The Tale of Tartar the War Horse (Part II)

Today’s post is written by Dr. Greg Bradsher and is the continuation of last week’s post.

On April 9, 1863, President Lincoln met Tartar.  On that day the President reviewed I Corps (commanded by Maj. Gen. John Reynolds) of the Army of the Potomac and freed slaves serving in the army on a plain two miles back from the Rappahannock River, directly opposite of Fredericksburg.  After Stewart had passed in review, riding Tartar, he was sent for in order to allow the President to look at the horse’s wound. As soon as Lincoln saw it, he said to the general officers about him:  “This reminds me of a tale,” which he proceeded to relate to their great amusement, but Stewart was not near enough to hear what it was.  But Lincoln’s little son Tad, mounted on a pony, followed Stewart and insisted on trading horses.  Stewart told him he could not do that, but he persisted in telling Stewart that his papa was the President, and would give him any horse he wanted in trade for Tartar. “I had a hard time.” Stewart later recalled, “to get away from the little fellow.”

Less than three weeks later, Stewart and Tartar were back at war.  Battery B was engaged at Fitzhugh’s Crossing on April 26, Pollock’s Mill Crossing from April 29 through May 2, and at the Battle of Chancellorsville on May 4-6.  Tartar and the battery now moved north toward Maryland and Pennsylvania as a result of General Robert E. Lee moving his army up the Shenandoah Valley in that direction.

The day before Battery B reached Gettysburg, Tartar was lamed by running a nail into one of his forefeet and did not go into the battle.  Battery B, however, saw considerable action.  It went into action at Gettysburg on the afternoon of July 1, and was severely engaged, barely escaping capture, and finally fell back to Cemetery Hill. The next day it was hard at work under a very heavy fire, and, continuing in position, had the same experience July 3.  This battle resulted in Stewart and another officer being wounded, and 32 men and 32 horses killed, wounded and missing.  Stewart was promoted to First Lieutenant on July 3.

In the pursuit of General Lee’s forces after the battle, Tartar could not keep up with the Battery, and Stewart left him with a farmer on the road, with a note stating what command he belonged to and other information about Tartar. The battery, following after the Confederates, engaged them at the Battle of Funkstown, Maryland on July 11 and at Warrenton, Virginia on July 23.  In August, one of Stewart’s friends informed him that he had seen Tartar tied up with General H. J. Kilpatrick’s Cavalry Division.  Stewart went and retrieved him.  Tartar and the battery would next see action at Haymarket on October 19 and at Mine Run on November 30.  After that it was a relatively relaxing winter for the battery and Tartar.

But in early February the battery was back in action. To distract attention from a planned cavalry-infantry raid up the Peninsula on Richmond, the Union army, with Battery B, forced several crossings of the Rapidan River on February 6-7, 1864.  The battery moved from the First Corps to the Fifth Corps in March 1864, then commanded by Major General Gouverneur K. Warren.  Then the battery and Tartar participated in General Grant’s offensive against the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, fighting first at the Battle of the Wilderness, May 5-7, and at Spotsylvania Court House, May 12.

It was that at this battle that Isaac Vandicar, who served as Stewart’s orderly, and as such had taken care of Tartar, was mortally wounded.  Some of his battery mates started to carry him away from the field in a blanket when he said, “I want to see the Old Man!”  They called Stewart, who came to him and said, “Van, my poor boy, what can I do for you?”  “Nothing, Captain,” replied Ike, with perfect composure, “I know I must die, but I wanted to say good-by to you, and I want you to see that ‘Old Tartar’ has good care after I am gone!” Vandicar would die that day.  Stewart was honored by brevet to Captain August 1, 1864 for gallant and meritorious service in the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House and during the campaign before Richmond.

The battery would see action at Po River on May 20, at North Anna River on May 23, at Totopotomy Creek on May 25, at Bethesda Church on June 1-4, at White House on June 15, and at the battle before Petersburg on June 18.  It remained in that vicinity the rest of the year.  Stewart was brevetted a Major on August 18, 1864 for gallant and meritorious service in the battle on the Weldon Railroad, Virginia, a few days earlier.  Tartar and the battery took part in a fight at Hatchers Run October 28, 1864 and participated in General Warren’s Raid on Weldon Railroad on December 7-12.

After a peaceful winter, Battery B and Tartar were back in action at Lewis Farm, near Gravelly Run March 29, 1865, at Quaker Road on March 30, at White Oak Road on March 31, and at the Battle of Five Forks on April 1.  The Confederate loss at Five Forks prompted Lee to abandon his entrenchments around Petersburg and begin the retreat that led to Appomattox.  On April 9, Lee, finding himself and his forces being surrounded, surrendered his army.  Battery B and Tartar were there.  Perhaps he might have seen General Grant’s horse Cincinnati or General Lee’s horse Traveller.

The battery and Tartar moved to Washington, D.C. in May and took part in the Grand Review of the Army on May 23. Until August, the battery remained in Washington, D.C. on garrison duty.

By the fall of 1865 most of the batteries of the 4th Artillery Regiment had been dismounted and the regiment was performing garrison duty. Headquarters were at Fort McHenry with batteries at that post and in various locations in Washington, D.C., Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware.  At some point in 1866 Battery B was sent to Fort Leavenworth.  Stewart continued in Regular Army service, and was appointed Captain, 18th U.S. Infantry Regiment on July 28 1866. When leaving Battery B he left Tartar with the battery.  Stewart would serve with the 18th Infantry Regiment until retired on March 20, 1879.

What became of Tartar?  He probably did not follow Battery B into the field in 1867 when it was engaged in a campaign against the Cheyenne Indians.  He probably ended his service at Fort Leavenworth where his career in the Army had begun in 1857.