The Mighty Newfoundland Dog

10th Mass Infantry w Dog

Captain Frederick Barton and the NCOs of Co. E, 10th Massachusetts Infantry, with their Newfoundland dog. Taken at Camp Brightwood, Washington, DC, in August 1861 (Massachusetts MOLLUS Collection at the Army Military History Institute)

Bulldogs, terriers, spaniels and mixed-breed dogs of all kinds accompanied soldiers during the Civil War. One of the breeds most frequently mentioned in regimental histories and soldiers’ memoirs is the Newfoundland dog, who appears time and again as a mascot or an individual soldier’s pet.

Among the best-known Civil War Newfoundlanders is the dog of Captain Werner von Bachelle of the 6th Wisconsin Infantry, who died with his master at Antietam, and, legend has it, may even be buried with him in the national cemetery there. Lesser-known Newfoundland dogs are remembered in many anecdotes like this one, where the dog’s talent for swimming made him a helpful go-between for pickets trading their goods:

Native to the Canadian maritime province that gave them their name, Newfoundland dogs were valuable for their strength as draft animals and as indefatigable swimmers. European explorers became familiar with the dogs in the late 17th century, and some 100 years later, large numbers of the dogs were being exported to England and other European countries. English breeders developed the dog that eventually became the modern Newfoundland. By the time of the American Civil War, the dogs were prized by fishermen and sailors for their exceptional skill at rescuing drowning people.

He is saved (antique print)

A popular print

At least once, the Newfoundland’s work as a seaside lifesaver has been celebrated in song. Following are the lyrics to “The Newfoundland Dog,” by F.W.N. Bailey, Esq., with music by Henry Russell, published in 1875.

The Newfoundland Dog (song)

The sheet music is available here at the Library of Congress:

Life saver,
Wave stemmer!
Deep diver!
Night’s shadows are closing
The portals of the day;
On the breast of the billows
We hear his low wail,
We have put up the rudder and furl’d up the sail.
No signal from Heaven will show where he be;
And where e’er he be driven,
We men cannot see.
Ho! Carlo! Newfoundland! Go follow his cry,
As it gaspingly answers
The sea moaners sigh;
The boat shall be lowered,
The men shall belay,
Life saver!
Wave stemmer!
Deep diver, away!
Away! Fetch him out:
Fetch him out! Seize him! Ho!
Mount the wave dog!
Mount the wave dog!
Ha! Down down below!
Hark! Watch! Bear a hand –
Bring a light
Not a sound
Bring a light.
Hark! There’s a moan!
Yes…the waves moaning over the drown’d.
God’s spirit preserve him,
Amen and amen!
Hist! A flash and a motion
Ha! Carlo, Ha! Carlo again!
Good dog then, good dog, then
Bear a hand, then pull tight
A boat hook, a boat hook,
He’s in and all’s right;
Come, Carlo, quick, follow,
Fine fellow, hard strife,
Wave stemmer! Deep diver!
We owe you a life.

We haven’t seen an account yet of a Newfoundland saving his Civil War soldier from drowning, but if such an event actually was recorded we look forward to its discovery. For now, we share this heroic effort by a Newfoundland dog at Fredericksburg:

“After the battle of Fredericksburg, it fell to my duty to search a given district for any dead or wounded soldiers there might be left, and to bring relief. Near an old brick dwelling I discovered a soldier in gray who seemed to be dead. Lying by his side was a noble dog, with his head flat upon his master’s neck. As I approached, the dog raised his eyes to me good-naturedly, and began wagging his tail; but he did not  change his position. The fact that the animal did not growl, that he did not move, but, more than all, the intelligent, joyful expression of his face, convinced me that the man was only wounded, which proved to be the case. A bullet had pierced his throat, and faint from the loss of blood, he had fallen down where he lay. His dog had actually stopped the bleeding from the wound by laying his head across it! Whether this was  casual or not, I cannot say. But the shaggy coat of the faithful creature was completely matted with his master’s blood.”

~By an anonymous author, this account appeared in the March 1871 edition of “Merry’s Museum,” a magazine for children.

With the balladeer, we say “Good dog then!”

About LoyaltyOfDogs

Our unique souvenirs and gifts honor the faithful dogs of the American Civil War to support animal rescue. Our donation total to date: $4,871. (updated 1/6/23). We also offer Vintage Dog gifts and souvenirs from decades--or centuries--past! Their sales, like sales of our Civil War dog items, also support animals in shelters and rescues. Learn more at
This entry was posted in 10th Massachusetts, Dogs KIA, Newfoundland dogs. Bookmark the permalink.

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