MULES IN THE MILITARY
Today’s modern technological advances in the military have provided gadgets and robotics that once seemed straight out of a sci-fi movie. In recent years, the Army experimented with a robotic mule that could carry ammunition and other combat supplies for the soldiers. Since the first version was too noisy for combat, an electric version was created but could not carry more than 40 pounds.  A few decades ago, the use of equine was almost abandoned in the military since there was not a definitive need. But the wars in Afghanistan created a necessity for pack mules which are now an integral part of the U.S. Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center in Bridgeport, California.
Big Dog robotic mule – Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.
In the 1800s, as the West was expanding, mules were a huge resource and commodity for the military – serving as pack animals for the western outposts and pulling wagons to move supplies throughout the West. In the 1850s, military outposts and forts were established in the unsettled West in key locations to provide protection for commerce and emigration.
Fort Riley in Kansas is one of the forts that was established in the 1850s to help protect American interests. After the conclusion of the Civil War, Fort Riley aided in the protection of the railroad lines that crossed Kansas. In the following decades, Fort Riley became an important fixture while hosting various regiments of the infantry and cavalry and in 1887 became the site of the U.S. Cavalry School. Fort Riley had a strong equine program that taught cavalry tactics to new mounted recruits. Part of their training also involved using pack mules for various tasks.
In the 1940s, Fort Riley trained with mules and Jeeps for different tasks in wartime. Contrary to popular belief, a Jeep cannot travel everywhere in difficult terrain. The mules were referred to as the four-legged Jeep.
During the Civil War, mules were crucial in the war efforts – they pulled supply wagons, artillery equipment, and ambulances. At the onset of the Civil War, it was estimated that there were more than a million mules in the country – with most of them residing in the South. Mules were also used as pack animals to transport regimental gear, ammunition, and rations. Additionally they pulled the C & O Canal Boats (Chesapeake and Ohio Canal) which hauled cargo and coal. Some said the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal was the dividing line between the Union and the Confederates, making the mules a target for confiscation by troops from the other side.
Mules were also a valuable asset in WWI, WWII, and the Korean War. Again they provided the power to move supplies and ammunition while also serving as pack animals. At the outbreak of the Great War, the British army did not have any mules. According to the 1922 British War Office, England purchased 275,097 mules from America. Mules were transported overseas in specially-designed freighters that were modified with special stalls that could accommodate up to 500 mules. In WWII, mules were commonly transported in C-47s and C-46s to reach war zones, loading six to eight mules on each load in rope stalls.
During both wars, the mules were subjected to poisonous gases so that special protection was provided for them. The Hague Convention of 1907 prohibited the use of poison gases and weapons but more than 124,000 tons of gas were dispersed by the end of WWI. The poison gas took a terrible toll on mules, donkeys, horses, dogs, and pigeons.
Donkeys have also been used extensively in wartime
Besides wartime activities, the military also used mules for delivering aid. In 1906, the US Army was tasked with getting supplies to San Francisco after the devastating fire and earthquake. Congress appropriated $2.5 million in emergency aid. The Army played a major role in relief and refugee efforts and used mule trains to move the supplies to the city.
Mule trains delivered aid and supplies to an estimated 300,000 people in San Francisco who had lost their housing after the devastating earthquake and fires in 1906. Photo Courtesy of Library of Congress, George Kleine Collection.
Mules were used extensively in the military in the 1800s. Photo courtesy of Library of Congress, Circa 1909.
This photo is from WWI, rights to publish this picture was purchased from Alamy.