Feeling Mulish

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Sometimes com threads take on a delightfully daffy life of their own, and so it was on my other blog, Almost Chosen People, in regard to my post on Streight’s mule raid.  Such threads I cherish.

The kind of things that leads people to say that “military intelligence is a contradiction in terms”.

  • On April 21, 2013 at 9:12 am Donald R. McClarey said: |Edit This

    You can say that again Fabio!  I have always found studying military disasters fascinating.  To be fair to Streight he did seem to recognize the problem of the mules from the first.  What I can’t understand is why Grenville Dodge and his 8000 cavalry weren’t sent along on the raid.  Dodge went on to win fame as a manager of military railroads for Grant and played a substantial part in the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, but he was unimpressive in his role in the Streight Raid to say the least.

  • On April 24, 2013 at 8:46 am Dennis McCutcheon said: |Edit This

    I wrangled mules in Montana the summer after high school and before joining the Navy… I think I joined the Navy knowing that there were unlikely to be mules in my future.  Strong beasts, could take impressive loads, but a devious lot they were.

    • On April 24, 2013 at 10:29 am Fabio P.Barbieri said: |Edit This

      Mules are for high mountain fighting. When I served in the Italian Army in the eighties, the Alpini unit I was attached to had hundreds of them, and although the barracks and grounds were kept wonderfully clean, when the wind was in the wrong direction and you caught the whiff of them you knew it. Luckily for me, I was infantry and under no obligation to care for them – though I’m sure it would have taught me a lot. I don’t think they have invented anything better, even now, for moving heavy loads at high altitude. But as for using them at any other level, WELL!

      • On April 24, 2013 at 10:50 am Dennis McCutcheon said: |Edit This

        Chuckle.  We had a huge white mule (Tony) that could carry a house but he always wanted to lead the string.  The head wrangler would shorten the lead so that the lead horse would crap on Tony’s face.  I cleaned his face on several occasions.  He would take off through the woods in an attempt to take the lead if you didn’t keep him on a short rope.  He bit me once and tried on several other occasions.  The second weekend I was at that ranger station I saw someone putting his children on Tony for a ride.  Fabio I cleared the steps five/six at a time to get down to the pen to save those children.  But that damn mule had a completely different attitude with kids.  He would side step to keep those kids balanced on his back. The ranger laughed at me when he found out I was trying to save his kids from death. Tony loved kids… hated adults trying to load him.  Maybe they are smarter than we think.

        So infantry in highlands of Italy, must have been some mighty pretty sights at times.

    • On April 24, 2013 at 5:50 pm Donald R. McClarey said: |Edit This

      “He would side step to keep those kids balanced on his back.”

      Mules tend to have well-developed senses of personality and I suspect their own mule codes of right and wrong.  Looking at that it sounds crazy, but they are very strong willed creatures but will be quite obliging if they like you.  If they do not however…

  • On April 24, 2013 at 11:11 am Fabio P.Barbieri said: |Edit This

    Not infantry – Alpini, specialist mountain troops. That is why I, as a mere infantryman, had no truck with mules. Mind you, being an Alpino had its perks. Because of the hard work to be expected on mountain duty, they get larger rations than ordinary infantry, plus one large block of solid chocolate and a glass of strong “grappa” with every lunch. And because Alpini officers are the cream of the army, you may in general count on exceptionally well ran barracks and facilities – I tell you that, for as long as Lt.Col. Mario Giordano was Deputy Commander at our base, we ate better than in many restaurants. It may be the good fellowship, the songs (Alpini choirs are famous), the mountain environment, or just the grappa, but boys who have been Alpini never forget it, and annual reunions are enormously well attended and enjoyed. You might like these photos, from an Alpini festival held in Rome,when a particularly popular public personality was given an honorary Alpino hat with the gold-on-red badge of an Army Commander-in-Chief:

  • On April 24, 2013 at 5:54 pm Donald R. McClarey said: |Edit This

    Ah, the Alpini, the elite of the Italian army!

  • On April 24, 2013 at 5:47 pm Donald R. McClarey said: |Edit This

    “when the wind was in the wrong direction and you caught the whiff of them you knew it.”

    The fragrence of mule is unforgettable, like that of castor oil for sensory persistence, or skunk.

  • On April 25, 2013 at 12:22 pm Fabio P.Barbieri said: |Edit This

    I tried to insert these two photographs: http://fpb.livejournal.com/180480.html – from Photobucket, and seem to have failed comprehensively. What should I do next time?

  • On April 25, 2013 at 12:35 pm Donald R. McClarey said: |Edit This

    Those are great photos Fabio.  I am uncertain how to put the pictures in the combox but I will attempt to find out.



  • On April 24, 2013 at 5:46 pm Donald R. McClarey said: |Edit This

    “Strong beasts, could take impressive loads, but a devious lot they were.”

    Bingo!  The glint of evil intelligence gleams in the eyes of most mules!

  • On April 24, 2013 at 8:42 pm Donald R. McClarey said: |Edit This

    Salud companeros!

    • On April 25, 2013 at 12:23 pm Fabio P.Barbieri said: |Edit This

      Alla salute! “Evviva, evviva, Il reggmento, Evviva evviva Il;Corpo degli Alpin!”



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  1. The mule’s greatest moment was at the Battle of Wauhatchie, Tenn. when a herd (pack?) of panicked mules charged the rebel lines who broke and fled:


    Half a mile, half a mile,
    Half a mile onward,
    Right through the Georgia troops
    Broke the two hundred.
    “Forward the Mule Brigade!
    Charge for the Rebs,” they neighed.
    Straight for the Georgia troops
    Broke the two hundred.

    “Forward the Mule Brigade!”
    Was there a mule dismayed?
    Not when their long ears felt
    All their ropes sundered.
    Theirs not to make reply,
    Theirs not to reason why,
    Theirs but to make Rebs fly.
    On! to the Georgia troops
    Broke the two hundred.

    Mules to the right of them,
    Mules to the left of them,
    Mules behind them
    Pawed, neighed, and thundered.
    Breaking their own confines
    Breaking through Longstreet’s lines
    Into the Georgia troops
    Stormed the two hundred.

    Wild all their eyes did glare,
    Whisked all their tails in air
    Scattering the chivalry there,
    While all the world wondered.
    Not a mule back bestraddled,
    Yet how they all skedaddled —
    Fled every Georgian,
    Unsabred, unsaddled,
    Scattered and sundered!
    How they were routed there
    By the two hundred!

    [more . . .]

    Yes, I’m aware the story is supposedly apocryphal & I don’t care. Sometimes the truth needs a little help.

  2. I had forgotten about that classic poem Thomas! The Confederate Hampton Legion apparently was disordered briefly by a stampede of Union mules and that allowed the Union to plug a gap in the battle line. Union troops waggishly suggested after the fight that the mules be breveted as horses.

  3. The mule poem calls to mind a commentary, I read, comparing the courageous charge of the 1st Minnesota at Gettysburg to the glamored “Charge of the Light Brigade.”

    General Hancock saw a gap in the line and ordered the 1st Minn. colonel to charge and take the colors of the advancing Confederates. The 1st Minn. did, suffered 85% casualties and preserved the Union line.

    Pacem Tennyson. At Balaclava, a blunderous order was given. The Light Brigade charged contrary all military sense, lost 37% casualties (plus 337 horses, only 195 troopers were mounted afterwards) and accomplished nothing. French Marshal Pierre Bosquet commented “”It is magnificent, but it is not war.”

  4. To be honest, after reading the original article, I double-checked it online to make sure it wasn’t a late April Fools joke. Quite a read.

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