For every Sallie Ann Jarrett, Harvey, and Dog Jack—who have become canine folk heroes of the Civil War thanks to their prominent stories in soldiers’ reminiscences—there are countless other dogs who are all but lost to history. From time to time we find them in soldiers’ diaries, letters, or memoirs shared long after the war. Sometimes these are references to brief encounters by soldiers who did not know the dogs’ names or masters, or perhaps have forgotten those details over the years. But the dogs themselves were not forgotten.
Here are just a few. We hope to add more of these dogs as we continue to meet them.
An officer of the 52nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry recalled that soldiers had many different pets throughout the war, “But chief among camp pets were dogs. On the saddles, in the baggage wagons, growling under a cannon, yellow at that, and pug nosed, with old names, such as “Tray” and “Towser,” “Blanche” and “Caesar.” A dog, like a horse, came to like the rattle and crash of musketry and cannon. There was one in an Illinois regiment that would chase a half spent shot at Kenesaw, like a kitten would play with a ball. He had been twice wounded, and left the tip of his tail at Stone River…”
~ From “Dan. McCook’s regiment, 52nd O. V. I.,” By Rev. Nixon B. Stewart, published 1900
Old Man Johnson’s dog was a patriot, as two soldiers of the First Massachusetts Heavy Artillery learned after making their escape from a Confederate prison. While on the run, Patrick H. O’Donnell and William V. Banty came to the farm of the elderly Mr. and Mrs. Johnson and their five children. One son was away serving in the Union Army; another son fought for the South. The farm had lost much of its livestock and crops to Confederate troops in the area, and at times food was scarce. Mr. Johnson had taken to hiding out in a nearby cave for fear of being conscripted. “The old man had a dog so that if he was called a Rebel he would growl and bark, and if not called a good Union dog afterward would bite his tormentor,” the soldiers recalled.
~ From “History of the First regiment of heavy artillery, Massachusetts volunteers, formerly the Fourteenth regiment of infantry, 1861-1865,” by Alfred S. (Seelye) Roe, 1917
In an April 1863 letter Frederick Tomlinson Peet, a 2nd lieutenant in the US Marine Corps, wrote to his father about his young spaniels, who were affectionate companions on dry land, but unlikely to have a future career as sea dogs: “I am having a very pleasant time. My dogs are well and growing….At present I am the owner of three spaniels—valued (by me,) at $25 each. When they are full grown and trained they will be worth $50 each. I go to sleep sometimes with all three of them on me. Lt Wallace stretched himself out on three chairs one day and dropped to sleep, when he awoke he found two dogs on his chest and one under his chair. I took them on the Potomac Friday and two of them became sea sick.”
~From “Civil war letters and documents of Frederick Tomlinson Peet,” 1917
About our illustration: If anyone met such a dog sailing down the river on a raft, he’d certainly be remembered! This dog, though, is a fictional illustration from the 1909 book “Towser Dog’s Story,” by Amy Prentice. You can find it here, in the Library of Congress.