Dogs figure prominently in Civil War histories in part because they shared in every aspect of army life. From the loneliness of picket duty to the boredom of camp life and the frenzy of battle, dogs were soldiers’ constant companions in good times and bad. No wonder they were seldom forgotten!
Sharing soldier life so closely, dogs often had a part in the men’s pranks, rivalries, and grudges too. Sometimes the dog’s role was involuntary, and so it was for poor Bose of the 4th Vermont regiment.
We might title Bose’s story “A New Jersey Regiment Gets Its Comeuppance.” The editor of The National Tribune (Washington, D.C.), which published it in 1884, titled it “A Sheep that Was not Palatable.”
After the Battle of Antietam, the 4th Vermont and its brigade of fellow Vermonters camped at the Hagerstown, Maryland, fairgrounds. The battle-worn regiments were depleted and so were their supplies of clothing and equipment. Hopes were briefly buoyed at news they would be joined by a nine-month regiment. Maybe the fresh troops would also be Green Mountain men! Instead, the 1,000 new recruits were a splendidly-outfitted New Jersey regiment.
“They were a fine-looking body of men, and their State had fitted them out with everything necessary (and some things unnecessary) for a soldier’s outfit,” recalled Charles S. Brooks of the 4th VT. “Their tents, overcoats blankets and knapsacks (the last a luxury not owned or longed for by the old brigade)—everything new; and their cooking arrangements!—well, to us, whose entire establishment consisted of a half-canteen on the end of a split stick—seemed to rival Delmonicos. However, the boys soon fraternized.”
Their fellowship didn’t last long.
“The Jersey boys had gone into camp a short distance from the rest of the brigade, and their clean, white tents formed a strong contrast to our old weather-beaten ones…but when the reveilie sounded the next morning, what a change! The Jersey boys came out to roll-call in shreds and patches, barefooted and coatless. Our boys had put in a requisition for their effects, and the requisition had been filled. The atmosphere was ‘blue’ with Jersey oaths, and their Colonel was the maddest of a thousand men.”
At the angry colonel’s request, the Vermonters’ commander ordered a parade for inspection “for the purpose of ascertaining what had become of the property of the New Jersey regiment.”
“The inspection was held, and Falstaff’s ragged army could not have looked any worse than did the old brigade—not a single new article of clothing or equipment appeared, and the inspection proved (to the satisfaction of the old brigade and the commander, at least) that the Vermont boys were innocent of the charge that had been made against them. The Jersey men were discomfited, and said little, but they were evidently thinking much. In a few days the excitement was over. The boys fraternized like old soldiers, and the whole affair was forgotten, or, if mentioned at all, was only considered as a good joke. The Jerseymen wore their ‘odds and ends’ contentedly, and never even cast a longing eye toward the new clothes which the Vermont boys had unaccountably become possessed of.”
That goodwill soon passed too.
“[G]radually suspicions were aroused among the boys that the Jerseymen were light-fingered, and the suspicion soon deepened to a certainty. Everything disappeared. If a Vermonter was washing his own shirt at the brook and lay down on his blanket for a nap while drying it on the bushes, when he opened his eyes his shirt was sure to be gone; and did he step six feet from his blanket, thinking perhaps his shirt had blown to the ground, he was out a blanket, too. Canteens, haversacks, camp kettles—everything portable seemed to take wings and fly; but the greatest trouble was with the cook house. Rations disappeared like magic, and nothing was safe unless kept under guard.”
Efforts to catch the thieves were unsuccessful and soon, Brooks wrote, the Jerseymen “were again in full feather” after having “stolen us poor.”
“At last forbearance ceased to be a virtue, and a ‘council of war’ was held, at which it was voted that ‘Bose’ must be sacrificed. ‘Bose’ was a large Newfoundland dog, the pet of Co. B, but of late had not looked in first-class order. The heat of the previous Summer had caused the loss of nearly all his hair, giving him a mangy appearance. With much secrecy a committee of three was appointed to take ‘Bose’ outside the grounds, kill and dress him off like a sheep. This was done, and the carcass hung up in Co. B’s cook house. The executioners returned to their quarters with the proud consciousness that the Vermonters would soon be even with Jersey.
“Nor were they mistaken. After taps had sounded and everything was quiet, a bright light was seen over in the Jersey camp, and a number of Co. B boys sauntered over. The Jerseymen were all busily engaged around their camp-fires, each man with his fryingpan or half-canteen. The salutation, ‘Halloo! Mutton! Got any to spare?’ was met by the reply: ‘No, we’ve only got one sheep, and that don’t go a great way with a whole company. It aint very good any way; but it’s a change from army beef and salt horse, you know.’ No more was said on the mutton question, but the Vermonters watched the burial of poor ‘Bose’ with as much complacency as could be expected under the circumstances, and listened to remarks such as, ‘Ram, lamb, sheep, mutton;’ ‘the old ram that went into the ark with Noah,’ until the supply was about exhausted, when one of the boys informed the Jerseymen that they had played a trick on Buck (General) Neill’s New Yorkers that night which would teach them to keep out of their cook house, for a while at least. The Jerseymen asked how it had been done. ‘Well,’ said Tom, ‘you all know ‘Bose;’ he was a nice dog, and we thought heaps of him, but he lost nearly all his hair, and what little he had left got full of fleas; so we thought we would stop Neill’s fellers from coming over to our cook house every night and ‘swooping’ our rations by killing ‘Bose’ and hanging him up in the cook house for a sheep, and we did it to-night and—” But Tom never finished his explanation of how we had played it on the 49th N.Y., for with one yell the Jerseymen broke for the bush and commenced casting up accounts.
“The – New Jersey served their time with the brigade, made splendid soldiers and did their whole duty, but from that night to mention ‘Bose’ to a Jerseyman was like waving a red flag at a bull. – Chas. S. Brooks, 4th Vt., New York.”