“Only A Dog”

Only A Dog header

From an unassuming beginning, Tommy quickly went on to earn the admiration and affection of the men of the 165th New York Volunteers.  He served throughout the war, remaining with comrades in the hospital, trekking over many miles to miraculously return to his regiment after a long absence, soldiering through every engagement. Then, honorably discharged and on the return trip to New York, accidentally going overboard as the men prepared to board a ship for home….

Sergeant John Fleming is Tommy’s biographer in this excerpt from “History of the Second Battalion Duryee Zouaves – One Hundred and Sixty-fifth Regt. New York Volunteer Infantry,” published in 1905. The book notes that the story was first published in the March 7, 1878, edition of the “Long Island Farmer.”

John Fleming, 1865 and 1905

“Only A Dog”

by Sergt. John Fleming, 165th New York Volunteers (2nd Duryee Zouaves)

“During the last war many of the regiments had a pet animal of some kind or other, the history of some of which has been preserved in the field literature of those days, while others, equally deserving of fame, have scarcely received a mention outside of the home letters of the boys who cherished them. The stirring events of those years did not permit the subject of this sketch to receive the justice that was due to him, and now that twelve years have passed since he took his part in them, full reparation for the neglect is impossible. But courage and fidelity, when found, even in a dog, should not be allowed to pass without some tribute of a less perishable character than the testimony of the tongue, and hence the pen pleasurably turns to chronicle some of those incidents in the life of a regimental pet which, if they do not prove that the reasoning faculty is not with man alone, do at least indicate how closely animal instinct approaches man’s ‘crowning gift.’

“When the 165th New York Volunteers, known as the second Duryee Zouaves, was organizing at Camp Washington, on Staten Island, it had its full complement of cats and dogs, each the favorite of some red leg, who pleasantly thought it might follow and cling to him through all the vicissitudes of a soldier’s life. Among this collection was the afterward famous dog of the regiment, Tommy, who at this time, before his worth was known, received, like all the others, more kicks than crusts; but which, unlike the others, clung all the closer to his new associations, and which alone of all that feline and canine tribe in the barracks of the men accompanied them on a cold December day to the steamer Merrimack, that was lying at one of the piers in New York to carry them to New Orleans. Tommy, though strictly speaking a ‘cur,’ and with nothing in his ‘make-up’ that would secure him redemption from any well-regulated pound, marched intrepidly aboard the vessel, and with true soldiery instinct soon made himself perfectly at home. His presence aboard the vessel at once secured him the favorable attention of the men and excited their interest in his career. It was a New York dog. The boys were New York boys. It was bound far away from home, going to face danger. So were they. Perhaps his last growl would be heard within a few weeks on the banks of the Mississippi. Perhaps some of the boys would wearily lie down at the same spot to dream of home no more. What wonder, then, that Tommy soon won the watchful care and sympathy of the men whose fate he was sharing. It was with such thoughts as these that brought an unstinted supply of hard tack and pork and an abundance of friendly caressings. His personal appearance contributed nothing to them, for, in all truth, this was common enough. He was simply a firm, compact fat little dog, with a sleek brown hide who looked capable of undergoing considerable fatigue after a little training, but with nothing about him to indicate the wonderful staying qualities and devotion he afterward exhibited. The transport, however, had not reached the mouth of the Mississippi before nearly every man in the battalion had learned that Tommy, fully conscious of the growing esteem in which he was held, was a self-respecting dog, quick to resent any insult or injury, and no longer the submissive cur of the days when his friends were few. Kind treatment had worked a favorable revolution in Tommy’s nature. He was now a dog who would take his own part, and the boys respected him accordingly. This respect was not lessened when it became apparent that he fully realized that he was of the ‘rank and file,’ and that neither the threatening nor coaxing of any officer of the regiment could succeed in winning for him Tommy’s slightest consideration or attention. This virtue, for it was so looked up on by the men never forsook him, and during his long term of active service he never permitted any of the officers the familiar privilege of patting his back, though manifesting every evidence of delight when any of the enlisted men bestowed the same attention. His incurable indifference to the officers was several times the cause of considerable amusement to the camp.

“It was at Camp Parapet, or Alligator Swamp, as it was called by the men, that Tommy, like the rest of the regiment, began to live a soldier’s life in earnest. At the first tap of reveille he might be seen moving from the spot where the fire of some company cook had left a little of its warmth, and immediately after begin to shake himself vigorously, in preparations for his duties of the day. At the rolling of the blankets, putting tents in order, and lavatory exercises, which followed reveille, he kept himself busy in visiting and saluting the men, and when the drum for company drill sounded, Tommy selected his company and followed it faithfully through all its evolutions. At the battalion drills he belonged to no company, but with pardonable vanity stationed himself on the right of the line, and unless some interloping mule became visible, maintained his position with dignity until the drill was over, when he would march off at the head of his favorite company. At guard mountings he was always on hand, and whether the detail was large or small, the sound of the drum or bugle brought Tommy to its head, and go where it might he would accompany it, and march back to camp at the head of the guard that was relieved, not forgetting, during the day, to go out and pay a short visit to the men at their posts, and receive their friendly salutations. He seemed never idle, and never weary of interest in the affairs of the boys. If a fatigue party was formed, he was at its heels; or a special detail for any purpose, he was off with the corporal or sergeant in charge, only to return to camp as soon as its duties were performed, and evince his readiness to be off with some other. At tattoo he would decently retire, being always sure of finding shelter when the men had it for themselves; and all these soldierly services he faithfully performed, not at Camp Parapet alone, but in every camp in Louisiana, Virginia, at Charleston, and at Savannah; wherever he found himself.

