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XV. the Army mule.

“Two teamsters have paused, in the shade of the pool,
Rehearsing the tricks of the old army mule;

They have little to say
Of the blue and the gray,

Which they wore when the garments meant shedding of blood--
They're discussing the mule and “Virginia mud.”

” It has often been said that the South could not have been worsted in the Rebellion had it not been for the steady re-enforcement brought to the Union side by the mule. To just what extent his services hastened the desired end, it would be impossible to compute; but it is admitted by both parties to the war that they were invaluable.

It may not be generally known that Kentucky is the chief mulepro-ducing State of the Union, with Missouri next, while St. Louis is perhaps the best mule-market in the world; but the entire South-west does something at muleraising. Mules vary more in size than horses. The largest and best come from Kentucky. The smaller ones are the result of a cross with the Mexican mustang. These were also extensively used. General Grant says, in his Memoirs (vol. 1. p. 69), that while Taylor's army was at Matamoras, contracts were made for mules, between American traders and Mexican smugglers, at from eight to eleven dollars [280] each. But the main source of supply for the Western States, where they are very generally used, for the South, and for the government, during war time, was Kentucky. When the war broke out, efforts were made by Governor Magoffin of that State-or rather by the Legislature, for the Governor was in full sympathy with the Rebels--to have that commonwealth remain neutral. For this reason when the general government attempted to purchase mules there in 1861, they were refused; but in the course of a few weeks the neutrality nonsense was pretty thoroughly knocked out of the authorities, Kentucky took its stand on the side of the

A six-mule team.

Union, and the United States government began and continued its purchase of mules there in increasing numbers till the close of the war.

What were these mules used for? Well, I have related elsewhere that, when the war broke out, thousands of soldiers came pouring into Washington for its defence, and afterwards went by thousands into other sections of Rebeldom. To supply these soldiers with the necessary rations, forage, and camp equipage, and keep them supplied, thousands of wagons were necessary. Some of the regiments took these wagons with them from their native State, but most did not. Some of the wagons were drawn by mules already owned by the government, and more mules were purchased from time to time. The great advantage possessed by these animals over horses was not at that period [281] fully appreciated, so that horses were also used in large numbers. But the magnitude of the Rebellion grew apace. Regiments of cavalry, each requiring twelve hundred horses, and light batteries one hundred and ten, were now rapidly organizing, calling for an abundance of horse-flesh. Then, disease, exposure, and hard usage consumed a great many more, so that these animals naturally grew scarcer as the demand increased. For certain kinds of work horses must be had, mules would not do. The horse was good for any kind of service, as a beast of burden, up to the limits of his endurance. Not so his half-brother the mule. The latter was more particular as to the kind of service he performed.

A mule Eating an overcoat.

Like a great many bipeds that entered the army, he preferred to do military duty in the safe rear. As a consequence, if he found himself under fire at the front, he was wont to make a stir in his neighborhood until he got out of such inhospitable surroundings.

This nervousness totally unfitted him for artillery or cavalry service ; he must therefore be made available for draft in the trains, the ammunition and forage trains, the supply and bridge trains. So, as rapidly as it could conveniently be done, mules took the place of horses in all the trains, six mules replacing four horses. [282]

Aside from this nervousness under fire, mules have a great advantage over horses in being better able to stand hard usage, bad feed, or no feed, and neglect generally. They can travel over rough ground unharmed where horses would be lamed or injured in some way. They will eat brush, and not be very hungry to do it, either. When forage was short, the drivers were wont to cut branches and throw before them for their refreshment. One m. d. (mule driver) tells of having his army overcoat partly eaten by one of his team --actually chewed and swallowed. The operation made the driver blue, if the diet did not thus affect the mule.

In organizing a six-mule team, a large pair of heavy animals were selected for the pole, a smaller size for the swing, and a still smaller pair for leaders. There were advantages in this arrangement; in the first place, in going through a miry spot the small leaders soon place themselves, by their quick movements, on firm footing, where they can take hold and pull the pole mules out of the wallow. Again, with a good heavy steady pair of wheel mules, the driver can restrain the smaller ones that are more apt to be frisky and reckless at times, and, assisted by the brake, hold back his loaded wagon in descending a hill. Then, there was more elasticity in such a team when well trained, and a good driver could handle them much more gracefully and dexterously than he could the same number of horses.

