Union and Confederate forces fought their way to a draw at Hatcher’s Run, Virginia, on Feb. 5, 1865. The conflict would resume the next day, and the Union would ultimately prevail. But among the casualties of Feb. 6 was the 11th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry’s canine mascot, Sallie. She had accompanied the soldiers from their earliest weeks at Camp Wayne, Pennsylvania, in the spring of 1861. That day at Hatcher’s Run, she was killed in action, shot in the head, one soldier said, while advancing with the file closers.
Several men of the 11th dropped their guns, though under a “murderous fire,” and buried her where she fell.
While all who had known and loved Sallie grieved at the loss of their dog, her absence was perhaps most keenly felt by the regiment’s commanding officer, Colonel (later Brigadier General) Richard Coulter. In his post-war memoirs he lamented of Sallie’s death at Hatcher’s Run, “There is nothing now to mark the spot where she fell, no stone or tablet to her memory.”
But later there would be a marker to her memory, though not a stone or tablet, and not at Hatcher’s Run. Instead it is a bronze statue, part of the regiment’s monument at Gettysburg. The monument’s most prominent feature is the towering figure of a skirmisher who watches across Forney’s fields, face to the enemy, ready to defend. Inscribed on the base is a record of the regiment’s service, listing the battles fought and enumerating the men lost. Though the soldiers are not named, they are numbered there so that none might be forgotten. Other visitors to the battlefield might read it and know of the soldiers’ deeds. For generations since, it has remained a record of their service so that visitors even today learn of their sacrifices.
But what are we to make of the dog? There is no inscription, no name carved on her stone. Like the skirmisher, she faces the adversary across the fields, ever watchful, but she is lying at rest, not alert to fight. Why not mark her name? Why place no tablet attesting to her vigil for her dead and wounded companions? Why not inscribe her history so visitors who read of the soldiers could read of their loyal companion too?
We wonder because we see the monument through the lens of history. But look, for a moment, as with the soldiers’ own eyes. For them, her statue needed no name. The skirmisher would represent their deeds to their countrymen and women for posterity, but Sallie’s statue was a more personal tribute, from the soldiers, and for them alone. She was their dog, and to see her whenever they returned to Gettysburg was to remember her as in life. As though she had never left the side of one who needed her. As though their memory might never dim. And so it never has.