Famous Horses of U.S. History

Horses are faithful companions to man, and their utility has made them a key part of many great events in history. From serving in wars to simply running races faster than ever before, man has long had a dependence on and a fascination with horses.

Here are a few particularly noteworthy horses who have been immortalized by the Smithsonian Natural History Museum.


This horse was setting records in the pre-Civil War period, and paving the way for the three famous horse races that still take place today. In 1855, he ran four miles in just over seven minutes at a course in New Orleans, setting a new record. Lexington sired the horse Preakness, another great racing horse, who lent his name to the famous, eponymous race.

Although Lexington was buried in a coffin in Kentucky after his death in 1875, his remains were later donated to the U.S. National Museum.


This horse belonged to General William H. Sheridan during the Civil War. He earned his name after carrying Sheridan from Winchester, Virginia, through the night all the way Cedar Creek, with enough time left to rally the troops and bring a crushing defeat to General Jubal Early’s Confederate troops.

Old Henry Clay

This horse sired a line of 19th century trotting horses, once called “America’s National Thoroughbred Trotting Horse,” that no longer exist today. Born in 1837, Clay trotted and was used for breeding until his death in 1867. Fourteen years after he died, Old Henry Clay’s bones were exhumed and donated to the U.S. National Museum.


Traveller, an American Saddlebred horse, was Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s horse during the Civil War. Traveller was procured in Virginia for $175 for Lee, who took a great liking to him. The horse died two years after Lee did, in 1872, and was buried.

Traveller was exhumed after numerous requests, and his skeleton was placed on display in Lexington Virginia, at Washington and Lee University. The horse was finally put to rest again near the Lee family crypt, after being on display for 70 years.


This tough horse was the only survivor of Custer’s Last Stand at the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876. Comanche was of Mustang lineage, about 15 years old, and under the command of Captain Myles Keogh during the regiment’s disastrous defeat. When a burial party came to the site two days after the battle, they found Comanche severely wounded but still breathing.

He was taken to Fort Lincoln, where he recuperated for a year and only participated in formal regimental functions, never to be ridden again. Comanche finally passed at 29 years of age, due to colic. His remains are currently on display at the Museum of Natural History at the University of Kansas.


Famous Horses. (2011) Smithsonian.

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