1902 Encyclopedia > Mule > Mules in the Army. Military Uses of Mules.

(Part 4)

Mules have in recent times been largely employed in British campaigns, as in the Crimea, India, Abyssinia, South Africa, and Egypt. In the Abyssinian campaign more than 10,000 pack-mules were obtained from Cyprus, Brindisi, Malta, Smyrna, Gibraltar, Alicante, Valencia, Scanderoon, and Beyrout. The order in which these places are enumerated indicated the relative adaptability of the mules for pack transport during that campaign.

During the Zulu war, South-African or Colonial, South-American, North-American, and French mules were employed; but of these the south-African and South-American were found to be the most suitable.

In India mules from part of the permanent transport of the Punjab irregular force, and are sued as pack animals in the mountain batteries. They have also been largely used for transport in the many expeditions which have taken place on the north-western frontier. During the recent Afghan war it was proved that for mountain warfare the mule was by far the best beast of burden; and the director of transport with the Indian division during the late Egyptian campaign reported highly of the work done by the Punjab mules, which are somewhat famed for undergoing a great amount of exertion on little food. The breeding of pack-mules, as also of those adapted for batteries of mountain artillery, too much neglected hitherto, is now much encouraged by the Government of India, which supplies many good male asses to different districts free of charge. These asses are chiefly Arab, Spanish, French, and Italian; but very good animals are at times obtained from Bokhara. By stimulating the breeding of improved asses an increasing supply of good sires and mules is obtained.

The experience of British and other European armies in favour of the mule has been corroborated by that of the United States. In the quartermaster-general’s report for 1865 it is stated: "The experience of this (secession) war has convinced all officers of this department that for the army-trains mules are much superior to horses, and of late the horses have almost entirely disappeared from the trains, being transferred to the calvary or artillery and replaced by mules."

Mules are well adapted for the sick or hospital transport of an army in the field as pack animals, being smaller, surefooted , and shorter-paced than horses; but they should be specially selected and trained for this purpose, animals sufficient strength and docility being necessary. A loaded mule will walk a little more than 3 miles an hour, though the pace will much depend upon the roads. The pace is slow moving down hill, quick up hill. Mules sleep from three to four hours in the twenty-four, the soundest sleep being towards dawn. The male mule can carry more weight than the female, though the latter is steadier for work, being more docile; male mules are often vicious and carry loads badly, so that to render then more tractable they are sometimes castrated. For saddle purposes those which more resemble the horse than the ass are preferable.

The carrying power of the mule varies according to a variety of circumstances from 100 lb to 300 lb, the average being about 200 lb including the pack-saddle. In a journey made in 1856 form the city of Del Norte to Chihuahua and Durango in Mexico, a distance of about 500 miles, it was found that out of a train of seventy-five mules the most it was possible for any mule to carry was 275 lb; not more than twenty mules could convey more than 250 lb, the average weight carried by the whole train being a little less than 200 lb. The distance per day was about 15 miles. In another journey it was noted that some of the very best mules, out of a very superior description specially selected, which were loaded with 300 lb, gave out completely at the end of two weeks. In the Abyssinian expedition the load had to be reduced to 100 lb, not including the pack-saddle. It has been stated that a good compact mule, when well trained, properly fitted and handled, will carry in ordinary field service 30 per cent. Of its won weight. If the load is in proportion to the size of the animal, small mules have the advantage. A 600 lb mule is quite as good for a 200 lb load as a 900 lb mule is for a 270 lb load.

During the Peninsular War mules were hired by the commissariat for a Spanish dollar a day and rations for the driver. The weight of the load was fixed at 200 lb, and the length of journey is a mountainous country with bad roads was from 10 to 12 miles loaded, 15 to 16 unloaded. The maximum price paid for mules purchased for the Bhutan (India) expedition was 180 rupees; those purchased at Baghdada and Bushire for the Abyssinian expedition averaged 124 rupees 8 annas, in Syria about £20. The mules purchased in the Ounjab for the same expedition cost 225 rupees each; those procured in Egypt about £26 10s. per animal. The mules purchased in new York for the Zulu war cost £42 per head, though good serviceable mules can be bought at St. Louis for from £25 to £30. A firm in London at the same time tendered to supply mules from Spain at £35 each for pack, and £37 10s for draught. The South-African mules bought during the Zulu war cost on an average £23 each.

It has been observed that large mules are not so durable as medium-sized ones, especially for military service. In Algeria it was rare to fins a mule over 14 hands more than fifteen years of age, and those approaching 15 hands died younger, while those between 13 and 14 hands were frequently more than twenty years old. The older animals were very often mares. (G. FL.)

The above article was written by: George Fleming, C.B., LL.D., F.R.C.V.S.; Principal Vet. Surg. of Army, 1883-90; served in the Crimea, China, Egypt, and Syria; author of Travels on Horseback in Manchu Tartary, and Animal Plagues: their History, Nature, and Prevention.

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