The Black Horse Cavalry

9 04 2008

Charge of the Black Horse Cavalry upon the Fire Zouaves at The Battle of Bull Run, Harper\'s Weekly 8/10/1861 

The Black Horse Cavalry (or Troop) was actually one company of Confederate cavalry that eventually became Company H of the 4th Virginia Cavalry.  The 4th VA was not finally organized until September, 1861, but the Black Horse Cavalry, made up of young men from the finest families of Fauquier County, was formed as a militia company in June of 1859.  It became famous when it escorted John Brown to the gallows in December of that year, and by the time of First Bull Run their name had become to Confederate cavalry what Sherman’s Battery had become to Yankee artillery (see here), such that all rebel horsemen were referred to as the “The Black Horse Cavalry”.  At First Bull Run, the company was attached to Lt. Col. T. T. Munford’s squadron of the 30th VA Cavalry (see his OR).

I have long labored under the impression that the unit received its name due to the fact that all its members rode black horses.  But perhaps I’ve been shown the error of my ways in this unpublished manuscript of a roster of the Black Horse Cavalry, which includes a brief history, by Warrenton native and Black Horse authority Lynn Hopewell.  I mention Mr. Hopewell’s background as a preemptive strike at those who will jerk the knee and assume that the book’s author is some South-hating Yankee bent on slandering the motives of the Confederacy and its supporters.  The source for the story of the naming of the troop is William “Billy” Payne, one of its charter members as a private, Captain in command of the company at Bull Run, and eventually a Brigadier General (that’s him to the left, from the Generals and Brevets website) who recalled:

The purposes of the organization were well understood and the question was to give it a proper name.  I well remember the conversations between Major Scott and myself.  The first idea was that we were descendants of cavaliers.  The company was to be a cavalry troop.  I do remember that I called the Major’s attention to the fact that the first standard borne by our tribe, the Saxons, when they landed under Hengist and Horsa at Thanit, was the banner of the white horse.  It was agreed therefore that a horse especially typical and representative of Virginia should be adopted.  We were all extreme pro-slavery men, but the Major in addition, was in favor of opening the African slave trade and he suggested that the horse should be black, and hence the troop was named the Black Horse Troop.

As you can see in Mr. Hopewell’s pdf document, the footnote for this quote is blank. Mr. Hopewell unfortunately passed away in 2006.  I’m thinking the quote may be from Confederate Veteran, which I don’t have on disk yet (though I should).  If you know the source, help me out.

(UPDATE: I’m getting some help from members of the Civil War Discussion Group in finding the source for the quote, but as I do I’m also finding more questions.  There will be a follow up post.)