Few people know the early contributions of General George S. Patton, Jr. He’s known for his robust accomplishments in World War I commanding the US Army’s Light Tank Corps and in World War II commanding the 3d Army.
While at Fort Myer, Patton left his mark on the US Army and the post with some of his contributions continuing until today. Few people know about his involvement in the construction of the Old Post Chapel – the icon of the installation, the tennis courts. But then there’s the “Society Circus” – a concept that began as a way for the Soldiers to continue to hone their skills, demonstrate their talents while raising money for the Army Relief Fund.
It began during the “between the wars” period when Patton returned from his successes in Europe in the US Army Tank Corps. He once again returned to his beloved cavalry where he had earlier distinguished himself by designing “The Patton Sword” – M1913 which was produced by the Springfield Arsenal – some 34,000 swords were produced and the cavalry outfitted. However this time it was “The Society Circus” which some say has evolved into today’s “Spirit of America” which still is produced and performed by Soldiers from Fort Myer as they take the show “on the road”
Back then, for ten weekends during the late Spring and all Summer, the horsemanship skills of the cavalry along with vignettes depicting events or places in history were presented.
This augmented the ceremonial duties which the Soldiers executed which included final honor support at Arlington National Cemetery.
Several historic photographs within the book “Images of America – Fort Myer” provide a small glimpse of this segment of history on this unique US Army Post with origins during the US Civil War when it was known as Fort Whipple. An autographed copy of the book can be purchased here on the website.
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.