The Tale of Tartar the War Horse

Today’s post is the first part of a two-part story told to us by Dr. Greg Bradsher. Look for part two next week!

In early July 1857, Captain John W. Phelps, commanding officer of Battery B, 4th Regiment of Artillery, at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, was acquiring horses for his battery for its planned expedition to Utah.  One of the horses acquired, a four-year-old named Tartar, was assigned to Sergeant James Stewart.  Stewart, born in Edinburgh, Scotland on May 18, 1826, immigrated to the United States in 1844.  He enlisted as a private in the United States Army October 29, 1851.

On July 19 the battery started on its trek to Utah, part of a force consisting of two regiments of infantry, Phelps’s battery, a heavy artillery battery, and subsequently, six companies of the 2nd Dragoons.  In late September before reaching Green River, Tartar was taken sick with distemper.  He was abandoned by Stewart when the army expedition left its Green River camp and moved on to Fort Bridger.  Fortunately for Tartar, some Indians found him and nursed him back to health.  In the following spring, Brevet Brigadier General Albert Sidney Johnston, commanding the Department of Utah, offered $30 apiece for abandoned horses and mules branded “U. S.” that were returned to camp.   Stewart was at the tent of Maj. Fitz-John Porter, the command’s Assistant Adjutant General, one morning that spring when two Indians came in with a couple of horses, one of which he recognized as Tartar. They said they had found him during the fall at Green River, and that they had used him all winter to haul tent-poles.  Stewart took him over to the Battery, where Phelps remarked that “he had fared better with the Indians than the other horses had with the Battery.”

During the remainder of 1858 and the following two years, Tartar and Battery B had a relatively easy time in garrison at Camp Floyd, half way between Salt Lake City and Provo.  In 1860, however, the battery guns were left at Camp Floyd, and the personnel of the Battery formed into a provisional company of cavalry, doing duty in keeping open the mail, emigrant, and pony express routes between Salt Lake City and Carson City.

In July 1861, Battery B, then under the command of Captain John Gibbon, received orders to come East.  After a march across the plains the battery reached Fort Leavenworth on October 1.  The battery remained there until October 4, when it started for Washington, D.C., first by riverboat on the Missouri River and then by railroad, reaching its destination in mid-October.  There it camped on Capitol Hill. Stewart, who by then was the battery’s First Sergeant, was commissioned 2nd Lieutenant on November 15, 1861.  About this time Captain Gibbon was appointed chief of artillery for Brigadier General Irvin McDowell’s division of the Army of the Potomac, while still continuing to command his own Battery B, which was assigned to the defense of Washington, D. C. until March 1862.

In mid-March the battery moved to Manassas, Virginia and the following month advanced on Falmouth, Virginia.  In June 1862, Battery B was assigned to the 4th Brigade, now commanded by Brigadier General of United States Volunteers John Gibbon, 1st Division, 3rd Corps, of Major General John Pope’s Army of Virginia.  The Battery and Tartar saw duty at Falmouth and Fredericksburg until late July when it moved against Confederate forces for the first time at Orange Court House on July 26. It engaged the enemy at the Battle of Cedar Mountain August 9, at Rappahannock Station August 21-23, at Sulphur Springs August 25-26, and at Gainesville August 28.  The battery saw action at the second battle of Bull Run August 29-30, during which time Tartar was struck by a shell, carrying away his tail, and wounding both hips.  At first Stewart thought he could not use Tartar anymore, and turned him into a small field of a farmyard. The next morning however, Tartar jumped the fence and followed the Battery.

When the Armies of the Potomac and of Virginia were combined under General George B. McClellan in September 1862, Battery B and Gibbon’s Infantry Brigade (“the Iron Brigade”) were assigned to the 1st Corps under Major General Joseph Hooker. The battery fought gallantly at the Battle of South Mountain at Turner’s Gap, Maryland, September 14, and in the Battle of Antietam September 17.  During the latter battle the battery was in the thickest of the fight, with Stewart’s section of the battery being the first Union guns deployed into the Cornfield.  The battery was crucial in helping to stop the charge of Confederate General John Bell Hood’s Division.  The battery commanding officer, Capt. Joseph B. Campbell, was wounded, and thirty-nine men and thirty-three horses killed and wounded.  Command of the battery fell to Lieutenant Stewart, who would command the battery the remainder of the Civil War.

Tartar and the battery moved back to Falmouth in the fall and took part in the Battle of Fredericksburg December 13-15, as part of the First Corps’s 1st Division, commanded by Brigadier General Abner Doubleday.  During this battle Tartar was again wounded, and after that it was difficult to get him to stand under musketry fire.  The battery would remain at Falmouth until April 1863.  It was a time of rest and a chance for Tartar to meet President Abraham Lincoln.

Look for the rest of Tartar’s tale next week! Information regarding Battery B, 4th Artillery during its sojourn to Utah (1857-1860) and during the Civil War can be found in the Records of United States Regular Army Mobile Units, 1821-1942, Record Group 391; Records of United States Army Continental Commands, 1821-1920, Record Group 393; Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1780’s-1917, Record Group 94; and, the War Department-produced The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, published by the United States General Printing Office, 1880-1901. Information about the battery and ‘Tartar’ can be be found in Augustus Buell’s“Cannoneer.” Recollections of Service in the Army of the Potomac (1890).

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