The War Horse

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The War Horse
“The Ghost Horse of Appomattox”

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We’ve all heard I am sure, of the story of the Surrender at Appomattox Courthouse, when the honorable Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia, to Union General Ulysses S. Grant.  Once General Lee had carried out the surrender, his Army begrudgingly accepted the terms laid down, the Cavalrymen rode off into history and the Infantry began their long march home.

But just perhaps you haven’t heard of the one who refused to accept the reality of the surrender, the legend, so I am told.  That of a Cavalry Officer’s Horse, which immediately upon General Lee, having signed the surrendered and Grant followed suit he galloped away.

The incident of the renegade horse from Appomattox Courthouse was considered so insignificant an incident it was never mention, and indeed, it was thought the horse would never be seen again.  That is until; well, join with us as we uncover the truth of The War Horse of Appomattox Courthouse Virginia. .  
    

      

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"I tried all in my power to avert this war. I saw it coming, for twelve years I worked night and day
to prevent it, but I could not. The North was mad and blind; it would not let us govern ourselves, and so the war came, and now it must go on till the last man of this generation falls in his tracks, and his children seize the musket and fight our battle, unless you acknowledge our right to self government.  We are not fighting for slavery.  We are fighting for Independence, and that, or extermination." --- Jefferson Davis
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By George McCullum

Some years ago I had a job transporting people for medical appointments to such places as Doctor’s Offices and Hospitals, oftentimes the appointment was not scheduled to take a very long period of time.  I would normally remain nearby, either in the Waiting Room or else in the Parking Lot!   More often then not there would be other drivers doing the same as I, so on a particularly nice days when the weather was pleasant; we would go outside and swap stories.  Some of these stories quite naturally would come under the heading of ‘whoppers’, meaning they were a wee bit of a stretch of the truth.  But on rare occasions I would meet a driver, sometimes from another town, who had a very unusual story to tell, so I would take the time to listen carefully.

The story of ‘The War Horse’ is such a story and I will tell it as it was told to me!  The actual identity of the person who told me the story will remain anonymous, so in this regard I will call him Walt Bremerton, which is not far away from his true name.  It was a Thursday and I had been making this particular stop every week on alternating days, Monday, Wednesday and Friday one week, then Tuesday and Thursday the following week, a different driver drove the route on Saturdays.  The weather was indeed pleasant, it being the spring time of the year, so the few of us who were drivers went out of doors to the parking lot, as was our custom on such occasions.

There was no open communications between us to do so, just that one of the drivers among us would normally leave the waiting room, and the other drivers would simply follow!  On that particular occasion, like other times, there was mostly jesting, and talk about whatever came to someone’s mind.  After all we were more or less simply bidding time until our Clients were finished with their appointments, so we could drive them home.  There were three of us drivers that particular day, and after about 10 minutes one of them left with his Client, leaving only Walt and myself.  The third driver in our group had no sooner helped his Client aboard his large Van and drove out of the lot, when Walt began to relate the story. .

George he said, have you ever heard the story of ‘The War Horse of the Shenandoah?  “No, I responded, it sounds interesting, I’d like to hear it!”  You are aware I am sure, Walt stated, that by 1 April 1865 it became obvious to President Davis and everyone else concerned, the Confederacy was loosing the war, and Richmond was doomed!  The war had went fairly well the first two years, given the four to one odds in numbers and firepower, but the last two years of the war was a steady march toward disaster.  Selma Alabama came under occupation by 12,000 Federals under James Harrison Wilson, while at the same time President Jefferson Davis, ordered an evacuation of Richmond.

By 8:30 A.M. on Monday 3 April, the Federal Army under Major General Godfrey Weitzel received the surrender of Richmond at City Hall; the Capital of the Confederacy was now in enemy hands, as was Petersburg.  Meanwhile General Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia struggled westward toward Amelia Courthouse, then onward toward Burkeville, hoping to link up with General Joseph E. Johnston and his Army.  On Saturday 8 April, General Lee passed through several hamlets and villages as they moved forward, passing through Appomattox Station near unto Appomattox Courthouse itself.

