved us some money. Leather flaps have been attached to the tree, and woven felt attached to the panels. The first gives more comfort to the rider, the second reduced slipping of saddle blankets.

whiting1_2            whiting2_2

But the McClellan saddle in its present form, and packed according to existing regulations, leaves much to be desired in comfort. I am going to enumerate the faults as I see them.

1. A great many men have tried a great many ways of carrying a rifle under one leg and a saber under the other, but not one has found a way that is comfortable. The most fervent advocates of carrying these weapons on the pommel are those who do not have to carry them.

2. The present regulation pack is nearly ten pounds heavier on the near side than on the off side. This is especially disadvantageous, as the trooper is very apt to pull the saddle toward the near side in mounting, and the excess increases the harm done by the disarrangement in mounting.

3. When the raincoat is folded the long way, inside out, the collar hangs down to be spattered with mud, and the coat being folded inside out, all the dust of the road accumulates on the inside of the coat, and when worn by the friction of coat straps and saddle, the coat leaks in places where leaks are least wanted. And, for some unknown reason, when grain is carried, it is carried on top of the raincoat. When a rain begins, the column must halt that men may unpack, repack and put on their coats. Many officers and men have asked me the reason of this arrangement, but I could not give it, because no one could ever give it to me.

5. The stirrup leathers are too heavy and clumsy, and their great size does not confer appropriate strength. The buckles appear to have been designed for duty as trace buckles. After shins and saddle blankets had been sufficiently rubbed over a period of about forty years, a means was found of holding these buckles down to the stirrup post, but this arrangement causes the loose end of the stirrup leather to dangle down from the hood like a cow’s tail, marring the appearance of the most perfectly groomed horse and polished equipment.

6. The McClellan hooded stirrup is heavy, bulky and clumsy. The weight of the hood causes the tread of the stirrup to fall forward, so that the trooper cannot depress the heel as prescribed without lifting the whole weight of the hood. The width of the stirrup at the top causes acute discomfort to the ankle when the foot is thrust home. After more than twenty-seven years’ service, mostly with troops, in colder climates and in hot climates, in fair weather and foul weather, the only possible virtue that I can attribute to it is its protection to feet stuck out too far in close order drill. As a matter of fact, such feet occupy the same relative position as heads thrust out of car windows; they need bumping.

7. The two lower slots mortised in the cantle were intended for use with the now obsolete cylindrical roll. In order to lash down the present broken roll, it is prescribed that the coat strap have one of its turns brought down as near the end of the roll as possible. This sounds easy, but is not as easy as might be supposed, and it is therefore not generally done, resulting in the roll flapping about and eventually coming open. The lack of uniformity of rolls due to this feature is not pleasing to the eye, to say the least. Since the pommel roll is smaller than the cantle roll, the cantle straps and pommel straps are of different lengths; a complication of manufacture.

8. The leather flaps are unnecessarily wide at the top. It is difficult to attach saddle flaps by sewing to such a long wavy line as the McClellan tree. The extra width in rear serves no purpose and is really a cause of weakness, as it causes a wrinkle in the flap.

9. The stitches attaching the leather billets to the linen strips which are in turn attached to the tree are worn rather rapidly by the friction of the flaps over them, and must be countersunk to last. This item is too often overlooked by saddlers.

10. The weight of the saddle blanket is out of proportion to its efficiency. Its size is so great that it must be folded in six thicknesses. In this folding, we have what might seem a simple operation, but a look at any mounted organization will reveal a great many badly folded saddle blankets. unless one estimates the thirds correctly in one phase of the folding, he will have one of two results. Either the inner fold will be too short and form a ridge on the withers, or the inner fold will be too long and double back, also forming a ridge over the withers. What will happen to the withers is a foregone conclusion. It takes a keen and experienced eye to spot these irregularities of folding at the inspection that should precede the march. Too few officers look for these things, and they wonder why there are so many sore withers. I believe that this folding is responsible for nearly as many sore withers as failure to push the blanket off the withers before girthing.

