I personally admire the bravery and stoicism of the battlehorse. I do not own one, as I hold the opinion that horses are extremely high-maintenance, not to mention that they are pooping machines; however, I do hold them in great respect. They charged through the Greek phalanx in the Peloponnesian Wars, they rode bravely with the first settlers to the New World, they galloped into lowered bayonets, they hurtled across plains in the face of cannon fire, and they even (and most recently) attacked German tanks in World War II.
Now one may argue that the horses simply did what they were told, "theirs was not to reason why, theirs was but to do and die." However, I must point out that horses did have ears, nerves, and eyes, just like humans! They could hear the tremendous clash of shields, gunfire, or cannon fire as they swerved onto the battlefield, they could feel their nervous rider, and they could see fellow horses being mowed down around them. I argue that it was just as brave for a horse to ride into combat as it was for a man! Perhaps even more so. How would you like to ride into a combat situation while being controled? The horses were being controlled by their rider, and so if told to go right, they had to assume that their rider knew what he was doing. If I was on a battlefield, I can tell you right now my first instinct would be to courageously dive into the nearest trench and stay there until the battle was over. If I was being controlled, my first instinct would be to courageously throw my rider, and then dive into the nearest trench. Yet, most battlehorses did not do this, as we can see by the fact that cavalry units became a very important part of armies in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Approximately 77,000 horses were killed in the American Civil War, mostly because the officers rode on them, so the soldiers would aim at the horses, as they were larger targets. Also, an artillery battery pulled by horses could be brought to a complete stop if the horses pulling it were shot down.
These 77,000 horses were just the ones killed in action, countless more were killed by disease. Obviously, this is no comparison to the human loss of life in this war. I respect and admire the sacrifices of humans far more than those of animals, but that will have to be the subject of another post.