'This Sorrowful War': A Veterinary Surgeon in the 1862
Shenandoah Valley Campaign.
Philip M. Teigen and Leon Z. Saunders 
Courtesy of Veterinary Heritage, Fred Smithcors, Editor.
Horses and mules attended or participated in virtually all engagements of
the American Civil War (1861-1865). This was the case whether the action took
place in Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, or anywhere else. Horses and mules
served artillerymen, infantrymen, sailors, quartermasters, cavalrymen, and
surgeons. After the war, horses—but not mules—then served celebratory
functions, appearing in thousands of sculptures, photographs, drawings, and
paintings, commemorating Union and Confederate war efforts. In spite of their
ubiquity during the Civil War and in the American collective memory, however,
we know little about how horses and mules actually fared. For this reason,
the memoir of Gustavus Asche-Berg deserves our attention. An experienced veterinarian
who served in the Union Army for about a year, Asche-Berg published a memoir
of his experiences in 1863 in a Berlin veterinary journal. There it remained
unnoticed until Leon Z. Saunders discovered it recently. 
Trained as a veterinarian, and possibly as a physician as well, Asche-Berg
practiced veterinary medicine in the Old World for thirteen years and then
human medicine in the New, before joining the Union cause during the late
summer or early fall of 1861. He first connected with a Pennsylvania unit as
but soon changed his mind and joined the Fourth New York Cavalry as a veterinarian.
At this time, he might have been in his late thirties or early forties (p.
Asche-Berg's memoir is important not only for historians of veterinary medicine
but also for those of the Civil War. It illustrates some of the disasters
that befell the Union Army as it tried to stop Stonewall Jackson's 1862 campaign
in the Shenandoah Valley. More generally, it contributes
to our understanding of the Union Army's ethnic conflicts, amateurishness,
and political conflicts.
This essay is an introduction to Asche-Berg's recollections. They are too
long, complicated, and contradictory to publish independently, or even to summarize
entirely. Moreover, much remains unknown about him, his possible origins
Prussia or Mecklenberg, his education, his emigration to the United States,
and his career after leaving the Civil War in the summer of 1862. Indeed,
we do not know when or where he died. 
1. The Fourth New York Cavalry
Although Asche-Berg does not identify his regiment, it was almost certainly
the Fourth New York Volunteer Cavalry. He describes in detail garrison life
at Hunter's Chapel, Virginia, and we know from other sources that the Fourth
New York was the only cavalry unit garrisoned there then. Moreover, this unit's
campaign in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia closely parallels Asche-Berg's
narrative. All the same, we should note we have not yet found Asche-Berg during
a continuing search of the regiment's archives. 
The Fourth was filled with German immigrants recruited chiefly in New York
and Pennsylvania. Its organizer and commander, Christian F. Dickel, was a German
immigrant like Asche-Berg. His unit was part of Louis Blenker's Division—also
known as the German Division— because it, too, was organized and commanded
by a German immigrant. So German was Blenker's Division that its dispatches
to Dickel's regiment (and perhaps others) were written, or at least translated,
into German. 
During late summer and early fall of 1861, the Fourth New York Cavalry made
its way from New York to Hunter's Chapel in northern Virginia, across the Potomac
River from the District of Columbia (Fig. 1 omitted). Hunter's Chapel comprised
a part of the circle of defenses that Abraham Lincoln built to protect the
from Southern attack.  The Fourth New York Cavalry remained there for five
months. During this time, it brought its ranks up to strength, trained men
and horses in warfare, served as picket line for artillery emplacements protecting
the Long Bridge to the Capitol (Fig. 2); and performed military ceremonies
in and around Washington.  This last duty fell to Dickel's unit because
Blenker, Dickel, and many of their men were experienced soldiers before emigrating,
and therefore knew how to parade and drill. There
was antipathy, however, between the immigrants and the nativists in Blenker's
Division. Another memoirist of the Fourth New York, William R. Parnell, ridiculed
Blenker, Dickel, and the German troops:
"Dress-parade was conducted in a manner that to the genuine American soldier
will appear supremely ridiculous. . . . As soon as all the necessary preparations
were made, the Great Mogul,--the division commander,--in all the splendor of
gold lace, followed by his staff, together with from fifty to sixty counts,
barons, dukes (hangers-on), would stride out through the open space to the
centre of the square and then halt. Everybody then saluted with the hand, retaining
the hand German fashion until the Great Mogul acknowledged the same by raising
with magnificent dignity his gold lace cap." 