11. The bed blanket looks to the inexperienced like a saddle blanket, but though its quality is equally poor it is not exactly like the saddle blanket, being smaller and often thinner. It is too small to be folded in the same way as a saddle blanket and too large and too thin to be folded in any other way for use under the saddle, and under the saddle it must go, over the saddle blanket, as soon as troops go in a campaign. It is surprising how many bed blankets get mistaken for saddle blankets among partly trained troops, and their suffering horses pay for the error.

12. The rifle scabbard is too small for the rifle and is not properly shaped. This was true also of the old carbine scabbard. Much damage is done to both front and rear sights by jamming the rifle in the scabbard too small in the first place.

13. The surcingle is not needed in the field. One of a pair of double reins will perform its only function, which is to hold a cold compress on a bunch that would otherwise develop into a sore. The surcingle belongs in garrison, where if used with the saddle blanket judiciously and frequently instead of the saddle in the first months of would-be cavalrymen’s service, the young men would learn the correct military seat. Recruits would thus sit up straight in their saddles and avoid many of the faults caused by putting men on saddles before they learn to ride. I am aware that this is a digression but I do not intend by any means to belittle the surcingle in its proper sphere. It is the best assistant instructor of equitation that any man can have, modern doctrines notwithstanding.

The Cavalry Board has developed a modified McClellan saddle that when packed for the field will eliminate some of the undesirable features of the present saddle and pack. The purpose of these modifications is to reduce the weight, improve the balance, simplify and speed up packing and make horse and rider more comfortable.  There is nothing new to cavalrymen in these modifications except their application to the McClellan saddle.

All wool bed and saddle blankets, identical in size, weight and quality, 75″ by 60″, weight 2 lbs. 4 oz. less than the present bed and saddle blankets.  They cost less than the present combination of saddle and bed blanket.  The saddle blanket is folded in four thicknesses in precisely the same manner as the present bed blanket when placed on the shelter half preparatory to rolling up. This method of folding is simple and avoids the possibility of a ridge over the withers. It is realized that we have enough of our present bed and saddle blankets to last our little army for a great many years to come, but it is not a bad plan to have better replacements in view. While on the subject of saddle blankets, there is no blanket made that can compare with the mohair pad as a protector of the back of the horse. Light olive drab in color, it is attractive in appearance, it lasts for years, and its only disadvantage is that it cannot be used as cover for horse or man in cold weather. But if the trooper has a warm overcoats and puts his bed blanket over his horse, which none of them ever does, he can sleep on his mohair pad with some degree of comfort.

The weight is further reduces by the use of metal stirrups and the same kind of leathers used on officers’ saddles; these save 2 lbs. 13oz. Omitting the surcingle saves 6 oz., and a metal scabbard instead of a fibre scabbard saves 8 oz. The total saving in weight is 5 lbs., 15oz. Not a startling amount, but every bit of saving helps.

In order to speed up packing and unpacking, saddlebag straps have been substituted for the cantle and pommel straps. These cantle and pommel straps are of different lengths, complicating manufacture, and it takes time to wind each twice around the cantle and pommel rolls, and going around twice adds nothing to pommel rolls, and going around twice adds nothing to strength or security. The saddlebag straps are shorter, wider and stronger than the present coat straps, and they go only once around the rolls. Two slots are mortised about an inch and a half below the lower cantle slots__these slots that were intended for the cylindrical roll–so that when the straps are buckles around the roll, the roll is tied down snugly in the place where it belongs. Five of these straps are used on the pommel. One through the center slot on top secures the center of the pommel wallets, the feed bag and the raincoat keeping them clear of the withers; two, one on each side, pass through staples fixed to the front of the tree and slots in the top piece of leather joining the wallets, securing them to the tree; and two more, one on each side, pass through leather staples on the under sides of the wallets and the front part of the flaps, around the wallets, making them still more secure. The upper pair of these straps pass around and secure the feed bag and raincot[sic]. The raincoat is folded in rectangular form, and then rolled up on the principle of folding a pyramidal tent–only the outside of the bottom of the skirt is exposed to wear.

Instead of the linen strips on the present saddle, to which the billets are sewn, staples are attached to the tree, and the billets attached to the staples, secured by thong lacing. This permits replacement by the trooper of a broken billet and eliminates linen from materials used.

