|In an enlargement of a Harper's Weekly illustration, Colonel Sylvester Hill tumbles |
backward astride Dixie Bill after he was struck by a sharpshooter's bullet.
(See full illustration below | Click on images to enlarge.)
|Sylvester Hill was killed on|
Day 1 of the Battle of Nashville.
|ABOVE AND BELOW: The Union III Brigade advanced up this slope near Redoubt No. 3.|
It's now in a residential area that includes a church.
|Robert E. Lee raved about his |
famous horse, Traveller.
(Photographic History of the Civil War)
“If I was an artist like you, I would draw a true picture of Traveller -- representing his fine proportions, muscular figure, deep chest, short back, strong haunches, flat legs, small head, broad forehead, delicate ears, quick eye, small feet, and black mane and tail. Such a picture would inspire a poet, whose genius could then depict his worth …”
|Coins left by visitors and others atop |
Travellers' grave at Washington and
Lee University in Lexington, Va.
Nathan Bedford Forrest, “The Wizard of the Saddle,” had more than two dozen horses shot from under him. At the Battle of Thompson’s Station (Tenn.) in March 1863, Roderick, one of the Confederate cavalry commander’s favorites, was shot three times before the animal was guided to safety. But the horse jumped fences to return to his master’s side, where he suffered a fourth, and fatal, wound. Forrest supposedly wept beside the dying animal.
A 1956 poem, “The General’s Mount,” memorializes Roderick, and Thompson’s Station put up a statue honoring the heroic steed in 2008 near where he fell. Shoot, even a modern residential development there is named for the noble nag.
|The uncropped Harper's Weekly illustration shows the Union attack |
at Redoubt No. 3 on Dec. 15, 1864 -- the first day of the Battle of Nashville.
|Sylvester Hill purchased Dixie Bill |
in Muscatine, Iowa, his hometown.
(Photographic History of
the Civil War)
During the attack at Nashville, Hill was such a conspicuous target on Dixie Bill that Union officers begged him to dismount. “But thinking such an act might be attributed to a motive of fear,” 35th Iowa veteran Herman Schmidt recalled decades later, “he refused to listen to their remonstrations …” There’s a fine line between bravery and foolhardiness.
As Confederates hastily abandoned the redoubt, Schmidt and 35th Iowa Private Adam Hartman found the grievously wounded Hill nearby, taking his last breaths. The enemy's bullet had exited at the back of the colonel’s head.
|On Oct. 17, 1906, the Muscatine Journal |
published a remembrance of Dixie Bill.
After Nashville, Dixie Bill’s reputation became, well, largely horsefeathers/horse poop/horse&*&* among officers. He was purchased by a 33rd Missouri adjutant, but when he learned about the steed’s bad battlefield karma, Dixie Bill was put up for sale. “With this record, three riders killed in action, he became hoodoo,” an Iowa newspaper reported years later, “and no staff officer could be found who would ride him.”
And so William Bagley, who rose from private to captain to chaplain of the 35th Iowa, acquired the outcast. When he returned to Iowa before the end of the war, Bagley offered Dixie Bill to Hill's 42-year-old widow. But Martha refused the offer, saying she didn’t have room to keep the animal. Perhaps Widow Hill was simply eager to forget a war that had brought her family so much heartache.
Reverend Bagley eagerly took in Dixie Bill at his farm in Tipton, Iowa -- a decision he never regretted. In parades throughout the state, the horse often was a star attraction. At veterans’ events, Bagley enjoyed talking about Dixie Bill and his war-time exploits. The bay’s saddle -- the one in which Major John and Colonel Hill sat during their death rides – became an attraction, too. It was donated by Widow Hill to a Grand Army of the Republic Hall.
Even as late as 1878, Dixie Bill – purportedly 29 years old at the time -- remained feisty. Before a July 4 parade, “[t]he old horse broke away from Mr. Bagley while in [Wilton],” an Iowa newspaper reported, “and pranced through the streets like a colt, and to judge from his appearance would be good for another campaign.”
“… greater sorrow could not have been felt from a human being than was felt by a number of people over the death of the faithful old steed,” a Muscatine newspaper wrote.
|William Bagley's gravestone|
in Woodland Cemetery
in Des Moines, Iowa
(Find a Grave)
At an 1898 reunion of the 35th Iowa, a speaker said a larger crowd attended Dixie Bill’s graveside service than would attend the funeral of any veteran in the room.
Like his prized horse, Bagley remained vigorous in his old age.“He is still fighting Satan,” a Muscatine newspaper wrote in 1906 about the 86-year-old veteran, “as hard as he fought the rebels.”
After a brief illness, Reverend Bagley died nearly three years later in Des Moines. An obituary highlighted his Civil War service, listed survivors, and noted the reverend “highly prized” a silver handled cane. Dixie Bill, the warhorse who survived battles at Nashville and elsewhere, was mentioned prominently, too.
“One of [Bagley’s] dearest possessions,” the obituary noted, “was a horse.”
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-- Des Moines (Iowa) Register, July 1, 1909.
-- History of Muscatine County Iowa, Volume II, Biographical, 1911, page 354.
-- Muscatine (Iowa) Weekly Journal, April 25, 1879.
-- Muscatine (Iowa) Journal, May 20, 1904, Oct. 16, 1906, April 6, 1909.
-- Muscatine (Iowa) News-Tribune, Sept. 30, 1898, June 9, 1913.
-- Muscatine (Iowa) Weekly, July 14, 1878.
-- Lee, Robert E. Jr., Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee, New York: Doubleday, Page & Co, 1904.
-- Oakland Tribune, Oct. 27, 1881.
-- Quad Cities Times, Davenport, Iowa, Sept. 29, 1881.