Horses helped build this country and so many others throughout the world. Most of these horses’ names and contributions are lost to history, but some leave a lasting mark on history. Cincinnati is one of these. He was General Ulysses S. Grant’s favorite horse during the Civil War and is forever immortalized because Grant rode him to accept the confederate surrender and end the war.
Militaries of yesteryear were only as good as the horses their cavalry and soldiers used, and the horses were relied on heavily during battle. They were an essential part of the team, and the best military horses could think and act for their riders, knowing when and where to go, helping fend off enemy attacks.
Cincinnati was one such horse. He was ridden by General Ulysses S. Grant during the second half of the Civil War, and quickly became the General’s favorite mount.
Grant’s Equestrian Background
Ulysses S. Grant was born in 1822 in Ohio. He was shy and quiet and didn’t like working in his father’s tannery. He did farm work instead, including working with horses. He developed keen equestrian skills by riding, training, and managing his father’s steeds. Soon the neighbors caught wind of his talent and would ask the young Grant to help them with troublesome horses.
His given name was Hiram Ulysses Grant, but he changed it to Ulysses Hiram Grant when he entered West Point (legend has it he wanted to avoid the initials HUG being on all his belongings at West Point). A clerical error recorded it as Ulysses S. Grant and the new name stayed with him after that. He continued his equestrian pursuits while at West Point. As he matured he developed a reputation as a gifted horseman and is widely regarded as one of the most exceptional equestrians in American history. Horses would play an important role in his military career, including Cincinnati, his favorite horse.
Cincinnati’s Early Years
Standing 17 hands, Cincinnati was a handsome and powerful horse. He was chestnut with a solid, calm demeanor. People would remark that Cincinnati would “seldom bat an eyelid at anything.”
Cincinnati was sired by Lexington, a Thoroughbred with the fastest recorded four-mile in the United States at the time, clocking in at 7:19.75 minutes. Lexington, in turn, was sired by Boston, who was known as one of the best sires of his time. One of Lexington’s other sons was a horse called Preakness, and the three-year old race is named after him.
It is believed that Cincinnati was foaled around 1860, making him just four years old when Grant started riding him in the Civil War.
An Incredible Gift
Cincinnati was a gift from an admirer during the war and quickly became Grant’s most prized mount. Grant received a letter from a S.S. Grant after the Battle of Chattanooga, asking him to visit at a local hotel. Ulysses was intrigued by the name and went.
The older Grant could no longer ride, and believed he had the finest horse in the world. He was impressed with General Ulysses S. Grant’s horsemanship and services in the war. S.S. Grant offered to give Ulysses Grant the horse, on the condition that the horse was always treated well and have a good home. This was December of 1863, so a little over halfway through the war.
The War Years
Cincinnati became General Ulysses S. Grant’s favorite horse during the Civil War. Of course, Grant had other horses during the war, including one called Egypt and another called Jeff Davis (using the name of the confederate president, but that’s a story for another day).
Horses were heavily used during the war, and that time period, so they were swapped out to let them rest. But, whenever possible, Grant chose Cincinnati over any of his other mounts, both because they bonded so closely and because of the horse’s talent on the battlefield. Similarly, Robert E. Lee, the confederate general, used his horse Traveller more than his other mounts.
By 1864 and the Overland Campaign, Cincinnati had become Grant’s preferred mount. The horse was usually calm and quiet, however, during the battles, he seemed to know exactly what was expected, was charged up, and eager – some said frantic – to head into the center of battles. Several accounts state that Grant had to hold Cincinnati back with his curb bit.
Cincinnati was also the horse that Grant rode to Appomattox Courthouse to accept the surrender of Robert E. Lee and the confederate army.
Cincinnati’s Later Life
After the war, someone offered Grant $10,000 for Cincinnati (which is about $177,000 in 2022). But Grant would not part with his beloved horse for any price. In fact, Grant only ever allowed two other people to ride Cincinnati. One was boyhood friend Admiral Daniel Ammen, and the other was President Abraham Lincoln, who rode Cincinnati every day during a visit to the troops in the last month of the war.
Grant and Cincinnati rode together until it was time for Cincinnati to retire, at which time Grant sent him to Admiral Daniel Ammen’s farm in Maryland, where he later died of old age, in 1878. The Grant Memorial on the West side of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. depicts Grant astride Cincinnati. Most images and statues of Grant on horseback are of him riding Cincinnati.
The history surrounding Ulysses S. Grant is murky, with some good and bad accomplishments throughout his life, military career, and presidential terms. One thing is certain though. He had an incredibly talented horse in Cincinnati, and that horse helped carry him and the Union Army to victory during the Civil War. Cincinnati had so many of the characteristics we all want in a horse, and that is something to be remembered.