India- rubber horse equipment in the American Civil War

...and on the eighth day God created the horse in perfect image, to romp, graze, gallop, play, and make manure wherever it darn well pleases, in divine grace.

“Some of the 26th are here on guard, and...are sewing an India rubber house for my horse.”

— Major Frederick Charles Winkler

Natural rubber is widely used in many commodities and applications. It is stretchy, waterproof, and durable.

India- rubber, or natural rubber, is harvested from trees in the form of latex. Latex is a milky, sticky fluid that seeps from the tree after an incision or hole has been cut into the bark. (1)

Buckets collect the white latex, much like Maple sugar producers collect sap from Maple trees, in the syrup-making process.

The Para Rubber tree in Brasil, a member of the Spurge genotype family of Euphorbiaceae, is possibly the largest source of natural rubber produced in the world. (2)

Congo rubber in Africa comes from the vines of the Landolphia genus family, with the Landolphia Kirkii, Landolphia Heudelotis, and Landolphia Owariensis flora species.(3)

Nazi Germany conducted research on the common Dandelion in a military capacity, as it, too, produces sticky, milky latex. Their experiments failed, however.

Other plants, such as the Palaquium gutta, in the Sapotaceae genus family, produce other forms of latex, specifically Gutta- percha latex.

Chicle is natural gum collected from Mesoamerican trees in the Manilkara genus family. (4)

Common chewing gum is a product of chicle, and perhaps you have heard of the old “ Chiclets” brand of chewing gum.

The Rubber Fig tree, the Panama Rubber tree and various other Spurge species, among others, are also commercially harvested for latex.

The Olmec peoples of Mesoamerica made rubber balls from the Hevea Tree. (5)

The Aztecs and Maya civilizations made rubber balls and also rubber containers. They waterproofed their textiles by mixing latex into them while in the fabricating stage, this as early as 1600BC. (6)

Moving forward in time, Americans during the 1800's utilized advances in the rubber product industry.

Day to day usage on farms and in cities, as well as the government applying a series of experiments on rubber products in the Civil War Era for military purposes, resulted in the advance of the industry overall.

Items such as table mats, baskets, preserve jars, wash tubs and even personal articles such as thimbles, cutlery handles, combs and eyeglass frames all became useful in domestic American life.

The US military became increasingly knowledgeable as to its use in wartime applications.

During the 1840's, experiments resulted in the fabrication of India-rubber wagon floats, floating bridges, pontoons, and, “even a horse-floating apparatus.”

Major Frederick Charles Winkler was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Union Army, during the American Civil War, which lasted from 1861-1865

Winkler (1838-1921) was later promoted to Brevet Brigadier General, having been nominated by President Andrew Jackson.

He was wounded in the battle of Gettysburg. (7)

The quote at the beginning of this article was obtained from a compilation of Lt. Colonel Winkler’s letters that he wrote during the war.

- O’Donnell Publications

The book, “India-Rubber and Gutta-Percha in the Civil War Era,” by Mike Woshner, quotes Major Winkler at the beginning of the section on hard rubber horse equipment.

Items such as horse covers, blankets, bridle rosettes, mane combs and dosing syringes are all pictured in Woshner’s book.

Other hard rubber items for horses included curry combs and horse shoes.

“Various accessories for horses were patented and used...

“John Jones’ “Elastic Horseshoe” (US Patent #9,173) consisted of a sheet of India-rubber between two plates to aid the horse. The rider was assisted by A. Livingston’s patented stirrup with an India-rubber footpiece to prevent slipping (US Patent #33,354) A predecessor to the bicycle seat was the elastic saddle, consisting of a seat suspended on India-rubber springs, patented by Lewis Bishop in 1859 (US Patent #22,480).” (8 )

Read on:

“India-rubber horse covers or blankets were suggested as early as 1845 as a means of sheltering the animals from wind and rain. (9 ) On October 28, 1863, Lt. Colonel and Chief Quartermaster Rufus Ingalls wrote to Quartermaster General Meigs: ‘...providing rubber or other kind of waterproof horse blankets for our cavalry, artillery, and even wagon horses...’” (10 ) (10a)

Woshner also cites E.L. Perry out of New York, patenting a horse cover in October of 1864, that, “...was an improvement over ordinary India-rubber or Gutta-percha blankets. (US Patent #44,654).

