War is hell. Man’s inhumanity to man. But, during the Civil War, sometimes pets brought a little humanity, gentleness, affection, to the harsh world of warfare and helped soldiers cope. Animal mascots were very popular in the Civil War and brought a little bit of home and normalcy to the hellish lives of troops on the battlefield.
Dogs were by far the most popular mascots and there were numerous cases of canine companions representing many regiments of both North and South. At Gettysburg Battlefield Cemetery alone, there are several monuments to regimental dogs.
Many journals of Civil War soldiers chronicled the bravery and amazing loyalty of their dogs. One particularly faithful regimental dog was that of the Eleventh Ohio Infantry, written about in a Louisville, Kentucky newspaper in 1864.
In 1861 when the 11th Ohio left Columbus, for the conflict, a young woman gave Company A a “beautiful, bright-eyed spaniel” whom the men named “Curly.” The Kentucky paper related that “the dog later participated in all the battles amid the smoke, flame, fire, and carnage, exhibiting an astonishing coolness and bravery. It mattered not where the company charged, it was followed by the faithful dog. At two different times Curly was severely wounded on the battlefields of Virginia, as well as Chickamauga.”
There were many other species of mascots, too. Wisconsin held the record for strangest mascots: that state's regiments adopted a bald eagle, a badger, a bear, a cougar, a raccoon, and a chicken as mascots. The 12th Wisconsin Volunteers had a tame bear that marched with them all the way to Missouri. The 26th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry had a badger as a mascot. And Wisconsin’s 8th had a Bald Eagle called “Old Abe.” The regiment also had a dog mascot, until the dog got too close to Old Abe's food, a fatal mistake.
The 3rd Louisiana CSA, had a donkey that was much loved. The donkey slept with its owner in a tent, but would sometimes enter the commander's tent accidentally and try to snuggle up with him!
Soldiers of the Richmond Howitzers kept a number of gamecocks as pets. The Battalion also kept a dog, "Stonewall, " who was much loved by the artillerymen. Stonewall was given rides in the safety of a limber chest during battle. He was taught to attend roll call, sitting on his haunches in line.
General Robert E. Lee kept a hen as a pet. She laid an egg under his cot each morning, which he would them have for breakfast. The hen was lost during the Gettysburg battle, causing much worriment until she was found. She was placed on the headquarters wagon for the retreat.
The 2nd Rhode Island kept a sheep named Dick, who was taught tricks by the men. Unfortunately, Dick was eventually sold to a butcher for $5 to buy food for the men.
The 43rd Mississippi Infantry kept a camel named Douglas, which was killed by a Union sharpshooter during the siege of Vicksburg. Poor Douglas was also eaten by the starving Confederates. But later the regiment honored him with a stone memorial at the Vicksburg Battlefield Cemetery.
Both the 12th Wisconsin and the 104th Pennsylvania kept tame raccoons as unit mascots.
Louisiana Tigers was eventually the name for all troops from Louisiana in General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. The Tigers had a reputation for fearlessness and hand fighting on the battlefield, as well as thievery, drunkenness and fighting in camp. At least 24 nationalities were represented. The tiger ranks wore colorful Zoauve uniforms.
The Pennsylvania Bucktails (13th Pennsylvania Reserves) regiment was made up of lumbermen who had a distinctive "wildcat" yell. Their custom of a man wearing on his hat the tail of a deer he had shot, gave the Pennsylvania Bucktails their name.
The Union Brigadier-General John Gibbon wrote to his wife Frances in a letter dated July 18, 1862: “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 wrote that during a battle Appalachian region of eastern Tennessee and northeastern Alabama, he observed that during “fierce cannonading, suddenly a small bird came and perched upon the shoulder of an artilleryman…The bird…was not 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, it would resume its place upon his shoulder.”
© 2020 NOTES FROM THE FRONTIER
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