Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Farrier History: Negro Ellick Shod Horses for the Confederacy in the Civil War

Today is the 150th anniversary of the beginning of one of the darkest and most painful chapters in United States history: the Civil War. Where I live, every little village has a monument to its men who died in places like Gettysburg and Antietam. The names go on and on. It makes you wonder if anyone came back at all.

I can imagine that in the southern states, the lists could be longer and it would be possible that no one returned.

As much as I read and study about the Civil War, I keep learning new things. For me, the horses are the thing of interest, and the farriers who serviced them, and the foot problems that challenged both horses and farriers.

Farriers for the Union horses were often foreign immigrants. This group looks like new arrivals: their aprons are clean and their hammers shiny.

If you have read this blog for any length of time you know that the Burden Horseshoe played a big role in turning the tide of the War in favor of the Union. Trainloads of horseshoes could leave the factory in Troy, New York and be bound for the huge remount stations or go directly to the front. Not just the cavalry but the entire artillery and the massive kitchens and quartermaster depots moved camp only the horses were shod. And those first machine-made shoes from Troy kept them all moving.

The Confederacy wasn't so lucky. They had a limited supply of iron, and it was needed for munitions as much as for horseshoes. There were no horseshoe factories in the South and orders were given for any raids on Union supply trains to go for two things: cash and horseshoes.

Until recently, I never thought much about who the farriers of the Confederacy were. I knew the Union recruiters met ships in New York and convinced farriers and blacksmiths from all nations to either enlist or to go to work as civilian government horseshoers in the remount stations.

But what about the Confederacy?

This is the enlistment paper for Ellick, an African-American who was brought into military service to work as a farrier for the Confederate States of America, even though it was not approved for white men to conscript blacks into service. This document is preserved in the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

This week I learned that the laws of the Confederacy prohibited the conscription of slaves into military service. But African-Americans were there anyway, in fighting and non-fighting roles, and if authors Kevin M. Weeks and Ann DeWitt are correct, the care of the horses may have been one area where they could have been found. Just take Ellick's case.

Ellick was a farrier for the Confederacy, though he had no rank and drew no pay. It's impossible to know if he went willingly. It's quite likely that the Confederate army was desperate for farriers and experienced horsemen. Ellick may have played an important role.

Not only did the Union have new recruits with shiny hammers and unmarked aprons. They had mobile forges built on double wheel axles. In front of the forge you see here was a big bellows. The US Army designed and built these to get the farriers and the shoes to the front, where they were needed. (Library of Congress photo)
How amazing is it that the National Archives in Washington would have preserved the enlistment paper of a farrier after that war was over? This is just one example of the millions of bits of fascinating information that lies buried in those vaults of papers.

Who found Ellick? Kevin Weeks and Ann DeWitt are the authors of the new book, Entangled in Freedom: A Civil War Story. Last week their book graced the cover of Publishers Weekly's Special Independent Publishers Spring Announcement Issue. Entangled in Freedom is a young adult novel written as a first-person account of a young African-American serving with his slaveholder in the Confederate Army. The book has already won the Bonnie Blue Society Award. Ann DeWitt runs the web site www.blackconfederatesoldiers.com.

I'd like to thank them for bringing Ellick to my attention, for pulling him out of the piles of papers in the Archives, and for making him come to life. Maybe we'll never know much about Ellick but for today, he's the star farrier on the Hoof Blog and the Civil War is interesting all over again.

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 © Fran Jurga and Hoofcare Publishing; Fran Jurga's Hoof Blog is a between-issues news service for subscribers to Hoofcare and Lameness Journal. Please, no use without permission. You only need to ask. This blog may be read online at the blog page, checked via RSS feed, or received via a digest-type email (requires signup in box at top right of blog page). To subscribe to Hoofcare and Lameness (the journal), please visit the main site, www.hoofcare.com, where many educational products and media related to equine lameness and hoof science can be found. Questions or problems with this blog? Send email to blog@hoofcare.com.
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