Civil War Women Meet the Dogs of War

HQ Army of Potomac Post Office-Falmouth, VA-Though relatively few women fought in the American Civil War—and nearly all did so while disguised as men—women served in many other important roles. The nurses are among those best known and most honored. Vivandieres traveled with the armies, often working as laundresses and cooks, providing indispensable assistance. On the home front, women made and collected clothing, food, bandages, and other items they would send to soldiers for their comfort and support. Still others worked in factories that produced materials to directly provide for the war effort. Wives of officers visited their husbands in camp when opportunities arose.  And always, the letters that soldiers received from their wives or sweethearts, mothers, and sisters, helped to raise their morale and lessen the strain and loneliness of campaigning.

Women who traveled with the armies, visited their loved ones in camp, or nursed the wounded must have come into frequent contact with soldiers’ dogs. To date, we’ve encountered only one dog appearing in a nurse’s memoir. That dog’s devotion to his soldiers made a lasting impression. Sophronia Bucklin wrote with admiration of his faithful service as a hospital assistant and his unflagging desire to join his soldiers in battle.

“He was a noble-looking fellow, of the Newfoundland species, and was possessed of a remarkable intelligence. His master had been detailed to work in the cook house, whence he would carry a basket of meat as faithfully as a man and with astonishing quickness and fidelity. He seemed to prefer the active service to a hospital life, and he again and again ran away to the front, and joined the regiment, in which he seemed to be as well drilled as any of the soldiers. He enjoyed the crack of the rifle, and the boom of the cannon, and had been thus far through the war without receiving injury.”

~From “In Hospital and Camp: A Woman’s Record of Thrilling Incidents Among the Wounded in the Late War,” 1869

It’s likely that other women also appreciated the moral support that the dogs’ companionship provided to the soldiers. Also likely: Some dogs didn’t welcome women in camp. Sallie Ann Jarrett, the famous mascot of the 11th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, was said to dislike women. Neither the regiment’s histories nor the memoir about Sallie written by the unit’s commanding officer specify how the soldiers learned of this quirk of her personality. But, as our friends will recall, this is the same dog who once tore the seat out of the pants of a conscript who fled during battle. Maybe it’s better not to know.

Dogs might appear only rarely and fleetingly in women’s written reminiscences of the war, but from time to time dogs and female visitors happened to be included in photographs together. Here are our favorites.

31st PA Soldier and family w pup

From the Library of Congress (LOC):

31st PA boy w pup

A scene from the camp of the 31st Pennsylvania Infantry. Dogs are family: When the whole family comes along to support a soldier in camp, the dog is included.







Among all the people in this picture taken at the Army of the Potomac headquarters post office at Falmouth, Virginia, the dog is looking to the woman. Maybe he was her dog.

close-up Woman and Post Office dog

Could her wry smile be the result of an unsuccessful attempt to have him turn his better side toward the camera?












close-up - Officer's wife w soldiers and dog at Brandy Station

It’s said that every picture tells a story, and this one, taken at the headquarters of the 1st Brigade, Horse Artillery, encampment at Brandy Station, is intriguing. What is behind the woman’s dour expression? At first glance, the scene suggests she is unhappy because her husband is sitting with his dog instead of with her. Assuming, of course, that he’s her husband. But the hat that she holds in her lap and her posture, leaning to the extreme outer edge of her chair, offer a different clue. One astute observer said maybe the photographer asked her to remove her hat and move aside so his camera could capture the decorative braid on the sleeve of the officer standing behind her. That might pique any well-dressed woman’s ire.

close-up - Woman and officer w braid on jacket
Still, it is pretty braid.










It’s heartwarming to see that General Rufus Ingalls thought highly enough of his Dalmatian to include him in a prominent spot when this group of staff and family members was photographed at City Point, Virginia.

close-up Ingalls's dog w group

Even more heartwarming is the reaction of two young ladies in the group. One young woman cradles the sleeping dog’s head in her lap, while a little girl, just a toddler, reaches behind her to pat the dog’s back. A lovely scene, and a study in canine bliss.

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