First Virginia Cavalry


"Modern" 1859 McClellan Saddle


Original 1859 McClellan Saddle
Credit: Armed Forces History, Division of History of Technology, National Museum of American History

The McClellan Military Saddle

As has been recounted in numerous works, George B. McClellan developed this saddle over a number of years. This saddle has its beginnings in the Crimean War, where Capt. McClellan was sent, like many officers, to  observe the activities of the combatants. During this time it is surmised that he was able to observe, and perhaps test for himself, a great variety of foreign military equipment. This seems to have been the case, as he was spurred to suggest a wide range of changes to the equipment then in use by the U.S. Army.

For the first time, the U.S. Army (pushed by the dynamic and capable Secretary of War Jefferson Davis) was conducting a number of trial evaluations with the purpose of determining the most efficient and practical equipment for its mounted troops through the use of large scale testing. This was particularly true of the newly formed cavalry regiments. Equipment was acquired in sufficient numbers to allow two to three cavalry squadrons - about 250 to 300 troopers - to subject each pattern to the most rigorous conditions that early frontier service had to offer.

In the evaluation of saddles, there were quite a number of styles tested. The Jones adjustable tree saddle, the Hope, the standard service Grimsley, the flexible Campbell, and the new style offered by Capt. McClellan. In the evaluation of these saddles, it was no doubt difficult to choose a positively superior saddle, as all of these saddles (except perhaps the Jones) had their vociferous supporters. Style and habitual preference would have had as much to do with the decision-making as with the suitability of the saddle for military service.

What would be the deciding factors in saddle selection then? It is rather difficult to say, unless it is made clear that the military of the 19th century had almost nothing in common with the current military purchasing structures, where cost may be a minor concern. In the end, it became apparent that cost cutting, in addition to serviceability, were the deciding factors in the adoption of the McClellan saddle. Indeed, budget "frugality" is reflected throughout the life of the McClellan saddle, and was the main reason for its longevity. 

While many saddle types could be found during the Civil War, most mounted reenactors, both north and south, choose the 1859 McClellan because it is the only period-correct saddle widely available today at a reasonable cost.

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