Anything having to do with the Civil War gets my attention!
So, last week I received a call from my favorite bookstore, Yesterday’s Books, in Modesto. They were letting me know that one of the books I had ordered as part of a series of books on the Civil War had come in. I began acquiring this series to my collection about two years ago. It’s called the “Collector’s Library of the Civil War,” recollections obtained from veterans of the War Between the States within twenty years of the signing of the surrender of General Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia (in essence, the Confederacy) to Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse.
As I was thumbing through this particular book in the series, called, “Hard Tack and Coffee,” I was intrigued by the information they supplied about the function and role of the Army Mule. I’m no expert on mules, but I can tell you this much: a mule is the offspring between a horse and a donkey. The mule is genetically incapable of reproducing with another mule, since they are self-neutered by the odd mix of parentage.
I got to thinking about my Great Grandfather Daniel Thatcher Lake, circuit riding preacher in East Texas, and Civil War veteran from the Confederacy. I have in my possession his memoirs, written in the late 1880s. One of my favorite stories which he wrote, had to do with a mule he “liberated” from a Union force after they were routed on the battlefield. His own wounds were serious enough the he was discharged and sent home to Texas. With mule in tow, he would stop at southern farms for a bite of dinner and a nights rest, usually bunking in the “Preacher’s Cabin,” a separate building from the main house provided for ministers who frequently traveled far from home to preach the Word of God. After spending the night at one German-American farm in Mississippi, the next morning Great Granddaddy Lake prepared to settle accounts with his host, whereupon the farmer asked him how much his mule was worth. Great Granddaddy said “About $75.00.” The farmer said, “I’ll give you $75.00 for it.” “It’s not for sale,” Great Granddaddy replied. “But you said it was worth $75.00!” the farmer persisted. At this my Great Granddaddy was peeved! “And I said the mule is not for sale!” “I’ll give you $150.00 for the mule and a buggy ride the rest of the way home to Texas!” “And I told you the mule is not for sale!” Great Granddaddy said emphatically, at which point he climbed aboard his mule and rode off. Four years later in 1867, he sold the mule for $250!
We all know that mules are stubborn, cantankerous critters that will balk and buck at any moment without cause or reason. They are amazingly strong, but ill-tempered.
Shoeing a cantancerous mule
It is generally conceded by both Union and Confederate veterans that, among other things, it was the extensive use of the mule by the North that finally turned the tide against the South. Up until the Civil War, horses and mules were used interchangeably in farming. In battle, however, horses were the better animal for the cavalry. Mules did not do well on the front lines with the crash of the cannon and the fury of battle sounds. They were much better suited for pulling wagons of ammunition and provisions, and supply and bridge trains. “Mules have a great advantage over horses in being better able to stand hard usage, bad feed, or no feed, and neglect generally. They can travel over rough ground unharmed. They will eat brush, and not be very hungry to do it, either.”
Mule Drivers were masters at controlling their mules. Even still, they fully understood the old saying about mules, “To break a mule – begin at his head!” These drivers used the “Black Snake,” a type of whip which was between 6 and 12 feet long with a hard butt handle containing a lead piece for use as a blackjack. The most sensitive part of a mule is his elongated ears. An experienced mule driver could crack the whip right above the ears and get that mule to do whatever he wanted.
These beasts of burden are frequently mentioned in the Bible. Psalm 32:9 says, “Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you.”
Has God been calling you? Are you hard-headed? Has he had to use the Black Snake? The question is: Are you listening, or are you like the mule?