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Which came first: Taliban donkey bombs or Union army mule bombs?

First it was Taliban monkeys. Now it's Donkey-Borne Improvised Explosive Devices.

A Stars and Stripes report out of  Wardak province in Afghanistan says the Taliban have started packing donkeys with explosives to use the animals as unwitting suicide bombers.  This tactic reflects the Taliban's cruelty and lack of humanity, but wait -- did someone already try it more than 150 years ago?

Yes, according to one reader, who wrote Stars and Stripes that in 1862 a captain with the Union army loaded two mules with howitzer shells, lit the fuse and tried to get the animals to walk into a Confederate camp.

It didn't end well.

As a devotee of Civil War lore -- including the famous rumor that Maj. Gen. Hooker's last name became a term for working girls -- The Rumor Doctor had to find out whether the story of the exploding Union mules is true.

Research revealed a February 2009 online article written for the Army by Conrad Crane, director of the  US Army Military History Institute documenting the Union mule bombs.

On Feb. 20, 1862, Capt. James "Paddy" Graydon and his company of scouts led the two mules within 150 yards of a Confederate camp in New Mexico Territory, according to the article. The men lit the fuses and pointed the faithful animals toward the Confederates.

"Unfortunately, the animals proved to be too faithful," according to the article. "As the soldiers withdrew, they noticed quickly and with much consternation that the mules, instead of cooperating in the destruction of the enemy force, were following them.

"The withdrawal became precipitous as Graydon and his men scrambled to outdistance their faithful followers, who shortly began to explode."

While the story has been retold in other publications, there is no hard historical evidence that it actually happened, Crane said in an email to The Rumor Doctor.

"Graydon was the type to do something like that, however," he said.

All of this begs the question: Is it possible that the Taliban are reenacting the Civil War?

"I cannot confirm that they are adapting Civil War tactics, but they are a few years behind us," Maj. Russell Fox, a spokesman for U.S. troops in eastern Afghanistan, said in an email.

THE RUMOR DOCTOR'S DIAGNOSIS: By all accounts, Paddy Graydon beat the Taliban to the punch. The difference is the two Union mules gave their last full measure of devotion so that all men could live free. The Taliban used animals to enslave the local population.

No animals were harmed in the writing of this column.

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