The Faithful Companions of Civil War Soldiers

When Union and Confederate soldiers went off to war, they left their homes, belongings, and loved ones behind in order to defend their beliefs and homelands. In some cases though, they were able to bring some friends along. There are many historical instances where animals joined troops as mascots in order to inspire the troops or to stand as reminders of their homeland. [1]

Dogs were commonly used as mascots during the Civil War. Truly “Man’s Best Friend”, dogs lifted the general mood of the soldiers who were far from home. One famous example is Sallie, the mascot of the 11th PA Volunteer Infantry Regiment, trained in West Chester, Pennsylvania. The men all grew to love her and it was said that “there were only three things she had a distaste for, Rebels, Democrats, and women.” [2] She followed the men into battles and would stay with the bodies of men who had fallen in battle. Sallie herself was shot and killed during the battle of Hatcher’s Run. She held such a special place in her infantry’s heart, that on the monument memorializing the men who died in from that infantry there is a small bronze statue of a dog – Sallie. This gives an insight into value of companionship in the war, and also shows human nature – even after a war where we fought and killed other humans, kindness and innocence was memorialized in this monument of a beloved animal.

[3]

[3]

Having dogs had its advantages, but they were not the most useful animal during the Civil War. Horses were an advantage on the battlefield, giving soldiers speed and height. They also had a bond with their owners. Robert E. Lee and his horse, Traveller, were a team on the battlefield. His troops often remarked at how close Lee was to his horse. Traveller’s colors were shades of grey, making him “a true Confederate.” He blended in with the grey in Lee’s uniform and connected them. [4] This relationship between horse and rider not only gave soldiers’ battlefield companionship, but also an emotional connection with their creatures when riding onto the battlefield.

Apparently, not all animals were welcome during the Civil War. In a more amusing account, President Lincoln wrote a letter to the King of Siam, politely rejecting his offer to send a supply of elephants to help with war efforts. He wrote:

     I appreciate most highly Your Majesty’s tender of good offices in forwarding to this Government a stock from which a supply of elephants might be raised on our own soil. This Government would not hesitate to avail itself of so generous an offer if the object were one which could be made practically useful in the present condition of the United States. . . Our political jurisdiction, however, does not reach a latitude so low as to favor the multiplication of the elephant, and steam on land, as well as on water, has been our best and most efficient agent of transportation in internal commerce. [5]

The letter is amusing and fun to historians now, but also gives an interesting “what if” scenario to think about.

Seeing something as simple as having pets around during war time really puts things into perspective when it comes to the needs and wants of Civil War soldiers. The fact that a dog or a horse could be a major factor in uplifting a large group of men is a reminder that yes, these were soldiers fighting in a war, but they were also humans, missing their homes and their loved ones. The value that the men put on these pets gives insight into human nature and could also reflect toward feelings and emotions that link animals like dogs and horses to broader ideas like patriotism and America.

Works Cited

[1] “Animal Mascots of the Civil War” Fort Ward Museum and Historic Site. http://alexandriava.gov/historic/fortward/default.aspx?id=40198

[2] “Sallie, Mascot of the 11th PA Volunteer Infantry Regiment.” http://www.nycivilwar.us/sallie.html

[3] Ibid

[4] “Robert E. Lee and his Horse Traveller”

http://www.historynet.com/robert-e-lees-horse-traveller.htm

[5] “Lincoln Rejects the King of Siam’s Offer of Elephants.” Civil War Trust. http://www.civilwar.org/education/history/primarysources/lincoln-rejects-the-king-of.html

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8 thoughts on “The Faithful Companions of Civil War Soldiers

  1. mmillsapuca says:

    I have never considered the role of human/animal companionship in the war. Much is made of, and justifiably so, the bond between soldiers that can only forged in the fires of war–the whole “we band of brothers” concept. However, your article shows that the emotional support needed to sustain men in battle could be found in variety of ways. I also think this demonstrates the severe psychological and emotional toll so well known to contemporary culture that war has on those unfortunate enough to endure its trials.

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  2. gkamarunas1 says:

    I never thought of war dogs being a thing in the Civil War. I already knew that the first trained war dogs were used in World War I and is still a common thing in the military. I agree that these animals played a vital role in improving the moral of troops due to the horrible aspects of the war.

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  3. moonsierra says:

    This is a really fascinating subject. I know that in current times, there are several special interest stories about soldiers overseas who form bonds with stray dogs, and even cats, they find, but I had never considered pets and the Civil War. I agree that these animals were an important part of morale among the troops, especially after a particularly devastating battle or years away from family. However, I wonder how much morale was damaged when something would happen to a pet. It might have only added to emotional and psychological stress. I really like how you brought in General Lee and his horse. Horses were obviously an important part of the military, but I had never thought about the bond that would develop between a soldier and his horse. Do we know if Traveller survived the war with General Lee? How common were military pets, like dogs, among troops? Thanks for a really unique post!

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  4. bgoodin1 says:

    As I read the title I said to myself, “seems like they are going to talk about dogs”. Well I now see that I was right. Its very interesting to read this topic, I never knew that they used dogs in this way during the Civil War or any war for that matter. I think it is wonderful, the amount of emotional support that animals can give people is life changing. So I can only imagine these animals changing or even saving peoples lives during the war. They could be the driving force or the little extra boost to keep fighting just a little longer. Very interesting post, creativity is awesome!

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  5. jmccloud1993 says:

    This was such an interesting blog post. We have looked at so many things that played a role during the Civil War, but I never even began to consider that animals had an impact on both Union and Confederate soldiers. I really enjoyed learning about Sallie. Her relationship with the soldiers was very important. She allowed them to reconnect with life outside of the war and take a break from the difficulties of war. The same thing applies to General Lee and his relationship with his horse. For further discussion, were there any other famous pets during the Civil War? Was Sallie intentional shot or accidentally shot? Why did the King of Siam offer elephants? Please let me know. Good post, Terra.

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  6. wreed1 says:

    Good blog post on the animals of the Civil War! I knew horses played an obvious role in the war, but I had no idea about dogs serving as mascots for Union regiments. I’m surprised elephants were offered to the U.S. in order to help the Union emerge victorious, let alone turned down!

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  7. dberry20 says:

    Wow, this was a very interesting post. I never really considered the importance of having animals around. To see how the presence of pets, like dogs, could be uplifting and could boost morale is fascinating. I can understand how that could make you feel somewhat better in a time of war and destruction though. A dog could serve as a reminder of what you’re fighting for, your family. Also to see how important and respected these animals were to these soldiers is amazing. The way in which they honored the dog Sallie just shows how much she meant to the men. How different do you think the war would’ve been without the use of horses? I can imagine that they were crucial to the war for various reasons, especially when it came to going on scouting excursions to gather information and return quickly with what they had learned. Great post!

    Like

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