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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (11/2006) Relic Hunter (08/2006) Relic Hunter (06/2007)   Vol. 40 November 2006 
The Relic Hunter
As seen in the November 2006 edition of W&ET Magazine

An Ode To Pink

By: Ed fedory

"What is the sentiment, if not love, that ties a man to the horse which has carried him to victory in the charge, or which has borne him to safety in defeat... and which often, by a keener and ever alert sense, warns of coming surprise or given notice of ambush by a snort?"- E.E. Barker

Along the shores of Lake Champlain, in upstate New York, stands the sleepy little village of Crown Point. It is quaint and unremarkable, save for the small, tree-shadowed park beside the road as you exit the town heading north. I've stopped there often, and in the shade of that 12' high monument of Westerly granite, I find it impossible not to think of the past events and men that have forged this country... and of the singular love one man had for his horse.

The words of General John C. Hammond, inscribed on the monument, ring down not only the corridors of time, but through the portals of one's heart:

Died Sunday, May 25, 1886
Aged 30 years

This horse carried his master 25 years. Was never known to show fatigue while other horses in cavalry and flying artillery were dying from want of food and exhaustion. He was present in 88 skirmishes and 34 battles, notably Winchester, Orange Court House, Second Bull Run, Hanover, Pa., Gettysburg, Hanover, Va., Brandy Plains, Buckland Mills, the Wilderness, Spottsylvania Court House, North Annee, Ashland, White Oaks Swamp, Reams Station.

Little did I realize, two decades ago, that I would be relic hunting on some of the very fields that once felt the tread of Pink's hoofbeats... never once did I think I would follow along the path of the 5th New York State Volunteer Cavalry, Company H, on its journey from Crown Point to the fields of northern Virginia.

More than just a story of recovered relics, this is a story of the men who left their lakeside village in the North to preserve the Union, and more especially a tale of the horses they cherished. Many of those men would never return to Crown Point... far fewer, the horses.

Following the terrible Union defeat at Manassas Junction, the First Battle of Bull Run, July 21, 1861, in which the Confederate cavalry played such a significant part, the United States government put out a call for volunteer cavalry units. Thirty-four year old John Hammond opened a recruiting office to sign up young men from Essex County, New York, for a period of three years service in a cavalry unit. Within 30 days 106 men had enlisted.

With money advanced by John Hammond's father, Charles H. Hammond, the owner of an iron mining company, the call went out for horses of quality- in particular, the Blackhawk Morgan line. The Morgan horses are noted as the first truly American breed, and are compact, sturdy, versatile (either in a pulling capacity or carrying riders), and extremely loyal. Within a few short weeks, 108 Morgan horses were purchased and the men of Crown Point set out for New York City. For most of the men, it was the first time they would set foot outside their county.

Each trooper was allowed to select his own mount, and being a good judge of horseflesh, John Hammond selected a bay with a white "star" on his forehead and white "socks" on his front feet and on his right hind foot. His name was Pink. It was the beginning of a journey and relationship that would take them through the carnage of battle and endure for decades.

The men and horses were accepted into U.S. service in October 1861, as Company H of the New York State Volunteer Cavalry. Several months later, in a letter to his wife, dated April 16, 1862, Captain John Hammond relates:

"I think there will not be a cavalry regiment in this field so well armed as we shall be. Our regiment is now supplied entirely with McClellan saddles, Colt's pistols, Ames' sabres, and the cavalry rifle."

Recently, on a relic hunting trip to Virginia, we had an opportunity to search large sections of fields where the Battle of Brandy Station took place. You could almost visualize the thundering charges of men and horses on those rolling Virginia hills. I knew Pink and Colonel Hammond had been in the thick of the fighting that had taken place there, and that simple fact added a special relevance and importance to my search.

On June 30, 1863, the 5th New York Volunteer Cavalry earned the distinction of being the first regiment to cross swords and exchange fire with the Confederates on free soil. This occurred at Hanover, Pennsylvania, 14 miles from Gettysburg, where Colonel Hammond came up against the forces of General J.E.B. Stuart. The 5th New York bore the brunt of the attack, and then charged again, driving the Confederate cavalry from the field. A few short days later, at Gettysburg, Hammond and his troopers were ordered to support Elder's U.S. Battery. Lieutenant Elder, a born soldier as history recalls, could only ask one question: "Was John Hammond with his famous New York troopers here with him to brave the most daring deeds?" Indeed, the 5th New York played a pivotal part in diverting part of Lee's army during the battle in charges against the Confederate infantry, "over ground today deemed impassable for horses."

