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No. 8 AUGUST 2004
OLD WHITEY

Old Whitey in Retirement in Fremont, Ohio


On March 20, 1879, a White House telegrapher handed President Hayes a dispatch containing all of four words: “Old Whitey is dying.” Before the evening was out, a second telegram arrived from Fremont, notifying the president that, indeed, his beloved war horse had breathed his last. The news cast a gloom over the White House and left little Fanny in tears. The following day, Hayes recorded in his diary the passing of this

courageous animal.

The “Fremont Journal” informed local residents that despite treatment with quinine and whiskey, the celebrated war horse had died of spinal meningitis at the age of 29. A week later, the paper carried a lengthy obituary, providing a detailed account of Old Whitey’s heroic service in 19 battles during the Civil War.

If Old Whitey’s final days were well noted, his beginnings were not. He was merely one among thousands of horses issued by the government to Union troops during the Civil War. Too spirited to pull supply wagons, Old Whitey found his place as the personal mount of Hayes’ friend and aide, Major Russell Hastings. In battle after battle, the big white horse proved himself fearless under fire. His speed, stamina, and ability to clear any fence or creek were legendary among the soldiers of the 23rd Ohio.

Only his color prevented Old Whitey from becoming the perfect war horse. Time and again, the big, white steed became the target of enemy sharp shooters. Somehow horse and rider always managed to escape unharmed. But their luck ran out at the Battle of Opequan, when a Rebel bullet found its mark, shattering Major Hastings’ right leg. Unscathed, Old Whitey carried his badly wounded rider to the rear.

From that day forward, Old Whitey resided at Hayes’ headquarters, receiving special treatment from the entire regiment. At war’s end, surrendering Rebels asked about the “big white horse.” When Hayes proudly produced him, Old Whitey immediately became the “hero of the moment.” Admiring Confederates gathered about the gallant steed, swearing they had fired at him “ten thousand times”!

Days later Hayes assigned one of his men to take Old Whitey to his uncle Sardis Birchard at Spiegel Grove. There he lived in retirement until Birchard’s death. Old Whitey then became the pampered pet of friend and neighbor Sarah Jane Grant. It was she who arranged his funeral and burial - “done respectfully and with tenderness” – at Spiegel Grove. Old Whitey was buried “like a warrior taking his rest with hay and his blanket around him.”

He lies there still – not far from the master he served so well. The courage of the great war horse lives on in the minds of thousands of school children who visit Spiegel Grove each year. Every spring, they seek out the path leading to the moss-covered glacial stone that marks the grave of this noble animal