Thornton Grimsley and the Cavalry Board of 1859

When you look at the various reasons for the horse equipment trials and tests in the mid- to late-1850s, it becomes pretty apparent that one of the primary driving motives for searching for a new cavalry saddle was that the current issued regulation saddle, the Grimsley dragoon saddle of 1847, was no longer view favorably.  Indeed, the many letters and complaints from the field from the earliest use stress many problems and flaws that were plaguing the troopers and their mounts. To be fair to Thornton Grimsley and his somewhat flawed design, the process by which horse equipment was acquired and issued was not conducive to quality gear.  Still, the old dragoon horse equipment had a pretty poor reputation. By the time the board of officers convened for what is now termed the Cavalry Board of 1859, the question was not so much of what equipment was going to be selected, but that the old dragoon saddle was definitely out. Thornton Grimsley was never one to do anything quietly, and certainly wasn’t going to let his namesake gear be cast aside without a fight.  Recently, a letter from Grimsley to the Chief of Ordnance, Henry Knox Craig, has surfaced and shines some light on his Hail Mary efforts to get his horse equipment selected again – either in original or modified form. The value of the letter is in both the brassy performance of Grimsley in selling his product, and to see how influential McClellan’s image was to the mounted service – the very image that Ordnance Chief Craig fostered in order to get the new horse equipment selected. It also reads a lot like a complaint from someone that can’t quite understand why they aren’t getting invited to the big birthday party.
Saint Louis 10 Feby 1859 Col. H.K. Craig Cheif of Ordnance USA Sir, Accident placed me in possession of the information that a Board of Officers had been detailed to take into consideration the subject of Horse Equipments for the mounted arm of the service and meeting you at Harpers Ferry, I learned from you that a Board had been organized and was actually in session. Knowing that I had caused to be deposited in the Ordnance Office in Feby 1857 two samples expressly to compete with the McClelland Crimea Saddle as its friends call it (when they wish to give it extra merit) and believing they would be found there, I proceeded to enquire for them on my arrival in Washington, and learned from the President [president of the officers board, Col. Philip St. George Cooke], much to my surprise that they had not been submitted to the Board. Such being the case, I prosecuted the enquiry in your Office and no trace could be had, save the records you found of the letter, which accompanied them. Since the adjournment of the Board one of the members mentioned to me that a letter of similar import to the one, a notice of which you have recorded and numbered, was found amongst the papers from the Ordnance Office, which were submitted to the Board. The loss of these samples placed one in a most embarrassing position before the Board, as there was nothing before it of my fabrication, which represented my views of what an Equipment for the mounted service ought to be. All that was before the Board, was a naked saddle tree modified for the Artillery, a new saddle with heavier leather than ought ever to be in the them, but put there to meet your inspection and an old saddle which had seen not less than ten years service. Under these circumstances I feel it due to my own interests, to the interest of the service, to the Treasury which pays me for my labor, to yourself and the Board, to prevent if possible the disuse of the best Military saddle known to the service of any country and substituting in its place one which has been repudiated by two of the greatest Military powers of Europe. But let us come to the evidence, Col’s Sumner and Cooke are two of the oldest and most distinguished mounted Officers in the service and both in favor of the present pattern saddle, Genl Twiggs and Genl Kearney went into the mounted service in 1836, have used and seen used the Grimsley Saddle since it was introduced into the service, and reports in your Office, and in that of the Q.M. Genls, will show that these distinguished Officers are in favor of the present style of the saddle. Further, I will mention Col. May and Cap’n Stoneman, than whom no officers in the army have sounder and more practical views on the subject of Horse Equipments for Cavalry service. Now Colonel, have I not given now enough to establish beyond a doubt the superior character of the Grimsley saddle for all Military purposes? But if more is required, I venture that assertion fair notice being given, that three fourths of the Officers in the mounted service, will report in favor of the present Regulation Saddle. But I will now pass to another branch of the subject, which is the safety of the horse and ease to the rider. First, safety to the horse. I propose to show conclusively that in almost every case, where the trial has been made, more than double the number of horses have been hurt with the McClelland than with the Grimsley Saddle. Moreover, in one case where a company of raw recruits were put on the Grimsley Saddle and a company of old soldiers on the boasted Crimea saddle or the McClelland saddle, scarcely any horses were hurt with the former, while nearly every on in the latter, were more or less injured. Secondly, ease to the rider. The form of the Grimsley or present Regulation Saddle is such as to keep the Trooper in an Easy and graceful posture, always allowing him to feel the lower part of the saddle with the inside muscles of his thighs and the sides of the horse with his knees, while his legs and feet are left free and without restraint in any way. But the weight has been a consideration and is an important one. The Grimsley saddle Tree is lighter than the McClelland, and if made up in the same way and with the same Military appurtenances is, and can be made a lighter saddle. One word more Colonel, in regard to cost, The Grimsley Equipt’s has been and can still, be made cheaper than you have been paying for the McClelland Equipment. Such being the evidence in favor of the superiority of the Grimsley Saddle, both in quality and price, the country will be at a loss for the reason justifying the change. In conclusion I have to inform you that I have shipped by Adams Express a box marked to your Official address, of the receipt of which please inform the President of the Board. In contains samples of saddles similar to those which were lost, and two sample saddle trees. One of them is the adopted pattern of 1847 and the other, with low pommel and cantle and offered in competition with the McClelland saddle tree. These samples have all been made since I left Washington. Please return them by the same Express, if not adopted, and the charges will be paid here. I am very respectfully, Your Obt Srvt signed T. Grimsley

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