Soldiers during the Civil War, like soldiers in all wars, have frequently adopted various species of pets. There are various reasons for this such as it may remind them of home, or aid them in taking their minds off the horrifying aspects of war itself. Mascots certainly played such a role during America’s worst internal conflict, and the animals revered by regiments ranged from the typical dog to the non-typical toad!
John Gibbon, the famed Union Brigadier-General, in a letter to his wife Frances dated July 18, 1862, remarked: “I have a pet toad in my tent, and I amuse myself every day by looking at him catch flies from my boots, the utility of the animal reconciling me to the idea of having such a pet.”
Captain George Babbitt, later Lt. Colonel of the 23rd Indiana Infantry as recorded in the National Anti-Slavery Standard for 1864, remarked how in the Appalachian region of eastern Tennessee and northeastern Alabama, he observed that during some particularly “fierce cannonading,” suddenly “a small bird came and perched upon the shoulder of an artilleryman…The bird…could not be driven from its position by the violent actions of the gunner. When the piece was discharged the poor little thing would run its beak and head up under the man’s hair at the back of the neck, and when the report died away, would resume its place upon his shoulder.”
Company C of the 8th Wisconsin Infantry Regiment, acquired the friendship of Abe, an eagle who derived from a nest in Chippeway County, Wisconsin. During the Battle of Farmington, Mississippi (fought on May 9th, 1862), the men were ordered to lay down, which Abe the eagle obediently did as well rather than stay on his perch, and once the men arose he did so “with outstretched wings.” While at Corinth, Confederate General Sterling Price, former 11th Governor of the State of Missouri, is said to have wanted to capture the eagle so badly that he stated, “I’d rather have the bird than the whole brigade!” Abe would survive the war, and was retired at the State House Park in Madison, Wisconsin, where he was on display for all to see during the Great Northwestern Fair held in May of 1865 for the benefit of sick and wounded soldiers.
Philadelphia paper Forney’s War Press in 1864 published an article relative to a pet dog named Sally, who belonged to the Tenth Massachusetts Infantry Regiment. It was stated that the canine “has participated in every battle in which her regiment has been engaged, and seems to take great interest in the success of the blue jackets…but a grayback is her special detestation which she always exhibits by biting at them whenever they are brought within the reach of her chain. She accompanies the regiment on picket, by is always sufficiently discreet to keep within our lines, where she vents her rage by growling and snapping at the enemy’s skirmishers.” During the Battle of Fredericksburg, Virginia in 1862, her leg was broken, and after being bandaged up by a surgeon returned to the battle-field “on three legs, and doggedly refused to leave until the conclusion of the battle…and is ready at any moment to participate in the next engagement.”
One particularly faithful dog of a Civil War regiment was that of the Eleventh Ohio Infantry as chronicled within a Louisville, Kentucky newspaper in 1864. In 1861 when the outfit left Columbus, Ohio for the conflict, a young woman gave to Company A a “beautiful, bright-eyed spaniel” which became the pet of the men, who named it Curly. It is said the dog participated “in all the battles amid the smoke, flame, fire, and carnage, exhibited a coolness and bravery marked and astonishing. It mattered not where the company charged, it was followed by the faithful dog. At two different times Curly was severely wounded on the battle-fields of Virginia,” as well as later at Chickamauga.
Curly also was present at the Battle of Lookout Mountain in Tennessee, where he was wounded once again “in the right shoulder by a Minnie ball.” Though the men left the area, he possessed around his neck a steel collar with the following inscription: “I am Company A’s dog; whose dog are you? 11th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, U.S.A.” Eventually Curly was in Nashville, and was later sent north to Columbus, Ohio, where the it was said that the Governor intended “to make him an honorary member of the Capital,” since he too was a “war-worn veteran, marked with honorable wounds.”
The tales of faithful dogs, as well as other animals are quite touching in regard to the Civil War. Yet the Philadelphia Inquirer, Parade Magazine, for April 1, 2001, also contains a great article by Richard Ben Cramer about K-9 valor entitled, “They Were Heroes Too,” recounting tales of faithful canines during WW I & II, as well as the Vietnam conflict. As the front page of the issue aptly states, “Tens of thousands of dogs have served and protected American troops in battle. Their service has saved countless lives. Let Us Remember Our Forgotten Heroes.”