Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 716
An Old War Horse
Captain had been broken in and trained as an army horse, and his first owner was a cavalry officer serving in the Crimean War. In his youth, Captain had been quite a handsome horse; his master was very fond of him and treated him well. Captain had enjoyed his military training with the other horses and learned to obey the commands of their officer owners. Once he was sent abroad to fight, however, Captain had a different view of being an army horse.
The horses were strapped and swung onto the boat, and the sea crossing was dreadful. All of them were overjoyed to feel land under their feet once more. This country was far different from what they were used to, and the animals endured many hardships despite the efforts of their masters to keep them comfortable in the wet and snow. They had practiced the drills of fighting, but there had been no bayonets, bullets, or cannonballs such as in an actual battle. Despite their fears, the horses felt confident as long as they felt their riders firm in their saddles—even when the terrible bombshells exploded into a thousand pieces all around them.
Captain and his officer were never wounded, though he saw many men and horses shot, pierced, and gashed by various weapons. The horse feared more for his rider than for himself, and he trusted the man so perfectly that he felt no fear of their surroundings. He often cantered up hills slippery with blood, and he had to avoid trampling fallen men and horses. He was not afraid until one terrible day.
After a long pause, Captain tells the story of an autumn day which began as every other during the war. When the order was given, all the officers mounted their horses, eager for the battle ahead of them. Captain and his master were at the head of the line; the young soldier patted his horse and told him this would be a difficult day, but they would do their duty as they had always done. He stroked and patted Bayard (as that was Captain’s name back then) more than usual. He was ready to do his duty.
It was a long day. The last charge Captain and the officer made together was in a valley directly in front of the enemy’s cannon. They experienced more fire this day than ever before. Many men and horses fell; some terrified horses ran wild into the battle without their riders. Though it was a fearful battle, no one turned back. Even as some comrades fell, the army moved forward. With his right arm raised, Captain’s young officer was cheering on his men when he was hit by a cannonball which whizzed right by Captain’s head. As his master fell to the ground, Captain was forced by the crowd to move around his body, leaving the young officer behind where he fell.
Captain wanted to stay by his master’s side, but that was impossible. As fear took hold of him, he began to tremble. Just then a soldier who had lost his horse caught Captain’s bridle and mounted him. The pair moved forward with the fighting, but they lost the battle that day. The losses were tremendous; many wounded and dead were carried across the field after the battle. Army farriers were sent into the field to shoot all the pitiful animals that were ruined. A few horses were recovered with only minor wounds, but many proud and noble creatures, willing to fight for and with their masters, lost their lives that day. Captain never saw his master again, and he never loved another so well. He fought in several other battles and received one minor wound; he returned to England as healthy and strong as when he left.
War may be a noble thing, but Captain knows it is a terrible thing for the men and horses that lose their lives fighting in it. Jack asks if Captain knew what they were fighting about or for, and the old war horse tells him he did not know—but the enemy must have been “awfully wicked people” if English soldiers had to travel all the way across the sea to kill them.