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Man’s best friend went off to war, too

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Harvey the mascot
Make no bones about it, I'm a dog lover! Dogs have been a big part of my life since I was a little girl, and even though some of my canine pals have been more special than others, each and every one has left their own indelible paw prints on my heart.

But my feelings for these four-legged bundles of joy are nothing new.

Dogs have been kept as pets on every continent throughout the world, and their bones have been found near remains of man's civilization for thousands of years. Ever since their domestication in very early times, dogs have been the companions of man nearly as long as there have been men. They have accompanied their masters in sport and play, at work, and off to war.

We honor those we respect and admire by often times naming something in their honor – i.e., towns, roads, bridges and dogs. “Stonewall Jackson,” a little mutt found on a battlefield in Virginia and adopted by Confederate troops, was a good example of this. My two Cairn Terriers are “Morgan” and “Mattie.” And with my first dog, a little Spitz, I chose to share my middle name, but I was only 6 and less creative then.

Although I could find no documented records of the canines of our county accompanying their masters onto the battlefield, there is no doubt that when the brave men of our area went off to war, many of them took their four-legged best friends along, – both for companionship and as a connection to home. They endured the hardships of war along with their masters, and were just as cold, just as hungry, just as thirsty, and just as scared as the men they followed so loyally. They were victims, and casualties, and experienced the horrors and suffering of war as did their human counterparts. Dogs have feelings, too! They suffered and bled and died on the battlefield -- but they knew not why.

Although there were official records kept as to the number of casualties of horses, over 1,000,000 of them!, there is no known record of canine casualties during this time. There is numerous mention of dogs in soldiers diaries and letters, and many are included along with soldiers in Civil War photographs, but few appear in any official war records and reports. Luckily, some of these heoric deeds of dogs were noted and have survived the ages as legends and folklore.

Like the men and women of that most difficult time in our nation's history, dogs served in various ways and went far beyond their normal boundaries as pets and companions. Here are some of their stories, and as these extraordinary doggies accompanied their soldier buddies from one battlefield to another, it is altogether possible that perhaps one or more of them might have “walked the walk” at Stones River. And it is also possible that there are other stories yet untold, lost to history and time that are just as noteworthy as these.


It took a very courageous man, woman or dog to undertake the very dangerous job of spying! Getting information behind enemy lines could result in death, or a fate equally as bad. One brave pair who defied the odds in supplying valuable information to the Confederates was a lady known only as “Mrs. M” and her “fat little dog.”

Gen. Pierre Gustave T. Beauregard, CSA, had been eagerly and anxiously awaiting information regarding Union troop movements and positions. When the beautiful “Mrs. M.” arrived, she was warmly greeted. As was her pet dog, following closely behind, which Beauregard stooped down and petted affectionately. The dog's fur was coarse and springy, and the fat little dog wagged its tail in gratitude at the General's touch.

“Mrs. M.” said to the General, “I have the report with me but it was hard to get it through Union lines. Once I was stopped and they searched me thoroughly.” The general knew the feisty “Mrs. M.” would not readily submit to having her person or belongings searched, but she was obviously quite pleased with the success of her mission. She then asked the general to borrow his knife and Beauregard watched in horrified disbelief when she bent over her little pet and plunged the knife into the dog's side. But the dog was still wagging its tail, gazing with love into its mistress' face as “Mrs. M.” sawed away at the fake fur skin she had sewn around the dog's middle. “Mrs. M.” handed Gen. Beauregard the report ingeniously hidden underneath the dog's second coat of fur. “I'm not the only spy with a thick hide, General,” said the clever “Mrs. M.”


Confederate guns east of Gettysburg opened fire against the Union enemy on Culp's Hill. When the smoke cleared, the Union soldiers could see that their return fire had repulsed the Confederates, who had retired out of range. There were many Rebel dead and wounded scattered along the hillside, among them a small dog thought to be the mascot of the 1st Maryland. He was limping among them on three legs as though looking for his master or perhaps seeking an explanation for the tragedy he had just witnessed. Union Brigadier General Thomas Kane wrote of the scene: “He licked someone's hand after being perfectly riddled with bullets. Regarding him as the only Christian-minded being on either side, I ordered him to be honorably buried.”


