Anecdotes about Civil War dogs appear in many accounts written by soldiers, but few of these writings are accompanied by portraits of the dogs. And many of the best known Civil War photos that include dogs do not identify the dogs by name, leaving their full identities lost to history. One example is General Rufus Ingalls’s coach dog, a handsome Dalmatian who was photographed several times at City Point. Though his image survives, it appears his name has not.
Here is a little dog who is notable for two reasons. First, we have both his picture and his story. Second, unlike the stories of many Civil War dogs who met sad fates, his is a happy one. Along with his master, Fido of the 5th Massachusetts Volunteers returned home after the war as a distinguished veteran. He was well-remembered by the regiment’s historian, Alfred S. Poe, for his service as drum major.
Fido’s story comes from Poe’s 1911 history, “The Fifth Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.”
“Joe Sinclair callt’d his dog Fido, but the ‘boys’ all called him ‘Major’ because of the graceful manner in which he discharged the duties of Drum Major. Of imported Scotch-terrier stock, he came into Sinclair’s possession two weeks before the latter enlisted. Dog and master went to Prospect Hill and they were there two weeks; and on the march to Boston, on the way to Camp Wenham, Fido was lost, but he found his way back to his Cambridge home before midnight, the most tired canine in the city. When Sinclair went back to Wenham from a brief furlough home, Fido went with him and accompanied him and the regiment to North Carolina. He was a good forager, and many were the chickens that he caught and brought to his hungry master. He knew his place ahead of the band, countermarched, and always kept his distance. Fond of the water and a good swimmer, he gave the boys no end of fun. When the vessel bringing the regiment home reached the harbor, Mrs. Sinclair went out in a boat to greet her husband, and he unchaining the dog, till then attached to his friend, placed the animal at the rail, whence, seeing his mistress, he leaped into the water and swam to the side of the small boat, was taken in and no persuasion could coax him back. He survived his return from the front seventeen years.”