It was really wonderful to see some of the experts drive these teams. The driver rides the near pole mule, holding in his left hand a single rein. This connects with the bits of the near lead mule. By pulling this rein, of course the brutes would go to the left. To direct them to the right one or more short jerks of it were given, accompanied by a sort of gibberish which the mule-drivers acquired in the business. The bits of the lead mules being connected by an iron bar, whatever movement was made by the near one directed the movements of the off one. The pole mules were controlled by short reins which hung over their necks. [283] The driver carried in his right hand his black snake, that is, his black leather whip, which was used with much effect on occasion.

When mules were brought to the army they were enclosed in what was called a corral. To this place the driver in quest of a mule must repair to make and take his selection, having the proper authority to do so. I will illustrate how it was done. Here is a figure representing a corral, having on the inside a fence running from A to C. Ad and be are pairs of bars. The driver enters A the yard, mounted, and, having selected the mule he wants, drives him A corral. toward be. The bars at Ad being up, and those at be being down, the mule advances and the bars be are put up behind him. He is now enclosed in the small space indicated by Abde. The mule-driver then mounts the fence, bridles the brute of his choice, lets down the bars at Ad, and takes him out. Why does he bridle him from the fence? Well, because the mule is an uncertain animal.

In making his selection the driver did not always draw a prize. Sometimes his mule would be kind and tractable, and sometimes not. Of course he would saddle him, and start to ride him to camp; but the mule is not always docile under the saddle. He too often has a mind of his own. He may go along all right, or, if he is tricky, he may suddenly pause, bracing his forefeet and settling down on his hind ones, as if he had suddenly happened to think of the girl he left behind him, and was debating whether or not to go back after her. It is when the mule strikes such an attitude as this, I suppose, that Josh Billings calls him “a stubborn fact.” But the driver! Well, if at that moment he was off his guard, he would get off without previous preparation, as a man sometimes sits down on ice, and look at [284] the mule. If, however, he was on the alert, and well prepared, the mule, in the end, would generally come off second best. I have referred to the Black Snake. It was the badge of authority with which the mule-driver enforced his orders. It was the panacea for all the ills to which mule-flesh was heir. It was a common sight to see a six-mule team, when


left to itself, get into an entanglement, seeming inextricably mixed, unless it was unharnessed; but the appearance of the driver with his black wand would change the scene as if by magic. As the heel-cord of Achilles was his only vulnerable part, so the ears of the mule seemed to be the development through which his reasoning faculties could be the most quickly and surely reached, and one or two cracks of the whip on or near these little monuments, accompanied by the driver's very expressive ejaculation in the mule tongue, which I can only describe as a kind of cross between an unearthly screech and a groan, had the effect to disentangle them unaided, and make them stand as if at a “present” to their master. When off duty in camp, they were usually hitched to the pole of their wagon, three on either side, and here, between meals, they were often as antic as kittens or puppies at play, leaping from one side of the pole to the [285] other, lying down, tumbling over, and biting each other, until perhaps all six would be an apparently confused heap of mule. If the driver appeared at such a crisis with his black “ear-trumpet,” one second was long enough to dissolve the pile into its original mule atoms, and arrange them again on either side of the pole, looking as orderly and innocent as if on inspection.

An educated mule-driver was, in his little sphere, as competent a disciplinarian as the colonel of a regiment. Nor

Oats for six.

did he always secure the prompt and exact obedience above described by applications of the Black Snake alone, or even when accompanied by the sternest objurgations delivered in the mule dialect. He was a terror to his subjects in yet another way: and old soldiers will sustain me in the assertion that the propulsive power of the mule-driver was increased many fold by the almost unlimited stock of profanity with which he greeted the sensitive ears of his muleship when the latter was stubborn. I have seen mules, but now most obdurate, jump into their collars the next moment [286] with the utmost determination to do their whole duty when one of these Gatling guns of curses opened fire upon them. Some reader may prefer to adjudge as a reason for this good behavior the fear of the Black Snake, which was likely to be applied close upon the volley of oaths; but I prefer to assign as a motive the mule's interest in the advancement of good morals.

In all seriousness, however, dealing only with the fact, without attempting to prove or deny justification for it, it is undoubtedly true that the mule-drivers, when duly aroused, could produce a deeper cerulean tint in the surrounding atmosphere than any other class of men in the service. The theory has been advanced that if all of these professional m. d.‘s in the trains of the Army of the Potomac could have been put into the trenches around Petersburg and Richmond, in the fall of 1864, and have been safely advanced to within ear-shot of the enemy, then, at a signal, set to swearing simultaneously at their level-worst, the Rebels would either have thrown down their arms and surrendered then and there, or have fled incontinently to the fastnesses of the Blue Ridge. There may have been devout mule-drivers in Sherman's army, but I never saw one east. They may have been pious on taking up this important work. They were certainly impious before laying it down. Nevertheless, in these later days, when they are living better lives, any twinge of conscience which they may occasionally feel must be relieved by the knowledge that General Grant has given them credit for being able to swear a mule-team out of the mud when it could not be moved by any other process.

