Old Whitey: A Civil War Poem

White horse's head

Old Whitey - Civil War Horse

Old Whitey

Early on,

they questioned the value

of both of us,

Mother Bickerdyke.

You in calico, uncommissioned, and

I, lank and festering,

running scared.

After the Battle of Iuka,

after the Mississippi boy

who’d plowed with me and

fed me carrots

had tilted over my haunches trailing

red across my white flank,

a black powdered hole where

his patient eye had lived,

his Richmond rifle landing

like a stake in the soft earth,

I stood by his body,

pushed his shoulder with

my muzzle to rouse him

like I had the night I foaled, when

we were younger and

he lay in my stall,

waiting and

I thought he could stroke away

my labor pains with

those talking hands.

Then the shooting

surrounded me and

I galloped from him

through briars,

into swamp.

Mired, I snorted out his scent,

refusing my boy’s new smell that

came to me on low fog until

your Boys in Blue

caught my mud-caked,

trailing reins and

brought me to you.

Your hands were like his,

like my gentle boy’s.

They fingered my mane with

a hello before

they trailed across my withers,

touched and counted my ribs,

flowed down stifle and fetlock to

the gouges and ulcers of

war and fear.

You healed me

like you did those boys

you found in the dark,

left for dead.

With your fingers and

clean straw, with fresh

water and food.

Food that you prayed and

pressured into being

like multiplied loaves and fishes

from fathers and mothers in Illinois

who sent cows and chickens if only,

if only

their boys could come home.

Old Whitey © Cheryl Bostrom

About this poem:

I was moved to write this poem after reading about Mary Ann “Mother” Bickerdyke‘s rescue of a horse captured after the Civil War Battle of Iuka. Animals so often suffer as a result of human hostilities, and this one was no exception. Mother Bickerdyke redeemed Old Whitey’s life with the same tireless, tender care she gave fallen soldiers.

(The pics are of a horse I owned many years ago, also a white mare.)

Horse's feet galloping

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I with uphold you . . .” Isaiah 41:10b


#warhorses #MotherBickerdyke #CivilWarnurses #watchingnatureseeinglife #CivilWarpoems #Christianpoetry

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Love the outdoors? I can take you there. Rural & wild PNW posts and photos from a naturalist, faith writer, and author of three books, including the award-winning novel Sugar Birds. Member of Redbud Writers Guild.

9 thoughts on “Old Whitey: A Civil War Poem

    1. After reading this poem, I remembered your horse. It gave me a new view of the tenderness of such a massive being. Thanks for your poetry.


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