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CIVIL WAR MODEL 1859 CAVALRY “RING” CURB BIT – A SCARCE US ARMY BRIDLE BIT IN THE ORIGINAL CONFIGURATION:  This Model 1859 Cavalry Bridle Bit, officially called the “No.1” in U.S. Army Ordnance Department records, was also commonly known as the Ring or “Mexican” Bit.  Arguably, the most severe of all of the bridle bits employed throughout the history of the U.S. Army, this bit features a large ring that encircled the horse’s lower jaw.   

While likely to cause any responsible modern horse owner to regard 19TH Century horsemen as unnecessarily cruel, it is worth considering that the horses provided to the army were for the most part wild animals when delivered to the remount depots. The depots had very limited time to break and train the mounts before they were shipped out to meet the critical needs of the cavalry regiments serving in the field.  Assuming that the remounts were even so much as “green broke” before being handed over to the regiments might be overly generous.  I imagine it was a case of “any” horse was better than no horse at all, leaving the final training and finishing of the mount to the individual soldier.   

The other factor which bears noting is reflected in an original printing of a U.S. Army document in my collection.  General Order No. 105, published by the War Department in August of 1862 and authored by Assistant Adjutant General E. D. Townsend, states: 

“The inspection of all cavalry forces, preparatory to their being mustered into the service of the United States, shall hereafter comprise, in addition to the usual personal examination, a test of horsemanship, to be made under the direction of the mustering officer; and no person shall be mustered into the cavalry service who does not exhibit good horsemanship and a practical knowledge of the ordinary care and treatment of horses.” 

Apparently this was a significant problem or the army would not have addressed it with a General Order.   

The wide spread assumption held by modern collectors and students of history – probably fostered by the images from the silver screen – is that 19TH Century men and women were at least familiar with horses, if not accomplished riders.  They MUST all have been early iterations of John Wayne, Ward Bond, Roy Rogers and James Arness.  

Nothing could be further from the truth.  Then as now, managing a saddled horse or for that matter, a horse, mule or ox harnessed to a wagon, was a skill only acquired through access to the animal and adequate training.  If a young man was raised on a ranch or a farm, he probably gained sufficient experience to be a competent cavalry or light artillery soldier.  Conversely, if he was raised in a large city such as New York, he was no more likely to become a skilled horseman than his modern counterpart is certain to learn to be a competent driver.  More than a few New Yorkers I’ve known through the years own neither a driver’s license nor a vehicle – no need.  And so it was the case for the 19Th Century recruits from the large urban areas – their first exposure to caring for and riding horses may very well have been when the soldier joined his regiment. 

With these two factors in mind, the design of this bit bears consideration in the context of the realities of those times.  The dramatic growth of the armies in response to the outbreak of hostilities in 1861, and the lack of training resources to handle the overwhelming influx of recruits certainly resulted in brief, and at times, inadequate, training for troopers and horses alike.  Thus, the need for these severe bits employed during the war is understandable as compensation for these shortcomings.   

Originally finished in a deep arsenal blue which has now turned to a naturally aged plum brown, the steel is overall smooth with no significant pitting. The brass side bosses, bearing the “US” are both present.  The bit is full form with all of the components present and intact to include the rein rings and slobber bar.  The bit shows minimal evidence of use and there is no misshaping nor any damage or weak points.  The brass cricket or roller in the mouth piece port, included in the original design, is also present.  The bit is maker marked “J. N. O.”.   

This is an overall very good example of the relatively scarce Model 1859 Cavalry Ring Curb Bit.  (1108)  $975



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