A descendant of famous race horses. A rider who could fly on (not off) horses with incredible skill.
Those two sentences would be one way to briefly describe General Ulysses S. Grant and his most famous Civil War horse…meet Cincinnati.
It’s not quite clear if Cincinnati came with his name, or if Grant named him.
We do know that Ulysses Grant was born in Ohio and grew up in the southern part of the state, not too far from the city of Cincinnati. During the Civil War, Cincinnati, Ohio, was a major supply base and department headquarters.
In early autumn 1863, General Ulysses S. Grant visited St. Louis, Missouri. So far, it had been a militarily successfully year for the commander; Vicksburg, Mississippi, had surrendered after a lengthy siege, and he’d just won the Battle of Chattanooga. While in St. Louis, Grant received a note from a gentleman named “S.S. Grant,” inviting the general to visit him at his hotel because S.S. Grant had something to say.
General Grant went, and, when he arrived he found Mr. Grant very ill. The civilian told the general he had the best horse in the world and wanted to give it to the officer; there were two conditions – that the horse would never be harmed and never be given to a mean-spirited person. General Grant promised and received the horse.
Cincinnati was seventeen hands (about sixty-eight inches tall at the shoulder), dark in color, and described as powerful and handsome horse. He was also very fast. Cincinnati was one of Lexington’s sons, and Lexington was the fastest four-mile thoroughbred in the U.S. at that time. In fact, once upon a time, someone offered Grant $10,000 in gold for Cincinnati, but the general refused to sell the steed.
Although Cincinnati seems to be a favorite horse, he was one of many owned and ridden by Grant during the Civil War. However, Cincinnati was the general’s first choice on battlefields. Grant was an excellent horseman and a good judge of mounts; he’d been riding since age five and, during his West Point years, excelled in the equestrian classes. One comrade from the military fort days recalled, “He [Grant] was the best horseman I ever saw. He could fly on a horse…”
In The General’s Words
Grant said that Cincinnati was the finest horse he’d ever seen. (And that’s big compliment!)
He also recalled: “Lincoln spent the latter days of his life with me. He came to City Point in the last month of the war and was with all me all the time. He was a fine horseman and rode my horse Cincinnati every day.” So Cincinnati was the trusted horse chosen by the general for the president!
Cincinnati survived the war. Grant rode him to the McLean Home where the terms of Lee’s surrender were arranged. (So maybe Cincinnati “met” Traveller! Imagine if those horses could talk…)
Grant kept his finest horse and kept his promise to the original owner. Cincinnati got to live in the White House stables during Grant’s presidency, and, since he was a calm horse, he was the model for equestrian statues. The president would arrive at the stables, saddle and bridle Cincinnati and ride him to where the sculptor waited.
Cincinnati ended his life in the pastures of Admiral Daniel Ammen’s farm in Maryland. Ammen was a close friend of Grant and knew Cincinnati from the war days. Happily, Cincinnati is well remembered and honored. He’s the horse depicted in most equestrian paintings and sculptures of General Grant.
The beloved and well-cared for horse was present at some of Grant’s finest victory moments, and it seems fitting that this priceless horse creates the classic military image for one of America’s beloved generals.
P.S. If Traveller and Cincinnati could communicated with words, what would they have whispered at Appomattox?