The General’s Mount
By Jack Knox
The blood from deep inside began to color flecks of foam about the bit and pink the moisture in his heavy breath. And yet the pain sharp and searing hot, Appeared to make no difference in his stride. For this great chestnut gelding, Dark in sweat, Was all a war horse; In his pace, And in his sinew, Bone and blood and in his heart.
The towering General, light-reined horseman, light in the saddle too. His mind and eyes intent upon the fight felt the shot that hit his horse beneath him. There is some indescribable communion between a man and horse. Who’ve shared the roughtest roads, the longest hours, the hardest battles.
A singleness of spirit, faith unflagging. The General felt the pain as thought the gelding’s wound was in himself. It tightened muscles in his jaws and throat. And then the second shot stuck hard the chestnut’s side. And then the third. Stunning, staggering, his powerful and easy stride became a labored lounge. Steadied only by the General’s balanced weight and sure hand. The war horse gathered with every ounce of courage in his heart to carry on, to fight the mission through. The General reined him in, and stepping down he loosed the girth and lightly slipped the saddle to the ground.
The General’s young lieutenant, Aide de camp, his son reined up, dismounted took the General’s horse and gave his own. Scarcely a word was passed, no orders given, none had to be as the General, with one backward glance, rode on. And Willie led the wounded war horse from the field and to the rear. Away from powder smoke and battle strain. Into the chill of early March, into the quieter countryside in Tennessee. To the horse holders beyond the second hill. And in the cutting chill the war horse ached . Ached under his drying sweat and drying blood. A once alert clearheaded “General’s mount,” stunned and trembling from the shock and pain jaded. Limping to the in the rear. No bugles and no drumbeats here, only fading sounds across the field.
The holders slipped the bridle from his lowered head, wiped the sweat marks from his cheeks and neck, pulled the blood-red foam from mouth and nostrils, sponged his wounds, applied a stinging ointment. They washed his knees and hocks and pasterns. “It’s Roderick! The General’s mount! Bring the water bucket to him.” Roderick the General’s mount. Trained in his master’s ways. Trained to jump a fence or wall or gully, to back and wheel, to follow where the General went, to follow closely, ready for an instant need. And he followed him from training but he followed, too, from love.
The stinging ointment toudhed a spark of feeling. the water gave refreshment to his spirit. He raised his head a little, cocked an ear, and listened. In the echoed in the hills. The General always rode to the shooting.
He turned to face the sound. His ears were up and pointing. His head was clearing now. He moved a little, toward the sound. The holders started to him shouting “whoa.” He moved a liottle faster, stiff and aching, towards the shooting. “WHOA” they shouted, “head’im!” He broke into a trot. To a painful, labored gallop to the General.
The gallop warmed his blood loosened stiff and aching muscles. Ahead a fence, he cleared it with a might surge of effort. And he was running, a painful, awkward stride, but running hard to the General.
The next fence up and over. He almost lost his footing, but he could smell the powder now. The General’s smelled of powder. Now he cold see the men and horses, nervous horses, ready for the charge. Now he could see the General. Once last fence before him and the field. He cleared it as the bugles blasted “CHARGE!” He was racing with the shouting horsemen now. He was straining hard to reach the General’s side. Five good strides ahead bleeding, straining hard. Three good strides when the killing bullet hit him in the chest.
The keen ear of the General caught a sound, inaudible, almost aginst the din. half aplaintive nicker, half a cocked scream. Like the scream of horses “bad hit” on the field. Amid the shouting and the shricking and the fire the General heard it. He stiffened, half turning in his saddle. And there behind him in the charge, stumbling, plunging, dying, his war horse. On his feet, but dying in the charge.
The feared and fearless, Battle-hardened General spurred ahead, to fight more awesome battles for his cause. But the man – the horsemen – Underneathe his honored uniform – Bedford Forrest – Died a little there on the field near Spring Hill, March the fifth, 1863.