Although this junior officer in the regiment scorned them, General George
B. McClellan, the Commander of the Army of the Potomac, loved the German experience
and military presence, using them often in parades (Fig. 3 omitted). However
exaggerated and unjust Parnell's critique was, it illustrated the bitter ethnic
infighting that marked many units during the Civil War. Later we will set out
Asche-Berg's equally harsh indictment of the native-born volunteers.
In March of 1862, President Abraham Lincoln ordered Blenker's Division, including
the Fourth Cavalry, to leave the Capitol's defensive perimeter, and set out
for the Shenandoah Valley. Lincoln detached the German Division from George
B. McClellan's Army of the Potomac, which was about to move on the Confederate
capitol in Richmond, Virginia, and sent it to join the Mountain Department,
commanded by John C. Fremont, a political ally. Fremont, in turn, was to engage
Stonewall Jackson's forces then at large in the Shenandoah and a continuing
threat to nearby Washington, D.C. Blenker's Division marched as far West as
Franklin, Romney, and Moorefield, Virginia, (now, West Virginia) and to battles
at Cross Keys and Cedar Mountain, as well as skirmishes along the way. Hindered
by terrible weather, inexperienced soldiers, and inept organization and supply,
Blenker's Division ineffectually pursued Jackson and his forces. Along the
way, Blenker and his 9,000 or so soldiers—with artillery and hundreds
of horses—lost their way and had to be located by officers sent out from
the Mountain Department. So chaotic and desperate were the Division's movements
that troops resorted to thievery and looting. 
2. Horses at War
From October 1861 until March 1862, when the Fourth New York Cavalry left
Hunter's Chapel, the regiment lost 160 of the 780 horses assigned to it, according
to Asche-Berg. Some were lost by disease, others by accident, carelessness,
inexperience, and actual combat. Asche-Berg notes the presence of goiter,
strangles, and glanders. He became angry when glanderous horses were not
destroyed, quarantined, or buried properly. His protests may have led to a regimental
order which instructed that "veterinary
surgeons, or sergeants, will from this date, bury dead horses in graves not
less than six feet in depth." 10] Although Asche-Berg understood the dangers
of glanders to a cavalry regiment, he concluded that it was too rare a disease
to pose a major threat to the regiment's horse herd during the 1861-62 winter.
For a neighboring artillery unit, however, the disease was a serious problem,
(pp. 39-41). 
More serious than disease was the carelessness of inexperienced riders and
the fortunes of war. Reckless soldiers, overcome with what Asche-Berg called
an "infectious frenzy," cost the regiment eighteen horses.
" The riding, whether uphill or downhill... in the camp, from the headquarters,
over fields and streets in the cities or countryside, from house to house,
private party, general, high commander, lieutenant, and quartermaster, all,
all without interruption, was at a gallop. To see a trot or pace is as seldom
as a black swan ... (pp. 38-39)."
This carelessness was hard to stop, although the regiment's order book describes
efforts to do so. On September 22, 1861, for example, the regimental commander,
Christian F. Dickel, forbad soldiers from racing horses when taking them
to water. On October 18, he complained that horses were still being raced
Two days later he ordered that commissioned officers accompany the enlisted
men each time they watered horses. A month later, Dickel ordered soldiers
confined for eight days on bread and water if they galloped horses in camp.
 (The same
punishment was prescribed for men who struck their horses.)  By the
time the regiment left Hunter's Chapel in March of 1862, such recklessness
have abated. The men, perhaps having acquired more training and experience
during the winter, appeared to need less disciplining.
Of the 780 horses issued to the regiment in October 1861, twenty-one were
stolen or lost, eighteen were destroyed after suffering accidents while
performing orderly or picket duty, eleven were shot in combat (some by
and nine died or were destroyed because of disease. Ninety-eight were
unfit for service because of temporary lameness, fistulas, emaciation, and
In short, five months of garrison duty and training cost the regiment
twenty percent of its horses. Of those declared unfit for service, thirty-one
were taken along as pack animals and the remaining sixty-seven were abandoned.