Perry’s cover was ‘self-ventilating,’ containing apertures that permitted air to circulate and perspiration to escape without letting rain or snow enter. The use of the blanket was suggested as a preventive measure to protect horses against the elements: ‘Many persons thoughtlessly expose them to inclement weather, when a little forethought and small expenditure would have saved the services of a veterinary surgeon and the animal would have been in condition for use instead of being laid up in ordinary, like a naval vessel under repair.’” (11)

Wow! Remember my old Horsin’ Around article entitled, “An Ounce of Prevention”? (12)

- O’Donnell Publications

Woshner’s book features several pictures of hard- rubber horse equipment, including advertisement drawings of horse hoods for $21 to $24 per dozen, along with ad drawings of “Horse Fenders,” for protecting the knees or ankles of equine. (13) We know them as “ bell boots” or “shin guards,” price coming in at $6 to $12 per dozen, back in the day. These were from the North American Gutta- percha Company’s catalog of 1854.

There is a nice photo of a hard- rubber equine oral dosing syringe, complete with dosing pipe and plunger rod, inscribed with “I.R. Comb Co.- Goodyear 1851.” The gross length of the unit, with plunger closed, came in at 25 inches.

Horse whips made of India-rubber are mentioned in the book, “ ‘In the whip shop they are making at the present time from 50,000 to 60,000 dozens a year, [sic]and very nice whips do they make out of India rubber, it only requiring the little wooden back bone on which to gum the rubber to make as durable and good a whip awagoner ever cracked.’ ” (14)

Other types within the genre included riding whips, coach whips, switches and mountings on team whips.

Woshner’s book covers other areas of hard- rubber and Gutta- percha, including early rubber history, military trials of products, and specific manufactured items, such as canteens, canes, caps and covers, gaiters and leggings, knapsacks, musical instruments, smoking accessories, children’s toys, personal items, among many others, even water beds, all with accompanying photos.

History buffs and horsemen alike will enjoy Woshner’s book, first published in 1999.

It is on sale from the author for $40, including shipping, by email at : This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Woshner is an author, lecturer, and collector of museum quality India-rubber and Gutta- percha products of the Civil War era. He has displayed his collection as a guest to the Stan Hyvet Hall and Gardens, the estate of F.A. Seiberling, the founder of the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, in Akron, OH.

Folks, I can’t resist closing this week without some quotes from Major Winkler’s Civil War letters, regarding his horse.

It would appear this Union military gentleman genuinely cared about the welfare of his animal.

Said he: “ I am going to buy me a horse. I have my eye on a very fine one, combining the virtues of fine appearance, strength, spirit and youth. I shall try to secure it before we march. My other one is almost too sad a specimen of the equine race. My man Fred may ride him and carry blankets, ration, and forage on his back - - - I mean on the horse’s back.” January 19, 1863. (15)

And, “ I bought a horse today, a fine bay mare four years of age...I will bring her along when I come home to stay... I asked...what I should name her... “Fannie.” January 20, 1863 (16)

And, “My poor mare was out in the rain without a shelter all night and trembles with cold this morning...Some of the 26th * are here on guard and...are sewing an India rubber house for my horse.” January 21, 1863 (17)

A few days later,

“I scoured over the country to-day ...[sic] for a tolerable dry spot whereon to trot my noble steed. I wish you could see my horse, how finely she bears herself...All who see her admire her.” January 24, 1863 (18)

Then the following year,

“We are on Chicamauga Creek...part of the Battle of Chicamauga was fought here. A portion of the road we passed over yesterday is covered with skeletons of horses...” May 3, 1864 (19)

The Battle of Chicamauga was fought in mid-September 1863, with Winkler and his men traveling through the following Spring.

Winkler died in 1921 and is buried in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

The Battle of Chicamauga, and many other battles and endeavors of mankind as he reaches his modern pinnacle are all strewn with the bones of the horse.

Leaving you with fact, history, and stories of days gone by, to the immortal words of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, “Happy Trails to You.”

1-7: Wikipedia

8: “India-Rubber and Gutta-Percha in the Civil War Era,” by Mike Woshner, copyright 1999, O’Donnell Publications, Alexandria, VA, pg. 195

9: National Archives, Records Groups 92, #225, etc., November 24, 1845, Thomas J. Green, Agent, Naugatuck India Rubber Co.

10: Official Records of the War of the Rebellion: The Civil War CD rom, Washington: Government Printing Office, 1880, Carmel, Indiana, Guild Press of Indiana, 1996, etc.

10a, 13: Woshner et al, pg. 195

11: The Scientific American, April 8, 1865

12: Horsin’ Around with Roseanne, Community News website, page 4, #4 from top

14: Newark Daily Advertiser, December 26, 1855; Woshner et al

15-19: Internet: Russ Scott’s Websites

* The 26th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment of the American Civil War