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  But perhaps I’ve been shown the error of my ways in this unpublished manuscript of a roster of the Black Horse Cavalry, which includes a brief history, by Warrenton native and Black Horse authority Lynn Hopewell.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.)




11 responses

15 04 2008
More on the Black Horse « Bull Runnings

[…] how research has changed in the digital age.  I was frankly surprised at the lack of reaction to this post on the Black Horse Cavalry I made a few days ago.  You may not realize it, but what that post had […]


19 04 2008
Mike Peters


IIRC, there is an article in the Annals of the War, which was written by a member of the Black Horse Cavalry. I don’t have the book but perused the index a short time back. Maybe that’ll help.



19 04 2008
Harry Smeltzer


That article was written by the above mentioned Major Scott. I wasn’t able to find any mention of the origin of the unit’s name in it.


5 05 2008
Defend Our Beloved Country « Bull Runnings

[…] Country by Lewis Marshall Helm a couple of weeks ago.  You’ll recall from my earlier posts here and here that I ordered this book from Don Hackenson’s website in large part because I contains a […]


18 09 2009
Asa Marsteller

Hello Mr. Smeltzer, I recently came across a letter referring an ancestor of mine as being attached to JEB Stuart’s Black Horse Troop. He was cited for capture of 2 NY Calvary officers. He was also at the skirmish at Marsteller’s Place May 14th, 1863. This involved the NY 5th regiment cavalry and Michigan 6th Regiment Cavalry. His name was A.A. Marsteller. I am unable to locate his name on the Roster. There were several of his brothers who rode with Conferate Calvary. If you could give me any hints that may assist me , I would be most grateful. I grew up near Manassas Va. My ancestor’s Farm was near the Nokesville area. thank you, Asa


20 09 2009
Harry Smeltzer

When you say you can’t find his name on “the roster”, to what roster are you referring? The Black Horse Troop was eventually a company in the 4th VA Cavalry. On this roster, there is a listing in the Black Horse Troop for Aclpfar Arell Marsteller. Beginning at the bottom of page 425 you’ll find his biographical sketch.


8 10 2011
jeb-stuart-black-horse-cavalry | the general specific

[…] of Bull Runnings: The Black Horse Cavalry (or Troop) was actually one company of Confederate cavalry that eventually […]


7 02 2012
Dennis P. Bielewicz

Dear Harry Smeltzer,

I am writing a book, highlighting my great great grandfather’s (Hiram (H.) Seymour Hall) exploits as a member of Co. G, 27th Regiment NY Volunteers. I would like to include the image “Black Horse Cavalry” that is above this article.

Can I have permission to use this image, or where can I find that image to use that is not too costly.

Thanks for your time. Please advise.


Dennis P. Bielewicz


7 02 2012
Harry Smeltzer


That image is from Harper’s Weekly. I believe it is in the public domain, but am not 100% sure.


30 03 2012
Richard O. Hunton Sr.

There were several Huntons that rode with the BH but Logan Hunton , whose war records indicate that he was transferred to the BH and then wounded in May of ’62 was not included in your roster. Can you shed any light on this.
Much appreciated……….RO


30 03 2012
Harry Smeltzer

Sorry, Richard, it’s not my roster or my area of expertise.


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