Their abandonment angered Asche-Berg because he thought he could have returned
most of them to service (p. 38).
Asche-Berg left Hunter's Chapel angry and frustrated. However, the disasters
of the subsequent five months in the field made garrison duty in Northern
Virginia appear idyllic in retrospect. In his memoir, for example, written
after the Shenandoah Campaign had ended, he spent more time reminiscing
about his own horse—a Canadian pony that he talked an Irishman
into giving him—than on any other subject. It captivated him on
first sight, and his affection grew as he restored it to health, aided
by the healing force of nature (pp. 28-35). 
Leaving Northern Virginia to aid General Fremont's pursuit of Stonewall
Jackson, the regiment's horses suffered even greater losses than they
had while at Hunter's Chapel. Although spring seemed near when the regiment
left the District of Columbia's defense perimeter on March 10, winter
soon returned, and the horses and men suffered four days of cold, rain,
and ice without food or shelter, and a disastrous crossing of the flooded
Shenandoah River.  Then it got worse. When the regiment approached
Franklin, Virginia (now part of West Virginia), its rocky and steep mountainsides
exhausted the horses. At the same time, because supply wagons could not
keep up, the horses went without food for eleven days. Many died from
exhaustion and malnutrition. Then, when feed finally arrived, it killed
and sickened more horses. Compounding these disasters was the lack of
horseshoes and nails, which were especially needed on the rocky ground
around Franklin. The regiment's herd—620 on March 10—was
reduced to 329 by June 10, and to 249 by the end of July 1862 (p. 55
Besides the weather, the mountainous terrain, and the inadequate logistics,
wounds from kicks, saddle sores, and friendly fire also reduced the number
of serviceable horses still further. These three classes of injuries
incapacitated 142 horses. Thirty-two others were captured or killed by
the enemy, including the pony Asche-Berg
had become so attached to at Hunter's Chapel. Diseases such as scabies,
lice, and rheumatic lameness laid low more. Five months after leaving
Hunter's Chapel, none of the regiment's horses were fit for cavalry service
and all were relegated to "permanent orderly duty." (p. 63).
3. A German Immigrant's Opinion of the American Civil War
Asche-Berg held strong opinions about the conflict between the North
and the South, which he called "this sorrowful war" (p. 17),
as well as about American military culture in particular and American
culture in general. Corruption offended him. Although competent officers
recruited some regiments, in many others swindle, humbug and speculation
turned recruiting into a "cash cow." Entrepreneurs who recruited
100 men were named regimental commanders, while those who could collect
only 30 or 40 became company-grade officers. Speculators would pay men
out of their own pockets, in the hopes that the salaries and expenses
of their unit would eventually be picked up by the President and the
Secretary of War. This method of recruitment lead to motley units of
volunteers who, motivated chiefly by poverty, looked more like carnival
workers or gypsies than soldiers (pp. 21-22, 27).
The wastefulness of the soldiers—encouraged by the enormous wealth
of the Northern states — also offended Asche-Berg. He remarked
on how Uncle Sam was spending $1.5 million a day to prosecute the war
(p. 22) and later notes how the phrase "Uncle Sam" came to
signify the "immeasurable coffers" of the federal government
(p. 39). For too many Union soldiers the war was just business where "everyone
works toward pulling down as much as possible from which an advantage
could accrue directly or indirectly.... everything at the cost of the
good-natured uncle of the states" (p. 55-56).
Asche-Berg felt veterinarians were poorly treated, (pp. 46-47). In particular,
he objected to the fact that they were not commissioned officers, but
only sergeants. As a result, they were subjected to low status and
pay. This did not apply to Asche-Berg himself, however, because he never actually
enlisted. He was careful not to swear the oath of allegiance to the
States required at enlistment. Hence, he supplemented his salary (if
he had one) by charging fees for caring for officers' horses. He thus assured
himself of an income equal to what he had as a civilian (pp. 46-47).
Finally, Asche-Berg disliked the amateurishness of the soldiers. They
could not take the time to learn how to wage war. It was forward or
perish for them all (p. 21). It was this amateurishness— comprised
of inadequate training and insufficient discipline—that led these
cavalrymen—officers and enlisted men alike—to loot Southern
farms (pp. 57-58). 
