Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Robert E. Lee's Traveller

Robert E. Lee's Traveller was one of the most famous horses of the Civil War era.  He was born in 1857 in West Virginia and died in Lexington, VA in 1871.  He was not a big horse by today's standards, 16 hands, and was gray in color with black mane and tail. 

Traveller's orginal name was Jeff Davis.  He was an American Saddlebred and he was purchased in 1861 by Capt. Joseph M. Broun for $175 (about $4000 today).  Broun renamed him Greenbriar  General Lee took a liking to the horse and called him his "colt" and predicted to Broun that he would use him before the war ended.  When Lee was transferred to South Carolina in 1862, Broun sold him the horse for $200 and Lee renamed him Traveller.  Lee always used the "LL" in the name after the British style. 

Lee and Traveller formed a bond during the war.  Traveller was not easily frightened.  But once he did get spooked - at the Second Battle of Bull Run.  Lee was at the front reconnoitering dismounted and holding Traveller by the bridle.  He became frightened and plunging, pulled Lee down on a stump breaking both his hands.  

When the war ended Traveller moved with Lee to Lexington, VA where Lee headed what is now Washington & Lee University. In 1870, at Lee's funeral procession, Traveller was led behind the caisson bearing Lee's casket, his saddle and bridle draped with black crepe.  Shortly thereafter, in 1871, Traveller stepped on a nail and developed tetanus.  Since there was no cure at that time, he was shot to relieve his suffering.  He is buried today at Lee Chapel on the W & L campus, just outside (Lee is buried inside).  I took the photo of his grave early this morning.  Many mornings you will find carrots there for him.

When Traveller died he was laid to rest behind the main buildings at W & L.  But somehow, his bones were unearthed and his bones were bleached for exhibition in Rochester, NY in 1875 and 1876.  In 1907, Richmond journalist Joseph Bryan paid to have the bones mounted and returned to W & L.  For a time they were displayed in the Brooks Museum on the campus but the skeletons were vandalized.  In 1929 the bones were moved to the basement of Lee Chapel where they stood for 30 years.  In 1971 Traveller's remains were buried in a wooden box encased in concrete at the Chapel where they are today.  

The stable where Traveller lived is still visible today and acts as the garage for the Presidents' House.  The stall itself is still there inside the building and the stable doors are kept open - this is where he lived his last days.  Legend has it that Traveller's spirit is still alive in the stable area.  The doors are kept open so that his spirit can wander freely.  The green doors on the building are referred to as "Traveller Green."

There was hay for him in his trough early this morning

Washington & Lee should be commended for taking such good care of Traveller after all these years.  Incidentally, the school has a Safe Rider Program.  Student are known to say "Call Traveller and you will get home safely."

Incidentally, there is an interesting book if you can find it called Traveller by Richard Adams (1988).  The book is fictional, first-person narrative.  Traveller tells his story to a cat in the stable.   Have not read it but have heard about it.  Interesting twist don't you think?


  1. Thank you for you story about Traveller...all facets of the story are as I recall from my days at W& 1957 my Freshman dorm was called Preston House, it was a small turn-of the-century house located across the street from Traveller's stable. Every morning I walked pass the stable, ever mindful of it renown inhabitant. However, most do not know that for many years that stable, now a garage, housed the private automobile of President Gaines--it was a dark blue 1954 Lincoln sedan, gifted by the Alumni. There is some irony in there somewhere don't you think?

  2. Hello Ann...I would like to compliment you on this page. If you have not already please join us at .... Robert E. Lee And Traveller on Facebook.


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