Today I spent a little time learning about the Cassion horses which are housed at Fort Myer Caisson Barn. They perform a somber and revered part of military funerals at Arlington National Cemetary. If you have never been it is more than 600 acres of hallowed ground. The Caisson horses are cared for by the U.S. Army’s 3d Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard).
I stumbled upon some photos taken by LIFE MAGAZINE while they visited the Old Guard stables.
A Caisson horse is one of the 6 horses that is hooked to the caisson which is the cart that holds the casket of a fallen and ranked soldier. You’ve probably seen the image of a Caisson.
What is a caisson or how did the name come into play? Here is an explanation:
“The caissons were built in 1918, and used for 75mm cannons. They were originally equipped with ammunition chests, spare wheels, and tools used for the cannons. Today these have been removed and replaced with the flat deck on which the casket rests.”
The silence of the procession is broken only by the rhythmic clip-clop of the seven handsome horses. Astride four of the horses, Soldiers sit ramrod straight. The horses, head erect, bodies taut and controlled, seem to imitate the solemn military bearing of the men and women who sit quietly in the saddles.
Six of the horses pull a flag draped casket on a black artillery caisson. Both Soldiers and horses are conscious that this is no ordinary ride through a cool, shady country lane. They have the honor of carrying a comrade for his last ride to Arlington National Cemetery, where he will rest in peace with other honored dead.
I found this article from Stars and Stripes by MEREDITH TIBBETTS. This just an excerpt and I recommend you go to this site and read the article in its entirety.
That ritual starts with these soldiers, up at 4 a.m. to prep the horses and equipment. There are 61 horses in the team, with some on rest at Fort Belvoir and some at work at Fort Myer. The horses rotate between forts, working one week and off the next. There are currently 49 soldiers who care for them, but there are positions for 56.
Saddles must be cleaned, horses too — whether they like it or not. Like their human counterparts, some are rather grumpy as they get hosed down. After the showers, the horses are dried off and brushed down. Shoes are checked and horses are dressed.
Special funerals have a caparisoned, or “cap” horse, where empty boots are positioned backward in the stirrups. This horse would follow the caisson with the casket and was usually led by a single foot soldier. At Arlington, that happens when an Army or Marine Corps officer was ranked a colonel or above. The most famous cap horse at Fort Myer is Sgt. York — named after the World War I soldier Alvin C. York — who walked behind President Ronald Reagan’s caisson.
According to the small museum in the stables at Fort Myer, one of the earliest examples of a cap horse in the United States was the funeral of George Washington. His horse, carrying his saddle, holsters, and pistols, was led behind the procession. Abraham Lincoln, however, was the first president to be honored with a caparisoned horse in a state funeral.
This is not my normal type of post but I was so moved by the Caisson Platoon and Arlington I had to share it with you. I hope you enjoyed it. Come back for tips to help you get and stay organized.