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.
With the remount depots already established in Montana – Fort Keogh and Oklahoma – Fort Reno, the US Army cast its eyes to the East and sought out a place for the third remount depot authorized by Congress. The choice was Virginia, but rather than on an established military installation, the depot was built from the ground up.
On August 30, 1911 in Front Royal, Virginia, the East Coast remount depot of the US Army opened for operation. The Army had acquired 5,000 acres near the Appalachian / Blue Ridge Mountains combining several farms and erecting a complex of buildings. The third remount depot of the US Army’s Remount Service was the only one constructed as a depot. Others had been carved out of existing US Army Posts across the country (Fort Keogh, Montana – Fort Reno, Oklahoma - Fort Robinson, Nebraska.) and one established in the 1940s was donated – Pomona, California.
As the Army’s Remount Service evolved and matured, other sub-depots would be set up around the country to accommodate the ranches, universities and other locations which would join in to contribute to the operations.
In a series of field trips to the location, it was great to walk among the acres and observe the complex of buildings nestled among the acres imagining the fields full of horses. Heading to the ridge where once was a track where races were held on the weekends, a wonderful building known as the stallion barn was to the east. The Army acquired a select collection of stallions to begin the process of improving the available horses to provision the cavalry and field artillery.
Reaching the ridge and heading to the north-side of the track, the horse cemetery that I had been informed about was near a stone wall. The headstones looked very familiar, but something was not completely clicking. Then I realized that they were Quartermaster issued stones… the same ones that are used in Arlington National Cemetery and all the rest of the National Cemeteries across the US. The only difference was instead of burying them half-way as they do in ANC, these were up on pedestals.
It was pointed out to me that the open space between the stones is where Kidron & Jeff – General John “Blackjack” Pershing’s horses were buried. Their headstones were removed and are somewhere among the acres that was Fort Robinson in Nebraska. When the remount depot at Fort Keogh in Montana was closed, Fort Robinson was established as its replacement and became the largest of the remount depots within the US Army Remount Service. No further information was available why they ended up there. Of peculiar interest is one headstone – it peaks just like the stones that surround the Confederate Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery.
The remount depot at Front Royal, Virginia was near the railroad that would eventually transport the horses to Fort Myer via Alexandria providing fresh mounts for the cavalry and the field artillery caissons. Additionally, the remount service also provided fresh mules and especially during WW II, dogs.
When the remount service was deactivated in 1948, all the remount depots reverted to the US Department of Agriculture. The Smithsonian later acquired the Front Royal remount depot’s main acreage of 4,200 acres. It became The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) which facilitates and promotes conservation biology programs at the National Zoo. Currently closed to the public, the facility does open one weekend a year – the first weekend in October. For more information you can go to the Smithsonian’s website and SCBI’s page.
The book “Images of America – Fort Myer” contains over 200 historical photographs which include the US Army’s Remount Service along with a historical chronology in photographs of the first one hundred years of this unique US Army Post with origins during the US Civil War when it was known as Fort Whipple.
Established on 08 NOV 1878 by Brevet General Nelson A. Miles and named Fort Keogh as a US Army Post. The original size of the military reservation was 100 square miles, or about 64,000 acres.
The infantry troops were withdrawn in 1907 and became part of the US Army’s Remount Service and a remount depot in 1909 until 1924 when the Army relinquished it to the US Dept of Agriculture.
More about the US Army’s Remount Service along with several historic photographs are found in the book “Images of America – Fort Myer” – the ground breaking / milestone setting book about this historic US Army Post with origins during the US Civil War when it was known as Fort Whipple.
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.
It was after the US Civil War, the nation was undergoing a period of healing from the “brother against brother” conflict. Fort Whipple, one of the original fortifications among the Defenses of Washington had continued on after all the other nearly 70 fortifications were abandoned. The first Chief Signal Officer, General Albert J. Myer had brought his Signal Corps School to Arlington Heights. It was 1880 when the name changed to Fort Myer in his honor.
In August 1886 the US Congress designated Fort Myer a military station and the Signal Corps School vacated.
With a vision in mind of turning Fort Myer into a Cavalry Show Case, LTG Phillip H Sheridan requested that it become a cavalry post. It was nearly a year later in July 1887, when Troop B of the 6th Cavalry from Fort Lewis, Colorado and Troop B of the 4th Cavalry from Fort Hauchuca, Arizona arrived. Major James Biddle of the 6th as commanding officer.
The cavalry had arrived and would spur a growth in permanent buildings including troop barracks, a riding arena, new stables. For several decades, the cavalry would provide the defense of the US Capital and ceremonial support in and around Washington, DC including final honors support at Arlington National Cemetery. In time the US Army would establish the Remount Service and nearly 1,500 horses would occupy the acres of Fort Myer.
Over 200 Historical photographs from the 1860s to the 1960s are within the book “Images of America – Fort Myer” that chronicle the emergence of this historic unique US Army Post.
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.