Traveller – Robert E. Lee’s Horse

Traveller was General Robert E. Lee’s horse during most of the Civil War and afterwards too. Traveller is the famous “Confederate grey” colored horse so well recognized in Civil War photographs and art.

General Robert E. Lee and Traveler

General Robert E. Lee and Traveler

General Robert E. Lee and Traveller were together almost the entire Civil War. Lee rode Traveller to Appomattox Court House when he surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant on April 9, 1865. After the Civil War, while Lee was president of Washington University (later renamed to Washington and Lee University) in Lexington, Virginia, Traveller was with Lee.

At Washington University, Lee still enjoyed riding Traveller and he often took Traveller for rides in and around Lexington. Robert E. Lee is interred in a crypt beneath the Lee Chapel on the campus of Washington and Lee University. Traveller is buried just outside the Lee Chapel, showing how important the horse was to Lee.

What Was Traveller Like?

Many have wondered what this magnificent grey horse, a horse General Robert E. Lee was so very fond of, was like in life.

Perhaps Captain Robert E. Lee (General Lee’s son) and General Robert E. Lee’s own words are our best source of information about Traveller. The below book excerpts are from Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee by Captain Robert E. Lee, His Son, and are from the year 1862:

“The General was on the point of moving his headquarters down to Fredericksburg, some of the army having already gone forward to that city. I think the camp was struck the day after I arrived, and as the General’s hands were not yet entirely well, he allowed me, as a great favour, to ride his horse “Traveller.” Amongst the soldiers this horse was as well known as was his master. He was a handsome iron-gray with black points–mane and tail very dark–sixteen hands high, and five years old. He was born near the White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, and attracted the notice of my father when he was in that part of the State in 1861. He was never known to tire, and, though quiet and sensible in general and afraid of nothing, yet if not regularly exercised, he fretted a good deal especially in a crowd of horses. But there can be no better description of this famous horse than the one given by his master. It was dictated to his daughter Agnes at Lexington, Virginia, after the war, in response to some artist who had asked for a description, and was corrected in his own handwriting:”

“If I were an artist like you I would draw a true picture of Traveller–representing his fine proportions, muscular figure, deep chest and short back, strong haunches, flat legs, small head, broad forehead, delicate ears, quick eye, small feet, and black mane and tail. Such a picture would inspire a poet, whose genius could then depict his worth and describe his endurance of toil, hunger, thirst, heat, cold, and the dangers and sufferings through which he passed. He could dilate upon his sagacity and affection, and his invariable response to every wish of his rider. He might even imagine his thoughts, through the long night marches and days of battle through which he has passed. But I am no artist; I can only say he is a Confederate gray. I purchased him in the mountains of Virginia in the autumn of 1861, and he has been my patient follower ever since–to Georgia, the Carolinas, and back to Virginia. He carried me through the Seven Days battle around Richmond, the second Manassas, at Sharpsburg, Fredericksburg, the last day at Chancellorsville, to Pennsylvania, at Gettysburg, and back to the Rappahannock. From the commencement of the campaign in 1864 at Orange, till its close around Petersburg, the saddle was scarcely off his back, as he passed through the fire of the Wilderness, Spottsylvania, Cold Harbour, and across the James River. He was almost in daily requisition in the winter of 1864-65 on the long line of defenses from Chickahominy, north of Richmond, to Hatcher’s Run, south of the Appomattox. In the campaign of 1865, he bore me from Petersburg to the final days at Appomattox Court House. You must know the comfort he is to me in my present retirement. He is well supplied with equipments. Two sets have been sent to him from England, one from the ladies of Baltimore, and one was made for him in Richmond; but I think his favourite is the American saddle from St. Louis. Of all his companions in toil, ’Richmond,’ ’Brown Roan,’ ’Ajax,’ and quiet ’Lucy Long,’ he is the only one that retained his vigour. The first two expired under their onerous burden, and the last two failed. You can, I am sure, from what I have said, paint his portrait.”

There can be little doubt that Traveller was just as an extraordinary horse, as Robert E. Lee was a general!

Traveller Causes Injuries To Lee’s Hands

As fond as Robert E. Lee was of Traveller, Lee did not completely escape the hazards and risks of an equestrian. The following excerpt (also from 1862) describes how Traveller was once responsible for injuring General Lee’s hands (as was alluded to in the above excerpts.) Captain Robert E. Lee writes:

“He was much on foot during this part of the campaign, and moved about either in an ambulance or on horseback, with a courier leading his horse. The accident which temporarily disabled him happened before he left Virginia. He had dismounted, and was sitting on a fallen log, with the bridle reins hung over his arm. Traveller, becoming frightened at something, suddenly dashed away, threw him violently to the ground, spraining both hands and breaking a small bone in one of them. A letter written some weeks afterward to my mother alludes to this meeting with his son, and to the condition of his hands:”

“…I have not laid eyes on Rob since I saw him in the battle of Sharpsburg–going in with a single gun of his for the second time, after his company had been withdrawn in consequence of three of its guns having been disabled. Custis has seen him and says he is very well, and apparently happy and content. My hands are improving slowly, and, with my left hand, I am able to dress and undress myself, which is a great comfort. My right is becoming of some assistance, too, though it is still swollen and sometimes painful. The bandages have been removed. I am now able to sign my name. It has been six weeks to-day since I was injured, and I have at last discarded the sling.”

