THE BLOOD from deep inside Began to color flecks of foam about the bit. And pink the moisture in his heavy breath. And yet the pain, Sharp and searing hot, Appeared to make no difference in his stride. For this great chestnut gelding, Dark with sweat, Was all a war horse; In his pace And in his sinew, Bone and blood . . . and in his heart. The towering General, light-reined horseman – Light in the saddle, too- Felt the shot That hit the horse beneath him. There is Some indescribable communion Between a man and horse Who’ve shared the roughest roads, The longest hours, The hardest battles; A singleness of spirit, faith unflagging. The General felt the pain As though the gelding’s wound was in himself; It tightened muscles in his jaws and throat. AND then the second shot Struck hard the chestnut’s side. And then the third. Stunning. Staggering. His powerful and easy stride Became a labored lunge, Steadied only by the General’s balanced weight And sure band. The war horse gathered- With every ounce of courage in his heart- To carry on, To fight the mission through. Calmingly, . The General reined him in. And stepping down He loosed the girth And lightly slipped the saddle to the ground. THE GENERALS young lieutenant, Aide de camp- His son- Reined up, Dismounted; Took the General’s horse and gave his own. Scarcely a word was passed, No orders given- None bad to be- As the General, With one backward glance, rode on. And Willie led The wounded war horse from the field And to the rear. Away from powder smoke And battle strain. Into the chill of early March, Into the quieter countryside In Tennessee. To the horse holders beyond the second hill. [continued on next page]
AND in the cutting chill The war horse ached. Ached under his drying sweat And drying blood. A once alert, Clearheaded “General’s mount,” Stunned and trembling From the shock and pain. Jaded. Limping to the holders In the rear. No bugles And no drumbeats here, Only fading sounds across the field. THE HOLDERS slipped the bridle From his lowered head, Wiped the sweat marks From his cheeks and neck. Bathed the blood-red foam From mouth and nostrils, Sponged his wounds, Applied a stinging ointment. They washed his knees And hocks And pasterns. “It’s Roderick! The General’s mount! Bring the water bucket to him.” Roderick, The General’s mount Trained in his master’s ways. Trained to jump A fence or wall or gulley, To back and wheel, To follow where the General went, To follow closely, Ready for an instant need. And he followed him from training, But he followed, too, From love. THE stinging ointment touched a spark of feeling. The water gave refreshment To his spirit. He raised his head a little, Cocked an ear, And listened . . . In the distance There was shooting And it echoed in the hills. The General always rode To the shooting. HE TURNED to face the sound. His ears were up and pointing. His head was clearing now. He moved a little, Toward the sound, The holders started to him. Shouting “whoa” He moved a little faster, Stiff and aching, Toward the shooting. “WHOA” they shouted, “Head ‘im!” He broke into a trot. To a painful, labored gallop To the General. [continued on next page]
THE GALLOP warmed his blood Loosened stiff and aching muscles. Ahead, A fence, He cleared it With a mighty surge of effort. He was warm And he was running, A painful, awkward stride, But running hard To the General. THE next fence- Up and over- He almost lost his footing; But he could smell the powder now. The General smelled of powder. NOW he could see the men and horses, Nervous horses, Ready for the charge. Now he could see the General. One last fence before him And the field. He cleared it as the bugles blasted “CHARGE!” HE was racing with the shouting horsemen now. He was straining hard To reach the General’s side, Five good strides ahead. Bleeding. Straining hard. Three good strides . . . When the killing bullet hit him in the chest. THE keen ear of the General caught a sound; Inaudible, almost, against the din. Half a plaintive nicker, Half a choking scream; Like the scream of horses “bad hit” on the field. Amid the shouting and the shrieking and the fire The General heard it. He stiffened, Half turning in his saddle. And there behind him In the charge, Stumbling, plunging, dying, His war horse -On his feet, but dying In the charge. THE feared And fearless, Battle-hardened General Spurred ahead; To fight more awesome battles for his cause. But the man-the horseman- Underneath his honored uniform -Bedford Forrest- Died a little there On the field near Spring Hill, March the fifth, 1863.