Behind Lee’s Army, and in close pursuit, were the Second and Sixth Corps of Grants Army under Humphrey and Wright!  Elements of General Sheridan’s Army, seized Lee’s Supply wagons at Appomattox Station moving ahead of Lee in the process.  There were several skirmishes, but the Union Army found it difficult to bring Lee to an open engagement.  At Farmville, again not far from Appomattox Station, Grant had received a note on the evening before, which was on Friday 7 April.  General Lee was seeking; under what terms he would accept the surrender of his Army.

In a council of war, Lee made it clear; the Army of Northern Virginia was not able to break through and join forces with General Johnston.  So on Palm Sunday 9 April Robert E. Lee and his Army mustered at the Wilmer McLean farm on the edge of Appomattox Courthouse for the surrender of his Army, to Union General Ulysses S. Grant.  When suddenly there was a noise nearby and our attention became focused on a privately owned van, which loaded up his passenger, backed out of the parking space and departed!  We both paused for a while, after taking notice of what was going on about us, then my attention shifted back to the story, as I turned toward my fellow driver Walt Bremerton.

What does all this have to do with The War Horse, Walt?  Walt, his own concentration just then returning to the story!  The surrender of General Lee and his Army took place in the early afternoon, and consisted of each Commanding General, Union and Confederate, signing the Document of Surrender.  George, it was at the very moment after which General Robert E. Lee had signed the surrender, and General Ulysses S. Grant signed, confirming the finality of the surrender that it happened.  I was anxious, so I ask my driver colleague Walt a question, “What happened, is there something about the surrender that we’ve not been told? .

Walt Bremerton paced a few steps then returned to where he had been standing, “A renegade horse George; a horse that came out of nowhere and ran full gallop near the Wilmer McLean house where Lee had just surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia. Whose horse was it Walt?” Well George, that is where the mystery begins! There are several fields of thought; the first being that it was a Confederate Cavalry Officers horse, and the horse had been excited by the commotion of the surrender. No one believes that, since any Cavalry horse would have faced many a battle, so the mild noises and commotion of the surrender ceremony would not have stirred the horse making of him a renegade.

Besides, the horse was saddle-less and neither the Yankee nor Confederate Cavalry unsaddled their mounts!  The second option is that the horse belonged to a nearby farmer, possibly even Mr. McLean, but that makes little sense, inasmuch as Mr. McLean himself was not present and the Yankees would have long since confiscated what would have appeared to be such a well kept, unclaimed horse, as was seen charging through the area of the surrender.  “All right then Walt, what then is the third option, where could the horse have come from, if not Mr. McLean, or a nearby farm, nor the Yankee or Confederate Cavalry?” .

Well George it is possible of course that the horse was of divine origin; a horse sent of Almighty God!  Still, be that as it may, there has been little agreement down through the years as to where the horse came from, or indeed if the event ever took place, accept.  Walt paused for a moment, taking a few steps in one direction then a few the other then turning to where he had originally stood.  He then turn toward me; “The horse commonly called The War Horse has reappeared periodically over the years, even unto this very day.  I was quick to take notice of one important ingredient, the horse would have to be something in the neighborhood of a century and a half in age, and that is impossible.

The Trip to Appomattox Courthouse

Walt then sensing that time was passing, looked at his watch then responded that his Client must surely be ready by now, so he wrapped up the story with one last statement, There’s a farm northwest of Appomattox Courthouse.  The McNeal family owns the farm, and they have seen The War Horse, for brief moments over the years!  Walt turned and reentered the waiting room, and true enough his Client was nearly ready, since it was only a matter of 7 minutes or so that he exited the building with his Client, loaded, gave me a quick wave of the hand and drove away.  Walt Bremerton was from out of town, so I wasn’t sure when I would see him again, but I did know I must see this horse, if possible!