“At Port Hudson he was with his regiment, but before the siege closed accompanied a large number of the wounded men to Baton Rouge. It is possible that among these wounded there was some special favorite, for he kept a close watch upon the hospital where they lay, and remained away for such a length of time that the regiment began to think Tommy had enough of marching and fighting, and would never report back for duty. During his absence, Port Hudson had fallen, the regiment had sailed on a fruitless expedition to the coast of Texas, had returned to the Mississippi, and had been sent up the Teche country, and there was but little hope that Tommy would ever find his way back to his old friends. But one day, about five months after his departure, to the astonishment and delight of the men, he marched in among them, where they lay at Franklin, on the banks of the Teche. He had found his way on board a boat to New Orleans, where, it was afterward learned, he tarried about a week, revisiting the former resorts of the men; had crossed the river to Algiers, taken the army train to Brashear City, crossed the river there, and then started through the country afoot, marching on until he found the army, and no one ever knew how he did it, for though following squads of soldiers returning to their commands, he was a stranger to them all. Here he at once resumed his active duties, and until the close of the war never absented himself again from the main body for more than a few days at a time. With unflinching devotion he followed the regiment on the disastrous Red River campaign, and though often left on the roadside panting for life, yet when the bivouac was reached, Tommy was never far behind the flag. He was present in all the engagements of the regiment, and although he displayed every sign of fear and anxiety, he never deserted his post. At Pleasant Hill he was slightly wounded, a bullet carrying off a small piece of his short tail; but he held his ground, and when the fight was over congratulated the survivors, as he did after every engagement, by every exhibition of delight. At Cane River, the regiment, preparatory to an assault, was lying at the foot of a hill, from which the enemy was doing some very lively musket business. Tommy, with his usually good judgment, had placed his body behind a big tree. One of the men, thinking to use the tree for his own protection, unceremoniously shoved him from the position, but so furiously did Tommy attack this ungenerous soldier that he was glad to make room for him beside him. This man received a severe bite, but was only laughed at by his comrades. Tommy during his term of enlistment, over three years, had passed through many dangers; he had marched many a weary league in the heat of the day and in the darkness of the night; he had made half a dozen trips at sea; traveled hundreds of miles by river and by rail; had shown his courage upon the battlefield of the regiment; had shared in all the privations of the men without a whimper, and escaped without other injury than the wound before described, and a cut in the upper lip, received from the flying heel of his hated foe, the army mule.

“The war had ended, the men were discharged and so was Tommy. His papers were regularly drawn up, and officially signed. His meritorious services were officially recognized, and, in part, inscribed upon his parchment, and, with the men, he prepared to take his departure from the battered walls of Fort Sumter, in September, 1865. And it was at this time he had his narrowest escape. Late at night, but under a bright and beautiful moon, a steam tug conveyed the regiment from Fort Sumter to the steamer that was to carry it home, and was then lying in the harbor. The tug was closing in upon the steamer, but its engine had not yet stopped, when Tommy, with his usually desire to lead the way, attempted to jump aboard, but in doing so struck his head against the guards of the steamer and was knocked overboard. On the instant the men were on the alert, the engine was stopped, and while half a dozen stood ready to plunge into the water the moment Tommy appeared on the surface, Corporal Baker went down under the tug’s paddle, and there found the half-drowned dog resting against the wheel. He was soon safely deposited on the deck of the steamer, as much to the delight of the men as to his own.

“This regiment that Tommy loved, and in which the gallant [George E.] Cogswell and [Alex. S.] Fosdick died, landed at the Battery, in the city of New York, and, as was the return of the young Tobias to his father, ‘the dog, who had followed them all the way, ran before them, and, like a courier who might have preceded them, he testified to his joy by the wagging of his tail.’”

From “History of the Second Battalion Duryee Zouaves – One Hundred and Sixty-fifth Regt. New York Volunteer Infantry”

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1 Response to “Only A Dog”

  1. gelston says:

    EXCELLENT ARTICLE.
    My great grandfather was with the 165th, although he left in Louisiana to join the navy and serve on the ironclad Pittsburgh. I am sure that Tommy was with him at times.

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