The Hoof of Turner Ashby's Horse
The hoof from Confederate general Turner Ashby's white horse, "Tom Telegraph," has been memorialized with an inscription, presumably hand-written by the local druggist, which notes that the animal was shot and killed "near New Market, Va. on Valley pike" during the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862. Affixed to the side of the hoof is a romantic rendering of Ashby in cape and plumed hat that captures the general's nickname, "Knight of the Valley." This particular horse of Ashby's was universally admired, even by a Union foe who described the stead as being "disciplined like his master, to the accomplishment of the most wonderful feats. He will drop to the ground in a flash, at the wish of his rider, and rise again as suddenly, bound through the woods like a deer, avoiding trees and branches, clearing every obstacle, jumping fences or ditches with perfect ease." On April 17, 1862, a Union cavalry charge against Ashby and a small number of his men led to hand-to-hand fighting. In the midst of the skirmish Tom was shot in the flanks but still managed, while bleeding profusely, to jump two fences before falling to the ground. Ashby paused briefly to pet the horse's mane. "Thus," an eyewitness wrote, "the most splendid horseman I ever knew lost the most beautiful war horse I ever saw." Souvenir hunters almost immediately descended on the dead creature, plucking all the hairs from its mane and taking at least one hoof. Less than two months later, Turner Ashby would be killed in battle at the age of thirty-three.
A combat hero before his death, Ashby's actions in the Shenandoah Valley gave a powerful boost to the Confederate military effort there during the war's first year. Yet his fame continued to grow posthumously, and the memory of his deeds resonates even now, as many Shenandoah localities celebrate Confederate Memorial Day on June 6, the anniversary of his death.