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Civil War Horses

Some Civil War Horses And Their Riders

Horses used by Robert E. Lee, William Tecumseh Sherman, Ulysses S. Grant, Stonewall Jackson, and George B. McClellan in the Civil War.

Traveller and Robert E. Lee

General Robert E. Lee  and Traveler

General Robert E. Lee and Traveller

Confederate General Robert E. Lee came to Richmond, Virginia in the spring of 1861. During this visit Lee was given a bay stallion named Richmond. Richmond was a nervous horse and he proved to be unsatisfactory. When Richmond was near strange horses he would tend to squeal and this was not a good thing for a Civil War horse to do.

Lee took Richmond to West Virginia and purchased another horse called The Roan or Brown-Roan. Unfortunately, The Roan began to go blind during the Seven Days’ Battle in June and July of 1862. The horse Richmond died after Malvern Hill. After Second Bull Run, cavalryman Jeb Stuart got Lee a mare named Lucy Long and also around this time, Lee received a sorrel horse named Ajax.

When Lee rode to Appomattox Court House to surrender to General Ulysses S. Grant on April 9, 1865 he was riding his favorite and most known horse. This gray colored horse was Traveller. After the Civil War when Robert E. Lee was president at Washington University (later renamed to Washington and Lee University), Lee’s favorite old war-horse Traveller was still with him. When Lee died, the horse Traveller walked behind Lee’s hearse in the funeral procession. Traveller walked with his head bowed and in a slow gait. Traveller is buried outside of the Lee Chapel on the campus of Washington and Lee University. Robert E. Lee is interred in a crypt beneath the Lee Chapel.

Lexington, Sam, and William Tecumseh Sherman

William Tecumseh Sherman had two favorite horses during the Civil War, these horses were named Lexington and Sam. Sherman rode Lexington at Atlanta and in the Grand Review in Washington at the close of the war. Sam was injured several times during the Civil War. At Shiloh, three of Sherman’s horses were killed during the battle. Two of these three horses died as an orderly held their reigns.

Cincinnati and Ulysses S. Grant

As a young man, Ulysses S. Grant developed a love of horses when he worked at his father’s farm. Grant became a skilled equestrian. Grant was an exceptional equestrian while a cadet at West Point, although he didn’t stand out as having exceptional talents in anything else at West Point. When Grant finished at West Point, he was hoping for a commission in the cavalry. At the time the cavalry had no vacancies, so Grant ended up in the infantry. For a horse-loving equestrian like Ulysses S. Grant, the infantry assignment must have been a great disappointment.

An admirer gave the horse Cincinnati to Grant after the Battle of Chattanooga and Cincinnati became Grant’s favorite horse during the Civil War. Cincinnati was seldom ridden by anyone other than Grant. One notable exception being President Abraham Lincoln, who rode Cincinnati when the president last visited City Point, Virginia. Other horses Grant had in the Civil War were Jack, Fox, and Kangaroo. Kangaroo was left on the Shiloh battlefield by the Confederates. This horse was described as ugly and raw-boned. Grant having an eye for horses however, knew that Kangaroo was a thoroughbred. After becoming a Yankee horse, Kangaroo got rest and care, and became a fine horse.

Little Sorrel and Stonewall Jackson

Stonewall Jackson on Little Sorrel

Stonewall Jackson on Little Sorrel

Little Sorrel was Confederate General Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson’s horse. Stonewall was riding this horse when he was shot by friendly fire at Chancellorsville. Little Sorrel became Jackson’s horse in May of 1861 at Harpers Ferry. The horse was about eleven-years-old at this time. Note: There is reference to Stonewall’s horse being called both Old Sorrel and Little Sorrel.

That Devil Dan and George B. McClellan

Union General George B. McClellan’s favorite war-horse was named Daniel Webster. Members of General McClellan’s staff began to call this horse “that devil Dan” because Daniel Webster was a speedy horse. The horses of McClellan’s staff members had trouble keeping up with “that devil Dan.” Daniel Webster was with McClellan at Antietam. This horse was described as being a dark bay, about seventeen hands high, a pure bred, handsome, and he seldom showed signs of fatigue. Daniel Webster was a fine example of a horse. When McClellan retired from military service, the horse Daniel Webster went with him. The horse nicknamed “that devil Dan” became the family horse of the McClellan family.

My Kingdom for a Horse: Confederate Leaders and their Horses

“A dog may be man’s best friend, but the horse wrote history.”


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