I have stated that the mule was uncertain; I mean as to his intentions. He cannot be trusted even when appearing honest and affectionate. His reputation as a kicker is worldwide. He was the Mugwump of the service. The mule that will not kick is a curiosity. A veteran relates how, after the battle of Antietam, he saw a colored mule-driver [287] approach his mules that were standing unhitched from the wagons, when, presto! one of them knocked him to the ground in a twinkling with one of those unexpected instantaneous kicks, for which the mule is peerless. Slowly picking himself up, the negro walked deliberately to his wagon, took out a long stake the size of his arm, returned with the same moderate pace to his muleship, dealt him a stunning blow on the head with the stake, which felled him to the ground. The stake was returned with the same deliberation. The mule lay quiet for a moment, then arose, shook his head, a truce was declared, and driver and mule were at peace and understood each other.

Here is another illustration of misplaced confidence. On the road to Harper's Ferry, after the Antietam campaign in 1862, the colored cook of the headquarters of the Sixtieth New York Regiment picked up a large and respectable looking mule, to whom, with a cook's usual foresight and ambition, he attached all the paraphernalia of the cook-house together with his own personal belongings, and settled himself down proudly on his back among them. All went on serenely for a time, the mule apparently accepting the situation with composure, until the Potomac was reached at Harper's Ferry. On arriving in the middle of the pontoon bridge upon which the army was crossing, from some unexplained reason — perhaps because, on looking into the water, he saw himself as others saw him — the mule lifted up his voice in one of those soul-harrowing brays, for which he is famous — or infamous — and, lifting his hind legs aloft, in the next moment tossed his entire burden of cook and cookhouse into the river, where, weighted down with messkettles and other utensils of his craft, the cook must have drowned had not members of the regiment come to his rescue. Not at all daunted by this experience, the cookey harnessed the mule again as before, led him across the remaining portion of the bridge, where he remounted and settled himself among his household goods once more, where [288] all was well till the Shenandoah was reached. Here, with another premonitory blast of his nasal trumpet, the mule once more dumped his load into the rapid rolling river,

Dumped into the Potomac.

when the cook lost all confidence in mules as beasts of burden, and abandoned him.

Josh Billings says somewhere that if he had a mule who would neither kick nor bite he would watch him dreadful “cluss” till he found out where his malice did lay. This same humorist must have had some experience with the mule, for he has said some very bright and pat things concerning him. Here are a few that I recall:--

“To break a mule-begin at his head.”

“ To find the solid contents of a mule's hind leg, feel of it clussly.”

“ The man who wont believe anything he kant see aint so wise az a mule, for they will kick at a thing in the dark.”

“The only thing which makes a mule so highly respectable is the great accuracy of his kicking.”

“The mule is a sure-footed animal. I have known [289] him to kick a man fifteen feet off ten times in a second.”

These are a few samples, most all of which have reference to his great ability as a kicker. Unquestionably he had no equal in this field of amusement — to him. His legs were small, his feet were small, but his ambition in this direction was large. He could kick with wonderful accuracy, as a matter of fact. Mule-drivers tell me he could kick a fly off his ear, as he walked along in the team, with unerring accuracy. This being so, of course larger objects were never missed when they were within range. But the distance included within a mule's range had often to be decided by two or three expensive tests. One driver, whom I well knew, was knocked over with a mule's hind foot while standing directly in front of him. This shows something of their range.

I have remarked, in substance, that the mule was conquered only by laying hold of or striking his ears. It may be asked how he was shod if he was such a kicker. To do this, one of two methods was adopted; either to sling him up as oxen are slung, then strap his feet; or walk him into a noose, and cast him, by drawing it around his legs. Of course, he would struggle violently for a while, but when he gave in it was all over for that occasion, and he was as docile under the smith's hands as a kitten. Being surerfooted and more agile than a horse, of course he gets into fewer bad places or entanglements; but once in, and having made a desperate struggle for his relief, and failing, he seems utterly discouraged, and neither whip nor persuasion can move him. Then, as in the shoeing, the driver can handle him with the utmost disregard of heels; but when once on his feet again, stand aside! He has a short memory. He lives in the future, and his heels are in business, as usual, at the old stand.

