Traveller, the war-horse of Robert E. Lee, and Little Sorrel, Stonewall Jackson’s horse, were nearly as recognizable during the Civil War as their owners. Still held in reverence long after the war, both horses’ remains were preserved following their own deaths and placed on display for an admiring public. Their skeletal remains are now fittingly buried in Lexington, Virginia, not far from the graves of their famous owners.
The gray Saddlebred horse that would become known as “Traveller” was born near Blue Sulphur Springs, (West) Virginia in 1857 and originally named “Jeff Davis.” His wartime owner, Thomas L. Broun, a major in the Third Regiment of the Wise Legion, recalled the sixteen-hand horse being “greatly admired in camp for his rapid and springy walk, his high spirit, cold carriage, and muscular strength.” Robert E. Lee’s initial encounter with the horse occurred in the fall of 1861. Having arrived in western Virginia to assume command of Confederate forces in the area, Lee first saw and admired the four-year-old horse but was unable to acquire it at the time. Then in February 1862, Lee happened upon the horse again in South Carolina and persuaded the owner to sell him the animal for $200 in Confederate currency.
Lee eventually changed the horse’s name to Traveller (spelled with a double “l” in English style) and famously rode him throughout the remainder of the Civil War.
Following the war in 1865, horse and owner relocated to Lexington, Virginia, when Lee accepted the presidency of the then Washington College. Lee even arranged to have a large brick stable built behind the President’s House for Traveller in 1869.
After General’s Lee’s death in 1870, Traveller remained at the college, being allowed to graze the campus grounds. In June 1871, while Lee’s daughter was feeding Traveller a lump of sugar, the horse was found to be lame. A close examination revealed a “small nail or tack” in the animal’s hoof, which was removed without incident. A few days later, however, Traveller became ill with tetanus and had to be euthanized. He was buried beneath a tree on the college grounds.
Traveller’s bones were exhumed at some point in 1875, bleached, and placed on exhibit for several years in New York. In 1907, the skeleton was mounted and returned to Washington and Lee University, where it remained on display until 1929. The bones were then relocated to the basement of Lee Chapel and finally reinterred outside the chapel near the entrance to the Lee family crypt in 1971, one hundred years after the horse’s death.
“Little Sorrel” was a Morgan horse, fifteen hands tall, captured in Harper’s Ferry, (West) Virginia by Stonewall Jackson’s army in 1861. Originally intending to give the horse to his wife, Jackson paid the quartermaster $150 for the gelding, naming him “Fancy.” But after riding the horse, Jackson found the animal’s gait so pleasing he remarked, “A seat on him was like being rocked in a cradle.” Deciding to keep the horse for himself, it quickly became known as “Little Sorrel” once Jackson began using it as his regular mount.
Although not looking the part of the classic “war-horse,” Little Sorrel had the reputation of remaining calm in battle while also possessing remarkable stamina on long marches. “The endurance of the little animal was marvelous,” Henry Kyd Douglas wrote, “and the General was apt to forget it was exceptional.”
Jackson was riding Little Sorrel when wounded on May 2, 1863 at the battle of Chancellorsville. The horse remained on the battlefield after Jackson was removed to receive medical attention and was later found by two artillery soldiers, neither of whom recognized it as Jackson’s horse. One of the soldiers rode the horse for several days until it was discovered to be Little Sorrel, at which point the horse was turned over the Gen. J.E.B Stuart. He in turn gave the animal to Anna Jackson, who took Little Sorrel with her to North Carolina to live at her father’s farm.
In 1883, Anna donated Little Sorrel to the Virginia Military Institute (VMI), where the animal was permitted to leisurely graze the parade grounds for the next two years. The horse was then relocated to the Confederate Soldiers’ Home in Richmond, Virginia, where he subsequently died at the age of 36 in 1886.
Following the animal’s death, the Soldiers’ Home contracted a taxidermist named Frederic Webster to preserve Little Sorrel’s remains. Webster mounted the hide on a framework of plaster, keeping the animal’s skeleton for himself “as part payment for my service.” In 1949, the hide was returned to VMI where it remains on display to this day. That same year, the horse’s skeletal remains were also donated to VMI, but stayed in storage until 1997, at which time they were cremated and interred on the school’s parade grounds at the foot of the Stonewall Jackson statue.