No, not Robert E. Lee.
This horse is probably the most famous horse in American history. His name was Traveller.
And he was from West Virginia.
He was born at Blue Sulphur Springs, Greenbrier County, Virginia in 1857.
Somewhere in his pedigree is the famous racehorse named Grey Eagle, a thoroughbred. I have seen this horse listed as his sire, but that horse was being run in the late 1830’s and early 1840’s. Now, horses do live a long time, but I wonder how long they lived in the nineteenth century. Where ever Grey Eagle fit into Traveller’s pedigree, this horse was considered the top of the line for his time.
In those days Greenbrier County was known for its fine horses, and Traveller took first prize at the Lewisburg fairs in 1859 and 1860.
At the outbreak of the war, a quartermaster for the 3rd Virginia Infantry purchased Traveller, because he was of the Greenbrier stock and could be of some use during the war. He named the horse “Greenbrier.”
Greenbrier proved to be as sturdy horse that could be ridden hard over the terrain of the Allegheny mountain roads. Lee was stationed in that part of Virginia during those early months of the war, and he was smitten with the young colt.
When Lee got transferred to South Carolina in 1862, the quartermaster sold him the colt, which Lee then renamed Traveller, perhaps because of his ability to traverse the rugged mountain roads with such ease. He could also go long and hard, a trait that was essential for any officer’s horse.
Traveller was also very easy to handle and not easily spooked, but during the Second Battle of Bull Run, Traveller became frightened by the advancing enemy and ran. That wouldn’t have been such a bad thing, but Lee had dismounted and was holding the horse’s bridle. When Traveller bolted, the horse dragged Lee down on a stump, breaking both of his hands. Lee spent the rest of the campaign in an ambulance.
After the war, Traveller accompanied Lee to Lexington, Virginia, where Lee was president of Washington College (now Washington and Lee University). During his tenure at Lexington, Traveller’s tail was often ragged and moth-eaten from people plucking hairs from his tail. They were collecting his hairs as souvenirs. It was as if they were collecting the hairs of Alexander’s Bucephalus. (Lexington, incidentally, isn’t that far from Traveller’s birthplace.)
Lee died in 1870, and Traveller followed the caisson carrying the casket.
Then Traveller stepped on a nail in 1871 and caught tetanus. He had to be euthanized.
He was buried on the campus of Washington College, but in 1875, his bones were exhumed and taken to Rochester, New York, where they were bleached and put on display. Then in 1907, the bones were returned to Washington and Lee, where they were displayed at the school’s museum.
However, those bones were not preserved. Students often carved their initials in the bones for good luck. As it became obvious that the bones were in trouble, they were moved to the basement of the Lee Chapel, but they still continued to detiorate.
In 1971, the bones were buried near the Lee family crypt, where Traveller’s master’s remains are located.
Now, I should mention here that Greenbrier County, Virginia, is now Greenbrier County, West Virginia. Its county seat is Lewisburg, where Traveller won those first prizes as a colt. (This is the same county where the Greenbrier hotel –and former congressional bunker–is located).
So Traveller is technically a famous West Virginian, though of the equine variety. I’m surprised I never read a word about this when we had West Virginia history, and I’m a Knight of the Golden Horseshoe. West Virginia history is taught– at least when I had it– in such a way that tries to show all the famous people who are either from here or grew up here. I’m sure other states that have these required history courses teach them in exactly the same way. I heard all about Pearl S. Buck, Booker T. Washington, Leon Sullivan, Stonewall Jacks, and Barney Fife Don Knotts, but not a single word about Traveller.
Richard Adams (of Watership Down fame) wrote a biography of Traveller, which is written entirely from the horse’s perspective. I’ve not read it, but I have read Adams’s other work that uses animals as main characters. And I really liked the those books.
So maybe I need to get this book. From my reading of reviews, Adams tries to give the horse a Southern accent. I don’t know how that would work, considering Adams is from England, and the English never get American accents right!
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