According to E.E. Barker, whose father was a trooper in Company H, the horses, "...seemed to share the hopes and fears of battle equally with their riders. When sabres were drawn and the troops cheered, the horses gallantly responded. In battle the horses became as excited as their riders, sometimes becoming quite uncontrollable and carrying them beyond where they wanted to go. Such was the case with Pink..."

Was it a lack of control, or just plain enthusiasm? Whatever the case, while Pink remained Hammond's main source of transportation, it was another horse that would carry him into battle after the spring of 1863. This horse was captured from Mosby's men and because of his rebel origins was named Jeff Davis. From that point on, the troopers of the 5th New York always knew that if Colonel Hammond was mounting Jeff Davis there was going to be a fight. Hammond was riding Jeff when he was wounded at Culpeper Court House, September 13, 1863, and when wounded in the leg at Ashland Station, June 1, 1864. Colonel Hammond, in August of that same year, gave Jeff Davis to Elmer J. Barker, prior to his returning to Crown Point to continue the war effort through the family iron mining company. Pink accompanied him on his return trip, exchanging the thundering battlefields for the quiet meadows of upstate New York. Jeff Davis would continue to carry his trooper in continuing conflicts and would return to Crown Point following the end of the war, where he would live until 1883. He was buried at the Barker Sugar Hill Farm beneath a granite tombstone that reads:

Captured by the 5th N.Y. Cavalry
From Mosby's Guerrillas, January
1863. Died June 1883.

Another of the handful of Morgan war horses to survive and return home to Crown Point was Billy, the favorite mount of Colonel James Penfield. Although never wounded in battle, Billy did suffer injury, becoming lame for a few days. His incapacity forced Colonel Penfield to select another horse. The horse was named Cockeye due to his one blind eye and the fact that he carried his head cocked to one side. While leading a charge of Company H troopers at Hagarstown, Cockeye was killed, falling on his rider. Penfield was severely wounded by a sabre stroke to the head, captured, and later confined in Libby Prison. According to E.E. Barker, "In the fall of 1863, Billy was sent home to Crown Point where he lived an honored pensioner for 22 years. His grave on the Penfield farm is marked with a granite monument, suitably inscribed:

Col. James A. Penfield's War Horse
Served in Co. H 5th N.Y. Volunteer Cavalry. Battles:
Winchester, Harper's Ferry, Dranee C. House,
Cedar Mt. Waterloo Bridge, Bull Run, Hanover,
Gettysburg, Monterey Pass.

When the 5th New York Volunteer Cavalry was finally mustered out at Hart's Island, New York, July 19, 1865 it was noted that only seven original horses survived the war. The toll of dead, wounded, and captured gives grim testimony to the ordeals faced by the 5th New York V.C. and their war horses.

Names like Prince and Mink... Old Babe and Old Elder... Charley and Sukey... Black Dick, Jane and Black Bess have entered the pages of history as only footnotes, without benefit of granite monuments or tombstones. Most left only their shattered and torn hulks on the battlefields amid their fallen comrades, horse and soldier alike. It was said of the survivors that they seemed never to have forgotten their wartime experiences, as martial music and the sounds of a 4th of July celebration would always excite them.

...and I wonder if Pink, Old Jeff, or Billy, standing mid-meadow, in the waning of their lives and a summer day, ever closed their eyes and dreamt of the times that were... the thunder of the cannon... the bugle calls... the clash of steel...

I wonder.

Author's Note: I would especially like to thank Joan Hunsdon, Crown Point Historian, for her sacrifice of time and energy in helping me gather the facts about Pink, and the generous folks on the American Relic Hunter forum for providing pictures of their cavalry-related recoveries.

It should also be noted that John Hammond enlisted as a private, was elected captain by the troopers of Company H, and rose through the ranks to general.

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