It was now Thursday 23 March 2000 and I had a vacation coming, my wife Alice and I had discussed going to Virginia, so as to visit a few of the historic sights.  I decided then and there that if she agreed, we would do our best to be in the area of Appomattox not later then Wednesday 5 April, locate the McNeal farm and if possible, be in position, should The War Horse make an appearance.  At the age of 59, I could still get around fairly well, but I did like taking my time, so we arrived in the area of Appomattox on schedule and checked into a local Motel, figuring to do a little searching the following day.

By the time we awoke the next morning, made our preparations and had a little breakfast it was 8:15 but we finally did manage to head out on the road, stopping first at the Battlefield Park, visiting the McLean House before hitting the road heading northwest.  My wife came up with the idea of looking for a roadside business that would cater to farmers.  After a number of stops we were about to give up for the day, when we spotted yet another business, a farm supply store, so we pulled into the parking lot.  Most of the farm type stores we spotted were not that large, since most business along the highway catered to the tourists.

Entering the store we walked about looking things over while the casher waited on a couple of customers!  Finally he turned to us asking, “May I help you?”  Unlike most businesses along the highway, this one was no doubt truly a local business, and we were treated to a little ole fashion Southern Hospitality.  After shaking hands with the man who simply introduced himself as Charlie Banks, I ask him; “Do you know of a farmer by the name of McNeal?”  Yes came the reply, he's William McNeal, know to his friends as Bill, he stops in here every once and a while, his farm is just off the main highway and down a narrow two lane road, just up the ridge a couple of miles.

After scratching down the directions on a note pad near the cash register, we bought a few snacks and a couple of cold drinks and were off to locate Mr. Bill McNeal’s farm.  Just as the storekeeper had indicated the turn off was a couple of miles up the ridge, where we turned off onto a paved two-lane country road.  We came to a left turn in the road, then a right turn, then after a few more miles my wife Alice thought she spotted the name McNeal on a mail box off to the left side of the road.  There was no traffic to speak of so I made a u-turn and headed back about a quarter of a mile, so as to make sure.

I turned just inside a lone driveway leading to what was a very old farmhouse, which looked to be pre-first world war but exceptionally well kept, a fine looking home for its obvious age.  It was a two-story house, no doubt built at a time when several generations commonly lived together; the gabled roof had a longer gage on one side then the other.  Off in the distance maybe 75 yards behind the house and off to the left was barn, which appeared to have a drive through port for unloading or parking farm machinery.  The drive way appeared to be made of some type of crushed gravel, very firm and smooth for a gravel driveway.

Search for the War Horse

As we pulled up in front of the house beside a single cab pickup truck, which appeared to be four or five years old, and looking to be one of those General Motors trucks, but somehow we didn’t see any company markings.  As we approached the door a man, who was introduced to us as William McNeal, greeted us; he closed the door behind us and introduced his wife Julia and himself, then invited us to a cop of coffee.  His wife along with my own wife Alice headed for the kitchen to fetch the coffee, and we both thought to get to know each other a wee bit.  William turned to me saying, George, have a seat, if you like, all my friends call Willie.

Willie took a seat in what was obviously his own private easy chair, while I myself sat on one of those older model but very sound and clean large couches.  The ladies could be heard talking about whatever it is that ladies talk about, and it always amazed me how often times women seem to react as if they have known each other for years.  Meanwhile Willie opened up the discussion by asking about our trip up from Florida, which we discussed for a few minutes.  Then the subject turned to the real reason for our visit, whereupon Willie mentioned that Mr. Walt Bremerton who told me the story was his nephew on his wife’s side of the family, and had visited the farm a number of times.

