hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


News February-March 2023


A Civil War veteran who retired to local pasture

Maury Thompson


Between 8,000 and 10,000 people gathered in Greenwich on Aug. 26, 1885, for a Veterans Reunion.

Among the 600 Civil War veterans who were guests of honor was “War Horse Charlie,” an equine veteran that had called Washington County home since 1864.

Charlie was one of about 3 million horses and mules that served in the Civil War. About half of those animals died in service — most from overwork, but some in combat, according to the National Park Service.

The banquet the women of Greenwich served at the 1885 reunion put New York Gov. David Hill in a light-hearted mood.

“Gov. Hill … said that if there was ever another war, and he had anything to do with it, he would discharge the entire group of commissary officers and put that department in charge of the Greenwich ladies,” The People’s Journal of Greenwich reported on Sept. 2.

The governor, veterans and musicians were well fortified for marching in the long parade that followed the banquet, and they enjoyed the bucolic setting and patriotism of the Washington County town.

“The march was a long one, but the beautiful village presented so many attractions in the multitude of people, in the decorations of the residences of its citizens, and in its own picturesqueness, that the charmed attention of those in the line was continuously arrested, and the way seemed comparatively short,” the newspaper reported.

It seems the governor did not comment on the portion of grain and hay fed to Charlie, the distinguished equine veteran who was in the line of march that day. Given his older age and lighter workload, Charlie probably ate less than the daily ration of 10 pounds of grain and 14 pounds of hay for a Union cavalry horse.

It was Charlie who carried the Union soldier William H. Spencer as he delivered the message from Gen. Henry Slocum to Gen. William T. Sherman in September 1864 that Atlanta had fallen.
Spencer’s 13-year-old son rode Charlie in the Greenwich reunion parade.

Charlie had been captured from the Confederates in July 1864, The Morning Star of Glens Falls reported on Oct. 28, 1889.

Spencer was pleased with Charlie’s performance on the ride to deliver the news to Sherman, and he “soon traded a horse that he owned with a quartermaster for old Charlie,” the newspaper reported.

After the war, Spencer brought Charlie home to Washington County with him, and he later sold the horse to Daniel Payne, a farmer in Fort Miller.

When Charlie died at the Payne farm on Oct. 25, 1889, at least two area newspapers published obituaries, an honor customarily afforded only for prominent residents. Payne offered to provide photographs of Charlie to anyone that requested one.

“’War Horse Charlie,’ one of the noted steeds of the late rebellion, died Friday at Fort Miller,” The Morning Star reported on Oct. 28, 1889.

“For that last two years Charlie lived as a pensioner, roaming over and grazing upon the fields,” The People’s Journal of Greenwich wrote in a tribute published Oct. 31. “Without a moment of sickness or a pang of pain, he gave one last look … and fell into eternal sleep.”


Maury Thompson was a reporter for The Post-Star of Glens Falls for 21 years before retiring in 2017. He now is a freelance writer focusing on the history of politics, labor and media in the region.