Meet ‘Little Sorrel’ – Stonewall Jackson’s Trusty (But Improbable) War Horse

Stonewall Jackson had a most peculiar war horse. Its name was Little Sorrel. (Image source: WikiCommons)

“The animal’s appearance was altogether so peculiar that Confederate general Richard Taylor described him as ‘a sorry chestnut with a shambling gait.’”

By Sharon B. Smith

IN THE 3,000 years that humans have gone to war on horseback there has perhaps been no more unlikely warhorse than Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s favorite mount, Little Sorrel.

At less than fifteen hands (5 feet) at the withers, he was much too small for a rider of nearly six feet. His conformation was odd as well, with withers higher than his hindquarters and a head too big for his body. In fact, the animal’s appearance was altogether so peculiar that during Jackson’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign, Confederate general Richard Taylor described him as “a sorry chestnut with a shambling gait.” Stonewall however had no such qualms about his beloved mount.

Jackson confiscated the horse, along with another larger one, from a Baltimore and Ohio freight train that was seized by his troops as it rolled through Harpers Ferry a month after the war began. At first, the general intended to send the smaller animal south as a present for his wife; Anna Jackson would never receive her gift. Stonewall quickly recognized that the little horse’s pacing gait was surprisingly comfortable and the animal was calm, trustworthy and stood fire superbly.

Although Jackson’s soldiers and officers referred to the horse by the name Little Sorrel, the general rarely did. He may have used the phrase as a description to differentiate the animal from the other — less satisfactory — sorrel horse that he had also commandeered from the B&O train in 1861. Instead the general called the horse “Fancy,” which was also the name of his trusty steed during a pre-war posting to Fort Hamilton in New York.

Little Sorrel (aka Fancy) carried Jackson through all of his battles, except First Manassas, which was fought just 10 weeks after he acquired the animal. The general earned his famous nickname “Stonewall” that day while riding a borrowed charger. The record is silent as to why he didn’t use his own horse in the first major clash of the war. He may not yet have realized just how good Little Sorrel was under fire. More likely, the logistics of the speedy deployment from the Shenandoah Valley to Manassas prevented him from having the animal transported there in time.

A fanciful (and woefully inaccurate) depiction of Jackson being shot at Chancellorsville. (Image source: WikiCommons)

Little Sorrel however was with Jackson at other great Rebel victories: the Valley Campaign, Cedar Mountain, Second Manassas and Fredericksburg. In fact, Stonewall was riding Little Sorrel in May 1863 when he suffered his mortal wound after his legendary flank attack on the Yankee line that assured the Confederate victory at Chancellorsville. Little Sorrel had shared all the risks that Jackson took during their two years together—viewing the enemy from high ground, scouting between the lines, and so on—but survived his master by 23 years. My book, Stonewall Jackson’s Little Sorrel is the story of this remarkable equine warrior.

Sharon B. Smith is the author of Stonewall Jackson’s Little Sorrel An Unlikely Hero of the Civil War. She previously worked as an anchor of televised horse sports on ESPN, NBC and the L.A. Sportschannel. She is the author of seven books including, The Best There Ever Was: Dan Patch and the Dawn of the American Century and Connecticut’s Civil War. Her websites are www.sharonbsmith.comwww.danpatchbook.com, and www.ctcivilwar.com. You can also follow her on Twitter.

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