Tuesday, December 27, 2011

War Horse Hoofcare: Holy Horseshoes at the Anvil Altar

Today we salute some holy horseshoeing. During the long battle for the Argonne Forest, American horses were stabled inside the ruins of a church in Consenvoye, in northeastern France. A corner of the once-grand church became the smithy where American farriers worked to keep the horses shod. (Photo above courtesy of the New York Public Library digital collection)

Consenvoye is in the northeast corner of France near the Belgian border, in the region of Lorraine. This is where the famous Battle of the Meuse-Argonne was fought. The Meuse-Argonne battle was the largest frontline commitment of troops by the U.S. Army in World War I, and the final offensive of the war.

Who worked in this makeshift smithy? An American farrier; horses were also stabled inside the ruined church. Under the same roof (or what was left of it), the American set up an evacuation hospital.

Horses and humans alike sought shelter inside the church at Consenvoye. Wounded American soldiers took one side, while the other was used for horses and a smithy. (National Archives of the United States photo)

The trench warfare in this region was legendary. The wet soil couldn't withstand the stress of the war and any advances had to be via roads, bridges, and ramps that had to be engineered and built first. Large artillery couldn't move because the horses couldn't pull through the mud and the temporary roads couldn't hold their weight. Many horses were listed as "drowned in mud".

The exterior of the church at Consenvoye, France. American horses were stabled inside. Photo from Illinois in the World War: An Illustrated Record Prepared with the Coöperation and Under the Direction of the Leaders in the State's Military and Civilian Organizations, published in 1920.

The battle is long remembered as the costliest ever in US military history: 115,000 Americans were among the 300,000 soldiers on both sides who died there. Of course the town rebuilt the church, which you can visit. This video shows the restoration, but doesn't mention the horseshoeing:

The church image is in the collection of the New York Public Library. It is courtesy of of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building / Photography Collection, Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs.

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