Some 65 years ago on 19 January 1947 from the US Army's Quartermaster - Remount Service came a foal that would become one of the most famed and visible horses that ever came from the service's four decades of operation.
January 19th is the birthday of some really famous people - Robert E. Lee, Confederate General and from which the estate his wife, Mary Custis-Lee owned became Arlington Farms, Arlington National Cemetery and Fort Myer (earlier Fort Whipple & Fort Cass). Edgar Allen Poe - American writer and poet and an upcoming author "The History Guy" - William S. Connery, native of Baltimore, MD and author of the book 'Civil War Northern Virginia 1861'
But back to "Blackjack" - He was named for one of the famed Generals - John J. Pershing who was in charge of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) during WW I ... He got his nickname "Blackjack" from when he commanded a unit of the Buffalo Soldiers. Pershing is one of the two 5-star Generals - known as "General of the Armies" - a distinction awarded him in 1919. (the other was George Washington) It was fitting indeed that the horse which was destined to become one of the most famous caparisioned horses be named after General Pershing.
"Blackjack" came from the US Army Remount Service, one of the most positive influences on the horse industry in the United States of America, if not the world. Three remount depots were the prime provisioning locations Fort Keogh in Montana, Fort Reno in Oklahoma and Front Royal in Virginia (later Fort Robinson in Nebraska would replace Fort Keogh) although after World War I, there were 39 remount depots/sub-depots across the United States providing the horses to keep the US Army moving.
According to all published accounts, Blackjack was the last of the Quartermaster issued horses foaled at the then Remount Depot Fort Reno. He became part of the US Army's 3d Infantry Regiment - The Old Guard - and attached to the Caisson Platoon's fine horses in 1952. Despite all attempts to have him saddled and draw a caisson, his temperment suggested otherwise. A fine looking horse with an air about him, his destiny was to become a caparisoned (riderless) horse - which is an honor reserved for those of officer rank of colonel and above in the US Army and Marine Corps. Those who became his "walker" were constantly challenged by his spirited personality. One attempted to ride him once and it was not a pleasant experience for both the rider and Blackjack.
After participating in over 1,000 final honors, including his appearance in President John F. Kennedy's final honors procession, Blackjack was retired in 1973. When his health deteriorated, it was thought best to put him down, and in 1976 under the careful eye of a US Army military police officer watched the procedure. The horse who gave spirit to the final honors ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery was then cremated and his ashes put in a pine coffin that was ultimately buried on the east side of Summerall Field on Fort Myer.
"Images of America - Fort Myer" with over 200 historical photographs tells the story of one of the most unique US Army Posts with origins during the US Civil War when it was know as Fort Whipple. An autographed copy is available for purchase.
Fort Reno was built in July 1875, named for Major General Jesse L. Reno who was killed during the Civil War. The US Army Post was home to the Buffalo Soldiers of the the 9th and 10th Cavalry and the 24th and 25 Infantry - regiments who were stationed at the Post.
After the Congressional authorization to establish the US Army's Remount Service in 1909, it became a re-mount depot for the US Army until 1949. One of the last Quartermaster horses that came from Fort Reno's remount depot was the famed "Blackjack" - the caparisioned horse that appeared in many final honors at Arlington National Cemetery including President John F. Kennedy's. Blackjack was one of the horses among those that the Old Guard - 3d Infantry Regiment of the US Army had among its "herd" to conduct ceremonial missions within the Washington DC area. In the book "Images of America - Fort Myer" there are photos of these ceremonies among the over 200 historical photographs from the 1860s until the 1960s.
A hundred years ago, the US Army moved by horse - The Cavalry were mounted; the field artillery hauled their guns drawn by limbers hitched up to a team of six horses and wagons were pulled by mules. The horse power need was great, so in the early 1900s, the War Department petitioned Congress and as a result the Remount Service was started finally. In addition to horses, the US Army also needed mules and during WW II the need for dogs also increased.
In doing the research for the book "Images of America - Fort Myer" the US Army's Remount Service surfaced ... initially it consisted of three depots:
Smaller sub-depots were established to receive the horses to re-supply major cavalry posts. There was one of these depots for Fort Myer just outside downtown Alexandria City, Virginia. By the end of World War I, the need had grown so great that there were 39 remount depots across the United States, many at existing US Army Camps and Posts. Additionally, the US Army also took over 35 remount stations in France during the war. Domestically, the depot at Fort Robinson, Nebraska would ultimately be the largest and one of the last depots in use.
It would be from remount depot - Fort Reno, Oklahoma that the famous caparisoned horse, Black Jack (named for General of the Armies, John J. "Blackjack" Pershing) was the last Quartermaster issued horse that was branded by the US Army - the brand "US" on his left shoulder and serial number "2V56" on the left side of his neck.
With the anticipation of being drawn into World War II, a decision was made by Chief of Staff of the Army, General George C. Marshall to mechanize the US Army. Thus horses were of little use as the army went from four hooves to four tires or even two tracks. The remaining depots were turned over to the US Department of Agriculture on July 01 1948. They were either turned into other uses, abandoned or as in the case of the depot at Front Royal, VA, the Smithsonian Institution acquired the main parcel of land, with the remainder in use to train dogs by the US Customs Service and the other portion by the 4H clubs of America.
Based on the strict requirements of the US Army for its horses, the horse industry within the United States benefited greatly. When the US Army's Remount Service was dissolved, many of the horses were auctioned off and became breeding stock across America. Another example of how the US Army has contributed immensely to the United States.