I need not comment on the size of the mule's ears. Of course, everybody who has seen them knows them to be abnormal [290] in size. But disproportionately large though they may be, there is one other organ in his possession which surpasses them; that is his voice. This is something simply tremendous. That place which the guinea-fowl occupies among the feathered bipeds of the barn-yard in this respect, the mule holds facile princes among the domestic quadrupeds. The poets who lived in the same time with Pericles said of the latter that “he lightened, thundered, and agitated all Greece,” so powerful was his eloquence. So, likewise, when

The rear guard of the regiment.

the mule raised his voice, all opposition was silent before him, for nothing short of rattling, crashing thunder, as it seemed, could successfully compete for precedence with him.

In addition to his great usefulness in the train, he was used a good deal under a pack-saddle. Each regiment usually had one, that brought up the rear on the march, loaded with the implements of the cook-house — sometimes with nothing to be seen but head and tail, so completely was he covered in. They were generally convoyed by a colored man. Sometimes these strong-minded creatures, in crossing a stream, would decide to lie down, all encumbered as they were, right in the middle, and down they would settle in spite of the ludicrous opposition and pathetic protests [291] of the convoy. Of course, it was no balm to his wound to have the passing column of soldiers keep up a running fire of banter. But there was no redress or relief to be had until his muleship got ready to move, which was generally after every ounce of his burden had been stripped off and placed on terra firma.

When the army was lying in line of battle in such close proximity to the enemy that the ammunition wagons could not safely approach it, two boxes were taken and strapped on a mule, one on each side, “to keep his balance true,” and thus the troops were supplied when needed.

At the terrible battle of Spottsylvania, May 12, 1864, a steady line of pack-mules, loaded with ammunition, filed up the open ravine, opposite the captured salient, for nearly twenty hours, in that way supplying our forces, who were so hotly engaged there.

Rations were furnished in the same manner under similar circumstances. But now and then a mule would lie down under his burden, and refuse to budge.

Grant says (vol. i. p. 106): “I am not aware of ever having used a profane expletive in my life, but I would have the charity to excuse those who may have done so if they were in charge of a train of Mexican pack-mules at the time,” alluding to an experience in the Mexican War.

I believe I have stated that the mule much preferred to do military duty in the safe rear; but if there was anything which the war proved with the utmost clearness to both Yanks and Rebs, it was that there was surely no safe rear. This being so, the vivacious mule did not always have a plain and peaceful pilgrimage as a member of the wagontrain. I vividly recall the enjoyment of my company, during Lee's final retreat, whenever our guns were unlimbered, as they were again and again, to be trained on the columns of retreating wagon-trains. The explosion of a shell or two over or among them would drive the long-ears [292] wild, and render them utterly unmanageable, and the driver's best and often his only recourse was to let them. go if there was room ahead. But one demoralized, disorganized six-mule team would sometimes so effectively block the way, when the road was narrow, and the pursuit close, as to cause the capture of that part of the train behind it. Were any ex-Johnny m. d. to read this chuckling over the misfortunes of his craft, and not quite appreciate my enjoyment, I

Mules loaded with ammunition.

should at once assure him that there are some Yank m. d.‘s who call heartily sympathize with him, having had a like experience.

From what I have stated, it will be seen that the mule would be very unreliable in cavalry service, for in action he would be so wild that if he did not dismount his rider he would carry even the most valiant from the scene of conflict, or, what was just as likely, rush madly into the ranks of the enemy. The same observations would suit equally well as objections to his service with artillery. On the 5th of April, 1865, during the retreat of Lee, we came upon a batch of wagons and a battery of steel guns, of the Armstrong [293] pattern, I think, which Sheridan's troopers had cut out of the enemy's retreating trains. The guns had apparently never been used since their arrival from England. The harnesses were of russet leather and equally new; but the battery was drawn by a sorry-looking lot of horses and mules, indiscriminately mingled. My explanation for finding the mules thus tackled was that horses were scarce, and that it was not expected to use the guns at present, but simply to get them off safely; but that if it became necessary to use them they could do so with comparative safety to the mules as the guns were of very long range.

I should have pronounced these particular mules safe anywhere, even under a hot fire, if extreme emaciation had been a sure index of departed strength and nerve in this variety of brute. But that is not mule at all. The next day, at Sailor's Creek, my corps (Second), after a short, sharp contest, made a capture of thirteen flags, three guns, thirteen hundred prisoners, and over two hundred army wagons, with their mules. And such mules! the skinniest and boniest animals that I ever saw still retaining life, I sincerely believe. For a full week they had been on the go, night and day, with rare and brief halts for rest or food. Just before their capture they would seem to have gone down a long hill into a valley, a literal Valley of Humiliation as it proved, for there they were compelled to stay and surrender, either from inability to climb the opposite hill and get away, or else because there was not opportunity for them to do so before our forces came upon them. And yet, in spite of the worn and wasted state of those teams, it is doubtful if their kicking capacity was materially reduced by it.