Asche-Berg ended his memoir late in July 1862, about a month after
the Shenandoah campaign ended with battles at Cross Keys and Port
Republic, Virginia (Fig. 4 omitted). During the summer of 1862, then, or shortly
thereafter, he walked away from the Fourth New York Cavalry. His initial commitment
to soldiering for Uncle Sam was minimal, as he had joined as much
of curiosity as out of commitment to a cause. Within a year of leaving
the Union Army, he published his memoir in Berlin, and by July of
1863, he was practicing veterinary medicine as a civilian in Baltimore. 
He then disappears from the historical record.
Besides leaving posterity an important narrative of the Civil War, Asche-Berg's
account of his experiences at Hunter's Chapel and in the Shenandoah Valley
is notable for two reasons. Because his memoir was published in 1863, a year
or less after he had experienced them, it is among the earliest narratives
the Civil War. Furthermore, his memoir is one of disillusionment, placing
him among the memoirists who remembered its deadly destructiveness. Civil
written after it was over tended toward sentimentality, recounting the comradery,
adventure, and glory of warfare rather than its horrors.  Asche-berg's
disenchantment and subsequent abandonment of the Fourth New York Cavalry parallels
War experience of the great novelist and journalist Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens,
1835-1910). Although his memoir is not comparable to Twain's recollections
in terms of the quality of its writing, Asche-Berg's account bears a greater
similarity to Twain anti-war feelings than to the romanticized recollections
of most other veterans. Twain, like Asche-Berg, was among the thousands who "entered
the war, got just a taste of it, and then stepped out again, permanently." 
Incompetence, senseless suffering, and killing led both Asche-Berg and Twain
to "step out" of the ranks. "I could have become a soldier myself
if I had waited," Twain wrote. "I had got part of it learned; I knew
more about retreating than the man that invented retreating."  This
be Asche-Berg's epigraph, also.
The millions of horses and mules that suffered and died during the Civil
War left no epigraphs. They do have a monument now, however, in Middleton,
on the road to the Shenandoah Valley, where so many fought and died during
the spring and summer of 1862 (Fig. 5 omitted).
Figure 1: (Omitted) Hunter's Chapel, Arlington, Virginia (now the busy intersection
of Glebe Road and Columbia Pike), just before the New York Fourth Volunteer
Cavalry garrisoned there in 1861. (George B. Davis, et. al.. Official Military
Atlas of the Civil War [Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1891-5],
plate 5, map 9).
Figure 2: (Omitted) Guarding the Long Bridge, looking toward Washington, DC,
from Arlington County, Virginia. (Courtesy, Department of Special Collections
Library, George Mason University, Fairfax Virginia).
Figure 3: (Omitted) Review of the Army of the Potomac, December 12, 1861.
(Courtesy, Department of Special Collections and Archives, Fenwick Library,
George Mason University,
Figure 4: (Omitted) The Battle of Cross Keys, Virginia, June 8, 1862, with
Louis Blenker's German Division on the left. (Possibly Frank Leslie's Illustrated
Figure 5: (Omitted) Memorial to Civil War Horses, Middleburg, Virginia (Photograph
Philip M. Teigen).
1. First published in Argos (Utrecht), 2003, 29:409-414, this essay is reprinted
through the courtesy of Argos editors, P. A. Koolmees and A. H. H. M. Mathijsen.
2. Gustavus A. Asche-Berg, "Veterinairsachliches von Amerika; hauptsachlich
aus dem Confoderations-Kriege 1861 und 1862," Magazin fur die gesammte
Thierheilkunde, 1863, 29:17-63. Page numbers in parentheses refer to this article.
We are greatly indebted to Ted Crump for translating the memoir.
3. Guus Mathijsen has directed us to a Gustave Ascheberg noted by Georg Wilhelm
Schrader and Eduard von Hering, Biographisches-literarisches Lexicon der
Thierdrtzte alter Zeiten und Lander (Stuttgart: Ebner & Seubert, 1863), p. 18. If this
Ascheberg is our man, he would be about 45 years of age when he served in Virginia.
