This week’s entry is a little early. I was inspired by my step-son’s recent class visit to Washington DC, and it’s Memorial Day in the US. A day we honor our military and front line service members, active, retired, living and deceased. Social Media pages are covered with images paying tribute, and among them are some I’d like to offer a little more insight on, for those who aren’t familiar.
I was lucky, with my Dad having served in the Army during the Viet Nam war (thanks Papa!), and a deep love of American History, I learned most of this at a fairly young age. While families of classmates and friends were going to the beach or Disneyworld on their family vacations, we were driving up and down the east coast, visiting locations made famous by the US Military and the Civil War. I’m reasonably certain, I’ve been photographed, sitting on cannons at most of the major battlefields. It taught me a lot, mostly, a great respect for our military history, and conveniently, the roles horses played in it.
Horses representing their riders’ status in statue-
It’s believed traditionally, that the position of the horses hooves in statue with their rider, speaks to the rider’s manner of passing. That’s what I was taught years ago. There were also similar thoughts on which way the statue faced, determining nature of death or status, which are also incorrect apparently. Nonetheless, I enjoy the folklore. Here are a few examples:
GEN. ULYSSES S. GRANT: Union Square, at the east end of the Mall (1922). All hooves on ground; died in peace.
MAJ. GEN. WINFIELD SCOTT HANCOCK: Seventh and Pennsylvania NW (1896). One hoof raised; wounded in battle.
MAJ. GEN. ANDREW JACKSON: Lafayette Park (1853). Two hooves raised; died in peace.
The Military Caisson-
The military caisson was orignially built in 1918 for the purpose of transporting cannons, but was eventually replaced with a flat bed, designated for the “final ride” of a fallen soldier. This special honor is reserved for servicemen and women who are being buried with military honors in Arlington National Cemetary.
The six-horse teams are always matching black or grey, in full harness and saddles, with riders on the left side horses only. This tradition dates back to their early military service days, were the right side horses carried provisions and supplies. In addition to their funeral duties, they’ve served in parades as well.
The Riderless Horse-
In the United States, the caparisoned (or riderless) horse follows the caisson and is part of the military honors given to an Army or Marine Corps officer who was a colonel or above; this includes the President, by virtue of having been the country’s commander in chief and the Secretary of Defense, having overseen the armed forces. Alexander Hamilton, former Secretary of the Treasury (1789-1795) was the first American to be given the honor. Historian Ron Chernow noted that Hamilton’s gray horse followed the casket “with the boots and spurs of its former rider reversed in the stirrups.” Abraham Lincoln was the first president of the United States to be officially honored by the inclusion of the caparisoned horse in his funeral cortege, although a letter from George Washington’s personal secretary recorded the president’s horse was part of the president’s funeral, carrying his saddle, pistols, and holsters. Traditionally, simple black riding boots are reversed in the stirrups to represent a fallen leader looking back on his troops for the last time.
To all who stood tall in the face of danger, to your families and loved ones, your service isn’t forgotten. Today is your day, and we honor you. God bless America!