Until now, these saddles have not been offered for commercial sale by reenactor saddle makers. A few brave souls have endeavored to make them for personal use and I know of only two that have done so with any degree of success. Now, Karl Pepper of Glenn Pier Depot has undertaken to make these available for commercial sale to everyone.
Karl has been talking with me about this for some time and a few months ago he contacted me ready to seriously grapple the project. Without benefit of a “hands-on” specimen to copy and armed with only limited assistance from my photo archives and notes (of two of the three known surviving examples) Karl skillfully went about the effort and I am happy to tell you that he has done so with great success.
Please note, I do not have a financial interest in these saddles except to see them re-produced and in the field for the benefit of the hobby. However, I will gladly say here that Karl has done an exceptionally fine job at capturing the essence of this CS expedient in both the proper look and materials. They are truly worthy to be labeled “first class” reproductions.
HISTORY: The Columbus Arsenal is known to have been a significant supplier of these saddles. Given their contracts with the local Phoenix Mills and their other cloth making capacity this only makes sense. Nevertheless, it should be noted that other western arsenals probably provided them also including Atlanta and Selma. A letter from the Ordnance office in Richmond speaks of a cloth saddle sent there from Columbus as a sample indicating their “standard” saddle was of cloth. One contractor Crown & Co. supplied some 959 cavalry saddles and cloth infantry equipments to the Columbus Arsenal from December 1863 thru February 1864. Evidence indicates these were cloth covered saddles. Given the extremely low price of these contract saddles at a time when leather saddles at other Southern Arsenals were selling for as much as $100, and Columbus' known propensity for cloth-made saddles and infantry equipments it is quite likely these saddles were constructed with linen cloth covered wooden trees. Given the shortage of saddles in the west it is likely they found their way into many western cavalry commands. However, few if any appear to have been sent to the east except as a “sample”. For more information read pages 77-78 of my book. “Confederate Saddles & Horse Equipment” and, page 45 of my book ”Made in the C.S.A.”.
While a certain dubious Confederate expedient, it would be an understatement to say they were not always well received. A note from Col. M.H. Wright, commander at Atlanta states that saddles from Columbus are in his opinion "inferior". The same can certainly be said for troopers in the field with reports that some troopers refusing to accept them in issue.
It is difficult to ascertain and impossible to document how many of these were made during the war. My “gut” estimate would be perhaps between two to three thousand at the very most. Nevertheless, these repros represent for us a wonderful opportunity to employ a unique Confederate saddle in the reenacting field.
Despite the “not so good” reaction to them by contemporary persons, these reproduction saddles are well made and importantly, correctly made in the tree pattern and enameled cloth covering. Given the almost void in descriptions and only two examples to draw from the leather stirrup straps and the lack of fenders are somewhat surmised but logically employed with educated authority. Most importantly, the hardware is “spot-on” from the originals... right down to the “tear-drop” stirrup strap hangers, driven-in foot stands, tin plates and shield. Variations would most certainly have occurred.
It is with great pleasure that I present this with the well deserved accolade that Karl has done the hobby a wonderful service by offering this unique western arsenal McClellan saddle just in time for the 150th anniversary of the 1864 campaigns. Even if you are not interested in owning one of these do your self a favor to go to his web site and take a look at them.
Ken R Knopp