The 104th Ohio Infantry was known as the “barking dog regiment” because the men had at least three canine mascots. Colonel, Teaser, and Harvey were all veteran soldier dogs in this regiment, but the bull terrier Harvey was a special favorite. Harvey's dog tag was inscribed with the words, “I am Lieutenant D.M. Stearns dog. Whose dog are you?”

According to Marcus S. McLemore, a descendant of a member of the 104th Ohio, Harvey was wounded at least twice, once in Virginia and then again in the Battle of Franklin in November of 1864.

Unlike so many brave Confederate soldiers, Harvey survived and recovered nicely from his wounds.

On the battlefield, Harvey apparently had an ear for music. The men said that the dog swayed from side to side when they sang campfire songs. At one time, Harvey proudly posed with the regimental band.

After the war, the men of the 104th had Harvey's portrait painted for display at reunions and Harvey's image was also incorporated into keepsake buttons.


Mrs. Louis Pfieff, like many other widows of Union soldiers killed in the Battle of Shiloh, had traveled all the way from Chicago to Tennessee to find her dear husband's dead body and take it back home. Travel was hard in 1862, especially for a lady traveling alone, but Mrs. Pfieff was determined that her husband's remains should be returned to his home for reburial.

When she arrived at the battlefield, she searched tirelessly among the markers of the thousands of hastily dug graves of the Union troops who had died during the two days of fierce fighting on April 6 and 7. Casualties numbered 10,000 on each side, she had been told, but she cared about only one – that of Lieutenant Louis Pfieff of the 3rd Illinois Infantry.

At the end of the day, Mrs. Pfieff was about to give up – no one had been able to direct her to the grave of her husband. Discouraged and grief stricken, the tired widow looked up from the burial field and saw a large dog coming toward her. As it approached, Mrs. Pfieff recognized her own dog, the one that her husband had taken with him when he left Illinois. The dog seemed pleased to see her and she knelt and tearfully hugged it, burying her face in its fur. When at last Mrs. Pfieff stood, the dog began to move way from her, looking back at her from time to time, wanting her to follow. The dog led the widow to a distant part of the burial field and stopped before a single unmarked grave that stood apart from the others. Trusting that the dog had led her to her husband, Mrs. Pfieff requested that the grave be opened. Sure enough, the grave contained the remains of Lt. Pfieff.

Later, the widow learned that the dog had been by Pfieff's side when he was shot, and had remained at his master's burial site for 12 days, leaving his post only long enough to get food and drink.


Among the photographs that hang in the Allegheny County Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall in Pittsburgh is a faded image of a black and white dog with a woebegone look that is not at all representative of his battlefield bravery. This feisty bull terrier named Jack became legend in his own time.

Dog Jack raced across battlefields in Virginia and Maryland with his regiment, the Volunteer Firemen of Niagara, Pennsylvania. His comrades claimed that Jack understood bugle calls, and that after a battle he could be counted upon to help search out the dead and wounded of his regiment.

Jack's military career was eventful. According to a regimental historian, Jack was wounded at the battle of Malvern Hill, but recovered and was captured by the Confederates at Savage's Station. Somehow, he escaped. Jack survived the battle of Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862, the bloodiest day of the war, in which over 23,000 were killed, missing or wounded.

Jack's luck appeared to be running out when he was severely wounded at Fredericksburg three months later, but his companions nursed him back to health. Then, at Salem Church, he was taken prisoner by the Confederates for the second time. Six months later, at Belle Isle, Jack was exchanged according to wartime protocol, Yankee prisoner traded for Confederate prisoner.

