Remembering the War Horses
An Animal Rights Article from

FROM Tuesday's Horse
May 2019

Here are some of the ways horses have been used in wars and conflicts. Millions upon millions have died. They didn’t give their lives. The lives were taken.

WW I war Horse
A draft horse shown left hitched to a post, his partner just killed by shrapnel, 1916

Originally known as Decoration Day, Memorial Day originated in the years following the Civil War and became an official federal holiday in 1971.

Here are some of the way horses have been used in wars and conflicts. Millions upon millions have died for it. They didn’t give their lives. The lives were taken.

American Civil War

More than 1,000,000 horses and mules were killed during the U.S. Civil War. In the early days of the conflict, more horses than men were killed. Just at the July 1863 Battle of Gettysburg alone, the number of horses killed was about 1,500—881 horses and mules for the Union, and 619 for the Confederacy.

Eric J. Wittenberg, the award-winning Civil War historian, writes:

During the era of the Civil War, 1861-1865, there were no internal combustion engines fueled by gasoline, so there were only three ways to transport men, equipment and supplies: by boat, by train, or by horse. Horses were the primary means for logistics. Horses were used by artillery, by cavalry, by infantry, and by teamsters to move men and equipment.


Horses and mules provided the overwhelming majority of the power used to move men and machines – the true “horsepower” of the war effort. They served in a wide variety of roles, including being ridden, as draft animals pulling vehicles and guns, and as pack animals.

Horses were in demand during the First World War. Britain responded to this shortage by obtaining its horses by importing them from America and New Zealand with as many as 1,000,000 coming from America. This costs Britain 67.5 million pounds. Germany had a more elaborate system before the war. They had set up sponsored horse-breeding programmes in anticipation of the war. Their horses were registered every year, just like army reservists.

The Central Powers, unlike the Allies, were unable to import horses from overseas and as a result, led to their defeat through paralyses artillery battalions and supply lines.

During the war, many horses died because of exhaustion, drowning, becoming mired in mud and falling into shell holes. In some cases, riders were killed and their horses captured. Horses were sometimes fed and cared for poorly, poison gas attacks injured their respiratory systems and skin, and skin conditions such as mange were common. The invention of improvised nose plugs, however, served to help horses in the event of a gas attack. Improved gas masks were later on created by both the central and Allied nations, although most of the horses destroyed them mistaking them for feed bags.

war Horse statue
The War Horse is a memorial to the Civil War horse, designed by Tessa Pullan of Rutland, England, and given to the historical society by Paul Mellon.

In 1917, when more than 94,000 horses were sent from North America to Europe and 3,300 were lost at sea. Around 2,700 of these horses died when submarines and other warships sank their vessels.

Eight million horses and countless mules and donkeys died in the First World War. They were used to transport ammunition and supplies to the front and many died, not only from the horrors of shellfire but also in terrible weather and appalling conditions.

WW II writes:

World War II was the first highly mechanized war, and the most vivid images of the war include tanks, long convoys of trucks and jeeps, masses of bombers flying over. But there were still large numbers of horses and mules employed as cavalry, field artillery draft animals, and in supply trains. The United States was the most fully mechanized, but even the U.S. used animals throughout the war.

When mobilization for World War II began in 1939, it was predicted that the Army would need 200,000 horses. In 1940, mechanization of the Army was well under way, but the Army still had two horse cavalry divisions (the 1st and the 2d), two horse-drawn artillery regiments, and two mixed horse and motor transport regiments, with a total authorization of 16,800 horses and 3,500 mules.

The National Interest website tells us that:

By 1939 the German Reich possessed 3,800,000 horses while 885,000 were initially called to the Wehrmacht as saddle, draft, and pack animals. Of these, 435,000 horses were captured from the USSR, France, and Poland. Additional horses were purchased from Hungary, Romania, Czechoslovakia, and Ireland.

Nearly 3 million horses and mules were used by the Germans During World War II. Of these an estimated 750,000 were killed.

The German Army entered World War II with 514,000 horses, and over the course of the war employed, in total, 2.75 million horses and mules; the average number of horses in the Army reached 1.1 million.

Though the US army dispensed with horses by 1943 the Nazis embraced them, employing 2.7 million during the Second World War. Almost two-thirds were killed or wounded.

Still, it is estimated 1.75 million horses were killed during World War II, although it could be as high as 2 million. Another report says the death count may be as high as 5 million.

Hitler and Lipizzaner Horses

The following is a fascinating side story to World War II an horses. We found it in the New York Post, August 20, 2016:

The valuable Lipizzaner horses — snow-white and blue-black, many of them Olympic dressage champions — had been stolen from the countries that the Nazis occupied during the war. In addition to gold, jewelry and artwork, the Nazis seized the valuable horses from Poland, Yugoslavia, Italy and Austria.

The Nazis’ goal, according to author Elizabeth Letts in her new book “The Perfect Horse” (Ballantine), was to breed the Lipizzaner with German horses in order to create an equine specimen that was worthy of the German master race.

Horses were central to the Nazi propaganda effort, and Hitler was often shown as “the man who put Germany back in the saddle,” according to Letts. In fact, as soon as he ordered the invasion of Poland in September 1939 and unleashed the grisly chain of events that plunged the world into war, Hitler had important plans for the country’s horses. As Letts writes, “In the blueprint forged for its occupation, a plan was put into place for the ‘rebuilding of Poland’s horse-breeding industry’ for the ‘interest of the German nation.’ ”

We found more, this time in an English newspaper.

Just as Hitler wanted to eliminate ‘impure’ human strains so Rau planned to use selective breeding to erase the individual differences characterising the several strains of Lipizzaner that had emerged and replace them with a single mould: pure, imperial and ideally suited to military use. [Source: Mission to rescue Hitler’s equine master race; Daily Express UK, 6 Aug 2016.]

Korean War — Sgt Reckless

You were waiting for her, right?

war Horse Reckless
Korean War Veteran, Sgt Reckless.

Staff Sergeant Reckless (c. 1948 – May 13, 1968), a decorated war horse who held official rank in the United States military, was a mare of Mongolian horse breeding.

Out of a race horse dam, she was purchased in October 1952 for $250 from a Korean stableboy at the Seoul racetrack who needed money to buy an artificial leg for his sister.

Reckless was bought by members of the United States Marine Corps and trained to be a pack horse for the Recoilless Rifle Platoon, Anti-Tank Company, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division.

She quickly became part of the unit and was allowed to roam freely through camp, entering the Marines’ tents, where she would sleep on cold nights, and was known for her willingness to eat nearly anything, including scrambled eggs, beer, Coca-Cola and, once, about $30 worth of poker chips.

Reckless served in numerous combat actions during the Korean War, carrying supplies and ammunition, and was also used to evacuate wounded. Learning each supply route after only a couple of trips, she often traveled to deliver supplies to the troops on her own, without benefit of a handler. The highlight of her nine-month military career came in late March 1953 during the Battle for Outpost Vegas when, in a single day, she made 51 solo trips to resupply multiple front line units.

She was wounded in combat twice, given the battlefield rank of corporal in 1953, and then a battlefield promotion to sergeant in 1954, several months after the war ended.

Reckless also became the first horse in the Marine Corps known to have participated in an amphibious landing, and following the war was awarded two Purple Hearts, a Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, was included in her unit’s Presidential Unit Citations from two countries, as well as other military honors.

Return to Animal Rights Articles