Willie, I feel like our visit was not entire a surprise to you, perhaps Walt spoke of us over the telephone!  No George it was not Walt, but in any case this would be an excellent time to tell the story, the  real story, the story of the War Horse, who has appeared so many years after the surrender.  Yes indeed George, there is an animal commonly referred to as ‘The War Horse’ and he does appear from time to time.  The horse normally appears on days in which April 9 falls on Sunday, such as 1995 as well as this year, the year 2000.  Then again I expect to see The War Horse in 2006 and 2017, but you must remember, while I assure you I have indeed seen this horse, I do not believe in Ghosts, feeling like there must be another explanation.

Willie and Julia McNeal invited us to stay overnight, and attend Church with them, since the next day was Sunday 9 April, afterward Willie and I, would take the ;all terrain vehicle' and head up the ridge to a secure place and watch for the appearance of The War Horse.  When the next morning came, we had a light breakfast of eggs, bacon, toast and coffee, then made our preparations and headed off to church.  The Church was one of those small Community Church’s located in a crossroad village of approximately 600 people.  The business there was sparse, consisting of little more then White’s Grocery, a Farm Store, a Gas Station and a Coffee Shop.

But finally it was early afternoon, Willie and I made our last minute preparations, boarded his all terrain vehicle and head across the field toward the ridge at the back side of his farm.  Willie’s farm appeared to me to be approximately 175 to 200 acres, so it took a while to cross that distance until we came to a location half way up the ridge where there was a clump of trees and shrubs.  Willie parked the vehicle in the midst of them, which tended to camouflage both us, as well as the vehicle, not wanting to frighten the horse into not appearing.  George, turn off your cell phone, so it doesn’t ring in the middle of all this! .

As I opened my cell phone to turn it off I noticed the time was 12:58, two minutes until the time of the expected appearance of The War Horse!  I turned off my cell phone, put it in my pocket and had just stepped behind a nearby bush, peeking over one side to see if possible whatever might happen.  When high on the ridge it appeared, the horse charged across the ridge full gallop, stopped in about the middle section, reared upon his hind legs and began kicking and whinnying.  I very slightly rubbed my eyes, asking myself, was I really seeing this or is it an over active imagination, but a second look told me that horse is really out there and he is the real McCoy all right?

The horse repeated his feat sever times, charging across the ridge, rearing up, kicking and whinnying!  This was the most powerful horse I had ever seen, his main and tail exceedingly long, blowing strong against the spring breeze, which blew across the Shenandoah.  It was hard to describe his color, accept that he appeared to be an ash color, with a white main and tail, his dark coat and eyes glistening in the sun.  Then the question came to me; “Why was he here, what has made him appear time and time again since 9 April 1865?  Then it came to me, he made his first appearance at the surrender ceremony of General Robert E. Lee, and couldn’t or wouldn’t accept the surrender.

It is now 2011, and 11 years have passed since I saw The War Horse, high on the Shenandoah Ridge, he again appeared in 2006, would he do so in 2017 or perhaps sooner?  Well my own inclination tells me that if the Confederacy remains under occupation, he will appear once more, but if the Prophesied Leader of the Confederate Cause appears before then, as expected, he will return to Appomattox Courthouse one last time.  Then he will dash off into history, never to be seen again!  But who or what is this War Horse that has appeared, going on a century and a half after the end of the War for Confederate Independence.  Well, that is for you the reader of this story to decide! .

God save the Confederacy   

 

 

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“If a man can not stand firm for honor and principle before the footmen, what will he do when the horsemen come?   Shall he compromise with tyranny in order to purchase ease and comfort for a season, at the expense of the liberty of his own posterity?  There are many among our numbers claiming to be Confederate and Southern, while having already traversed the road of treason, caused by an attitude of procrastination, compromise and complacency.|

He who will surrender his own history, heritage, culture and yes, nationhood, today for the sake of a gilded cage, will surrender his liberty on the same alter tomorrow.  In like manor, he who accepts and practices the ways of his enemy, sells his soul to them, and in due course of time, he will find the price, measured in blood.”
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