The question frequently raised among old soldiers is, What became of all the army mules? There are thousands of these men who will take a solemn oath that they never saw a dead mule during the war. They can tell you of the carcasses of horses which dotted the line of march, animals which had fallen out from exhaustion or disease, and left by [294] the roadside for the buzzards and crows. These they can recall by hundreds; but not the dimmest picture of a single dead mule, and they will assure you that, to the best of their knowledge and belief, the government did not lose one of these animals during the war. I recently conversed with an old soldier who remembered having once seen, on the march, the four hoofs of a mule — those and nothing more; and the conclusion that he arrived at was that the mule, in a fit of temper, had kicked off his hoofs and gone up.

But the noblest thing that perished there,
was that old army mule.

Another soldier, a mule-driver, remembers of seeing a muleteam which had run off the corduroy road into a mire of quicksand. The wagon had settled down till its body rested in the mire, but nothing of the team was visible save the ear-tips of the off pole mule.

As a fact, however, the mules, though tough and hardy, died of disease much as did the horses. Glanders took off a great many, and black tongue, a disease peculiar to them, caused the death of many more. But, with all their outs, they were of invaluable service to the armies, and well deserve the good opinions which came to prevail regarding their many excellent qualities as beasts of burden. Here is an incident of the war in which the mule was the hero of the hour:-- [295]

On the night of Oct. 28, 1863, when General Geary's Division of the Twelfth Corps repulsed the attacking forces of Longstreet at Wauhatchie, Tennessee, about two hundred mules, affrighted by the din of battle, rushed in the darkness into the midst of Wade Hampton's Rebel troops, creating something of a panic among them, and causing a portion of them to fall back, supposing that they were at

Charge of the mule brigade.

tacked by cavalry. Some one in the Union army, who knew the circumstances, taking Tennyson's “Charge of the light brigade” as a basis, composed and circulated the following description of the ludicrous event:--

Charge of the mule brigade.

Half a mile, half a mile,
Half a mile onward,
Right through the Georgia troops
Broke the two hundred. [296]
“Forward the Mule Brigade!”
“Charge for the Rebs!” they neighed.
Straight for the Georgia troops
Broke the two hundred.

“Forward the Mule Brigade!”
Was there a mule dismayed?
Not when the long ears felt
All their ropes sundered.
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to make Rebs fly.
On! to the Georgia troops
Broke the two hundred.

Mules to the right of them,
Mules to the left of them,
Mules behind them
Pawed, neighed, and thundered.
Breaking their own confines,
Breaking through Longstreet's lines
Into the Georgia troops,
Stormed the two hundred.

Wild all their eyes did glare,
Whisked all their tails in air
Scattering the chivalry there,
While all the world wondered.
Not a mule back bestraddled,
Yet how they all skedaddled--
Fled every Georgian,
Unsabred, unsaddled,
Scattered and sundered!
How they were routed there
By the two hundred!

Mules to the right of them,
Mules to the left of them,
Mules behind them
Pawed, neighed, and thundered;
Followed by hoof and head
Full many a hero fled,
Fain in the last ditch dead,
Back from an ass's jaw
All that was left of them,--
Left by the two hundred. [297]

When can their glory fade?
Oh, the wild charge they made!
All the world wondered.
Honor the charge they made!
Honor the Mule Brigade,
Long-eared two hundred!

The following plaint in behalf of this veteran quadruped will close this sketch:--

The Army mule in time of peace.

That men are ungrateful can plainly be seen
In the case of that mule standing out on the green.
His features are careworn, bowed down is his head,
His spirit is broken: his hopes have all fled.
He thinks of the time when the battle raged sore,
When he mingled his bray with the cannon's loud roar;
When Uncle Sam's soldiers watched for him to come,
Hauling stores of provisions and powder and rum;
When his coming was greeted with cheers and huzzas,
And the victory turned on the side of the stars.

These thoughts put new life into rickety bones-
He prances just once, then falls over and groans.
A vision comes over his poor mulish mind,
And he sees Uncle Sam, with his agents behind,
Granting pensions by thousands to all who apply,
From the private so low to the officer high;
To the rich and the poor, the wise man and fool,
But, alas! there is none for the “poor army mule.”

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