the riderless horse

The Riderless horse

I have always been fascinated by the funerary practice of the riderless horse, sometimes called a caparisoned horse in reference to the ornamental coverings which decorated a warrior’s mount in and around medieval times. The deceased’s horse accompanies the funeral procession, following closely behind the caisson or hearse. Boots are reversed in the stirrups, supposedly to symbolise their late owner taking one last look back.

It is really impossible to pinpoint exactly where and how this tradition started but something similar can be dated back as far as the times of Genghis Khan. Horses have always shared a special connection with people and so it is quite likely that they have played a role in funerary rituals for as long as they have been domesticated, since around 3000BC.

Some noteworthy individuals to have their horses present at their funerals include those pictured, The Duke of Wellington and Lord Mountbatten as well as all Britain’s past monarchs (Edward VII also had his Jack Russel Caesar in attendance), JFK and Churchill. I know not whether anyone still has a nag around when they’re chucked in the ground but I think I might like to.  

Chickasaw Bluffs 

“We will lose 5,000 men before we take Vicksburg, and we may as well lose them here as anywhere else.”

-Gen. William T. Sherman

At the opening of the campaign to take Vicksburg, Mississippi, Grant and Sherman were looking for a weak spot in the Confederate defense. Vicksburg stood on a bluff over the Mississippi, strongly fortified and completely controlling the river. Grant and Sherman selected Chickasaw Bluffs on the Yazoo River just north of Vicksburg.

Philip Reilly wrote of the attack:

“Batteries that had hitherto been silent now opened upon us with fearful effect. Solid shot, shell, grape, cannister, rifle balls and musketry poured down upon us from all sides. The effect was terrible. It seemed as if the heavens and earth were coming together far as the eye could reach. You might behold riderless horses with distended nostrils galloping wildly to and fro and quivering with affright while over the plain you might behold headless bodies, legs and arms scattered to and fro. …We advanced steadily into this human slaughter pen until we drove them from their first rifle pits were our brave boys were so badly cut up that they/we, I mean, were forced to retreat.”