The saddle bags were converted into pommel wallets–a very simple matter after we found out how to do it–lighter than the saddle bags and holding all the articles carried in the saddle bags except the underclothing. They will hold the underclothing also, but it was thought best not to require too nice a fit, so the underclothing is placed in the cantle roll. Most saddling in campaign is done in darkness, and one purpose of this modified pack is to make it simple and easy to put on quickly. I have always believed that when transportation is available all the pack except arms, ammunition, the feed bag with grain and the raincoat should be taken off the horses. I thing that an officer does not fully appreciate the difference made by weight until he has raced a little. you will never see an officer or trooper, for that matter, who has raced putting any more weight on his horse than he can help nor will you see him sitting on his horse when there is no reason for it.

The issue rifle scabbard was remodeled by wetting and stretching over a wooden form, so that it is shaped for the rifle, and it permits the rifle to be drawn and returned with ease and without damage to the sights. In order to hold the rifle steady at all gaits and shift some of its weight from the cantle, a stiff leather brace, reinforced by a piece of spring steel (actually a piece of an old phonograph spring) within is attached to the scabbard and secured to the girth by means of the rear billet, made long for the purpose and buckled to the girth. Carried in this way, the rifle is entirely out of the way of the trooper’s leg, and the stiffness of the brace holds it steady, even over obstacles. The brace was copied from an old British rifle scabbard. The rifle is placed in the scabbard before mounting and presents no difficulty in mounting or in withdrawing after mounting. The careless trooper will crack his shin only once on the butt plate.

The saber carrier is a modification of the British carrier and carries spare horse shoes and nails where they are readily accessible on the march. This carrier may be used on any saddle and the modification permits carrying any type of saber or scabbard. As we now have three different types of scabbard, the carrier had to accommodate any of them. The carrier is suspended by a stout strap from a staple on the cantle bar and secured by a light strap that snaps into a ring near the center of the girth. In the photograph, the shoes were unfortunately not placed in the carrier, which lowered the position of the saber until it is too near the end of the cantle roll. However, there is no difficulty in drawing it, even in this position. It must be remembered that to ride steadily and not interfere with one’s own horse or others, the saber must be in a vertical plane, and the thickness of the two shoes acts in the same way as the small block of wood placed on a German saber carrier that one of my regiment picked up on a battlefield.

Four of these saddles were ridden by student officers on the recent 100-mile forced march. All four preferred them to the regulation pack. Upon their recommendation, the rifle was raised higher on the saddle and the steel spring added to the leather brace. Two of the saddles will shortly be turned over to the Second Cavalry and two to the Thirteenth Cavalry for a test covering several months, after which they will be submitted to the Cavalry Board.

The intelligent testing and criticism by Capt. Harrison and the skilled work of Sergt. Phillips of the Cavalry School Detachment made the development of this modified saddle and pack a fact instead of a theory. The only way of finding out about equipment is by trying it.

Use of the Modified McClellan Saddle Pack by other than members of the Rifle Platoon.
By Gyles Merrill, Captain, Cavalry.

If the modified saddle pack is adopted, all troop commanders will at once be confronted with the problem of preserving its balance when used by those soldiers whose equipment is not identical with that of the private in a rifle platoon. There are many of these men, for example: members of the machines rifle platoons who carry no sabers, first sergeants and buglers, who carry no rifles and certain members of the machine rifle platoons and machine gun and headquarters troops, who carry neither rifles nor sabers.

The new saddle pack lends itself readily to the solution of this problem if one but takes the trouble to prescribe standard methods of packing the equipment of the soldier who falls in one of the groups mentioned above.

The following tables have been prepared on the assumption that the weight on the pommel should always exceed the weight on the cantle and that the weight on one side should balance within two or three pounds of the weight on the other side. It is believed that the preservation of this balance is more important than the lack of uniformity arising when some men of the troop carry the saber on the near side and others on the off side. The tables offered are by no means the only solution and possibly not the best, but they serve to illustrate the flexibility of the modified saddle pack.

If the saber and scabbard are not carried, the equipment is distributed in the experimental pack as follows

Near Pommel lbs. oz. Off Pommel lbs. oz.