The spirited terrier rejoined his regiment and stayed with them through the Battle of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania campaigns and the siege of Petersburg. Jack's regiment was so grateful for his service and companionship that they collected enough money to purchase a beautiful silver collar, worth $75, which they ceremoniously presented to their canine friend in tribute to Jack's indomitable spirit and scrappy character.

On the evening of Dec. 23, 1864, Jack disappeared from his regiment, which was on furlough at Frederick, Md. His final disappearance, like his life, is also the stuff of legend, for although the men looked all over for their dog-gone mascot; Jack had simply vanished and was never seen or heard from again.


During the summer of 1862, there was some pretty fierce fighting near and around Richmond, Virginia. During a lull in one such battle, a Confederate artillerist rubbed the smoke out of his eyes and when his vision cleared, he saw a small puppy waddling out of the woods, making its way to the line of cannoneers of the Richmond Howitzer Battalion. The frightened little puppy was white, with black spots mixed in its short hair, and it ran right up to the surprised artillerist, who scooped him up and out of harm's way. The puppy was almost immediately named “Stonewall Jackson” in honor of the beloved commanding general.

Stonewall grew and thrived in the camp with the men of the artillery. He became especially attached to the chief of the gun crew, Sergeant Van, who taught Stonewall the fine points of soldiering. Van taught the dog to stand at attention clenching a little pipe between its teeth. Then, just before roll call, Van took the pipe from the dog's mouth and inserted it between the toes of the dog's forepaw. During roll call, Stonewall dropped his paw to his side and stood straight and stiff at attention, eyes front, until the company was dismissed.

Stonewall, like his namesake, was very brave during battle, dashing about wildly, barking whenever there was a lull in the shooting. But the men worried about the little dog's safety during battle, and quite often when the artillery came under fire, someone would put him in an ammunition box out of danger. Stonewall was never wounded.

Like his namesake, as well, canine Stonewall's reputation for intelligence and bravery spread through the Army of Northern Virginia. He was much loved by the men of both the Richmond Howitzer Battalion and the Louisianans of Brigadier Gen. Harry Hays. When the Louisiana troops were sent to a different theatre of war, they apparently “invited” Stonewall to accompany them. The Richmond artillerists were never reunited with “their” dog, although there were numerous attempts to locate “Stonewall.” However, they were assured that he was in a safe place and survived the war.


Soldiers during the Civil War used a new kind of bullet called the minie ball, a conical shaped projectile with grooves cut into the base that matched grooves cut into the gun barrels. When the minie ball hit something, the conical tip would flatten out, causing a gaping wound, with much damage to the bones and tissue. Amputation was the common medical operation for a bullet wound in any limb during that time, as in no other war before or since.

Most of the Civil War battle injuries, 94 percent in fact, were caused not by shells or canisters, but by bullets, mainly the new minie balls. They were deadly, as one regimental mutt found out. Major, the mongrel that accompanied the 29th Maine into battle, was said to snap at minie balls in flight as some dogs snap at flies. The game was Major's way of “having a ball” the men of his regiment joked, and a few months later, he accompanied the unit when it was sent to Louisiana. Major died when he attempted to “bite the bullet” literally that fateful day at Sabine Cross Roads during the Red River Campaign in 1864.

Finally, the war was over, and those faithful canine companion “soldiers” who survived accepted the fate of their masters, as they rode, walked or limped their way home. Murfreesboro's own good citizen, Mr. John Cedric Spence, noted the mustering out of the Federal soldiers in Murfreesboro in July of 1865. “... About the first of July, a large body of Union soldiers stationed at Murfreesboro, were making a preparation returning home, to be discharged from service. All in great glee at the idea, feeling happy on the occasion. ... A specimen seen at the R.R. Depot leaving ... soldiers loaded down with guns, knapsacks, and blankets. Numbers of them leading dogs, some one, others two, tied together. These are all sizes and appearances ... all going home.”

“Man’s Best Friend” justly deserves this time-originated and well-earned title. Dogs give so much and ask so little in return. As they always have. Human beings could learn a lot from dogs. WOOF!
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