4. Frederick Phisterer, New York in the War of the Rebellion, 1861-1865,
3rd ed., (Albany, NY: J. B. Lyon, 1912), 148-166; 803-822. The existing regimental
archives are in the National Archives, Washington, DC, Record Groups 94 and
5. More than 176,000 German immigrants fought in the American Civil War,
constituting the largest foreign-born contingent of Union volunteers. On the
Ella Lonn, Foreigners in the Union Army and Navy (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State
University Press, 1951), Wilhelm Kaufmann, Die Deutschen im amerikanischen
Burgerkriege, Sezessionskrieg 1861-1865 (Munchen und Berlin: R. Oldenbourg,
1911), and Benjamin Apthorp Gould, Investigations in the Military and Anthropological
Statistics of American Soldiers (New York: U. S. Sanitary Commission, 1869),
6. Benjamin Franklin Cooling and Walton H. Owen, Mr. Lincoln's Forts:
A Guide to the Civil War Defenses of Washington (Shippensburg, PA: White Mane, 1988).
7. Four letters of James Crane, a cavalryman in Dickers Regiment, survived
the war, although he did not. Describing garrison life and warfare in and around
Hunter's Chapel during February, 1862, they provide further examples of the
amateurishness of the volunteers and their high spirits. (Michael Barton, "'Constantly
on the Lark': The Civil War Letters of a New Jersey Man," Manuscripts [New York], 1978, 30:12-20.) On the Union cavalry in general, see Philip Katcher,
Union Cavalryman, 1861-1865 (Oxford: Osprey, 1995) and Stephen Z. Starr, The
Union Cavalry in the Civil War (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press,
8. William Parnell, "Recollections of 1861," United Service, 1885,
9. Although there is no history of Blenker's Division during the Shenandoah
campaign, its complicated movements can glimpsed in Vincent J. Esposito (ed.),
The West Point Atlas of American Wars (New York: Henry Holt, 1995), I: maps
48-53 and The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records
of the Union and Confederate Armies (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office,
1880-1901), especially in Series 1, Volume 12, Part III. Gary W. Gallagher,
ed., The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862 (Chapel Hill: University of North
Carolina Press, 2003) provides a comprehensive picture of the warfare that
Asche-Berg experienced at close quarters.
10. Order 64, dated January 18, 1862: (NARA Record Group 94, 4th New York
Cavalry, Volume 3).
11. On glanders more generally in the Civil War, see G, Terry Sharrer, "The
Great Glanders Epizootic, 1861-1866: A Civil War Legacy," Agricultural
12. Regimental orders 4, 6, 9, 12, 21 (NARA Record Group 94, 4th New York
Cavalry, Volume 3). The indiscipline these orders attempted to correct continued
13. Order 24, Nov. 11, 1861.
14. "I subsequently rode him for seven months and in four different battles,
until finally in Harrisonburg, Virginia, he was shot by the enemy, out of carelessness,
I believe, for the bullet was certainly meant for me" (p. 35).
15. Asche-Berg says the men and horses were lost in crossing the Rapidan
River, but we have found so far only documentation for a disastrous crossing
Shenandoah River at Berry's Ferry.
16. Asche-Berg's account of corruption and looting during the Shenandoah
valley campaign is confirmed in another memoir written about the Fourth New
William Parnell's "Recollections of 1861" (United Service, 1885,
13:264-270) and by the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion (see n.
7). Because Blenker's Division's gained a bad reputation early in the War,
the word Blenkerize was coined to indicate the "sudden loss of a blanket,
bridle, or other valuable article," (Galaxy, 1870, 10 :132).
17. Wood's Baltimore City Directory, 1863-1864 (Baltimore, 1863), p. 26.
Praxis," (Magazin fur die gesammte Thierheilkunde, 1863, 30:285-313),
Asche-Berg provided a highly technical account of his veterinary practice in
18. David W. Blight, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory (Cambridge,
MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2001), pp. 185-86.
19. Mark Twain, "The Private History of a Campaign that Failed," in A Pen Warmed-Up in Hell: Mark Twain in Protest, ed. Frederick Anderson (New
York: Harper & Row, 1972), p. 16. Twain first published this essay in 1885.
20. Twain, A Pen Warmed-Up in Hell, p. 43.
About the Authors
Philip M. Teigen, is Deputy Chief, History of Medicine Division, National
Library of Medicine, Bethesda, MD, 20894.
Leon Z. Saunders, lives at
628 Sussex Road,
Wynnewood, PA 19096
Back to 4th Cavalry during the Civil War
New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs: Military
March 15, 2006