Feed bag, heavier end 1 10 Feed bag, lighter end 0 4
One-half feed of grain 2 0 One-half feed of grain 2 0
One-half alligator rain coat 1 6 One-half alligator rain coat 1 6
Stirrup iron and leather 1 9 1/2 Stirrup iron and leather 1 9 1/2
Underclothing 0 12 Grooming kit 1 1
Toilet articles 1 4 Saddle soap and sponge 1 0
Mess kit and lunch 1 10 Rifle and scabbard, part 3 0
Coat straps 0 3 Coat straps 0 3
Pommel wallets 1 14 Pommel wallets 1 14
Total 12 4 1/2 Total 12  5 1/2
Total weight on pommel, 24 lbs. 10 oz. Excess on near pommel,  3 oz Excess on off pommel, 1 oz. 

Near Cantle lbs. oz. Off Cantle lbs. oz.


Horse shoes, nails and carrier 3 1 Rifle and scabbard 9 0
Canteen, filled 3 7 Shelter half and rope, part 1 4
Shelter half and pole, part 1 14 Tent pins 0 12
Tent pole 0 15 Bed blanket, part 1 14
Bed blanket, part 1 14 Coat straps 0 3
Coat straps 0 3
Total 11 6 Total 13 1
Excess off cantle,  1 lb., 11 oz Total Excess off side, 1 lb. 12 oz. 




If neither rifle nor saber is carried, the equipment is distributed in the experimental pack as follows

Near Pommel lbs. oz. Off Pommel lbs. oz.


Feed bag, lighter end 0 4 Feed bag, heavier end 1 10
One-half feed of grain 2 0 One-half feed of grain 2 0
One-half alligator rain coat 1 6 One-half alligator rain coat 1 6
Stirrup iron and leather 1 9 1/2 Stirrup iron and leather 1 9 1/2
Saddle soap and sponge 1 0 Grooming kit 1 1
Toilet articles 1 4 Mess kit and lunch 1 10
Canteen, filled 3 7 Coat straps 0 3
Coat straps 0 3 Pommel wallets 1 14
Pommel wallets 1 14
Total 12 15 1/2 Total 11 5 1/2
Total weight on pommel, 24 lbs. 5 oz. Excess on near pommel,   1 lb., 10 oz Total Excess on pommel, 11 lbs., 9 oz. 

Near Cantle lbs. oz. Off Cantle lbs. oz.


Shelter half and pole, part 1 14 Horse shoes, nails and carrier 3 1
Tent pole 0 15 Shelter half and rope, part 1 4
Bed blanket, part 1 14 Tent pins 0 12
Coat straps 0 3 Bed blanket, part 1 14
Underclothing, summer 0 6 Coat straps 0 3
Underclothing, summer 0 6
Total 5 4 Total 7 8
Total weight on cantle, 12 lbs., 12 oz. Excess on off cantle,  2 lb., 4 oz Total Excess off side, 10 oz. 




If the rifle and scabbard are not carried, the equipment is distributed in the experimental pack as follows

Near Pommel lbs. oz. Off Pommel lbs. oz.


Feed bag, heavier end 1 10 Feed bag, lighter end 0 4
One-half feed of grain 2 0 One-half feed of grain 2 0
One-half alligator rain coat 1 6 One-half alligator rain coat 1 6
Stirrup iron and leather 1 9 1/2 Stirrup iron and leather 1 9 1/2
Saddle soap and sponge 1 0 Grooming kit 1 1
Toilet articles 1 4 Mess kit and lunch 1 10
Underclothing 0 12 Coat straps 0 3
Coat straps 0 3 Pommel wallets 1 14
Pommel wallets 1 14
Total 11 10 1/2 Total 9 15 1/2
Total weight on pommel, 21 lbs. 10 oz. Excess on near pommel,   1 lb., 11 oz Total Excess on pommel, 2 lbs., 3 oz. 

Near Cantle lbs. oz. Off Cantle lbs. oz.


Canteen, filled 3 1 Saber and carrier 4 14
Shelter half and pole, part 1 14 Horse shoes, nails and carrier 3 1
Tent pole 0 15 Shelter half and rope, part 1 4
Bed blanket, part 1 14 Tent pins 0 12
Coat straps 0 3 Bed blanket, part 1 14
Coat straps 0 3
Total 8 5 Total 11 2
Total weight on cantle, 19 lbs., 7 oz. Excess off cantle,  2 lb., 13 oz