For soldiers on the march during the Civil War, fresh food was often a delicacy that had to be obtained by less than honest means. Yet Confederate General Robert E. Lee was guaranteed one fresh egg every day, but this honor was not due to the fact that Lee was the commanding general of the Confederate Army; rather, it was because Lee had befriended a hen who traveled along with him, gifting him with an egg she laid under his cot every morning. When his pet hen was lost during the Battle of Gettysburg, Lee and the rest of his men were highly distressed until she could be found.
Lee’s pet hen was the rule rather than the exception; many Civil War regiments took animals along as mascots or pets. Dogs, cats, donkeys, even camels, bears, eagles and pelicans traveled along with Union and Confederate armies into the thick of battle, providing companionship, comfort, and entertainment along the way.
Dogs were by far the most popular army mascots during the Civil War. Valued both for the companionship they provided and the fact that most dogs could be trained help their masters’ forage for food, carry supplies, or even search for dead and wounded soldiers when the need arose. Man’s best friend, indeed.
One of the most famous of these dogs was Sallie, the 11th Pennsylvania’s Staffordshire Bull Terrier. Sallie was a puppy when 1st Lieutenant William R. Terry brought her to the regiment, and grew up as the beloved companion of her entire regiment. Sallie marched along with the regiment, right up to the battlefield. At Gettysburg, she stood guard over the dead and wounded. She managed to survive until late in the war, when she was killed by a bullet. Sallie’s name is among those on the monument to the 11th Pennsylvania at Gettysburg.
Another famous dog mascot was Jack, a bull terrier who was the mascot of the 102nd Pennsylvania Infantry. Jack followed his regiment into battles in the Wilderness campaigns, seeking out the dead and wounded after battle. The dog was captured twice; he was considered so valuable that he was once exchanged for a Confederate soldier at Belle Isle. Jack was eventually stolen from his regiment.
While obviously less endearing or useful than dogs, a number of feathered friends – including Lee’s pet hen – followed regiments to war. A rooster named Jake escaped the soup pot to become the beloved mascot of the Confederate 3rd Tennessee regiment, heckling Federal soldiers who captured Fort Donelson. A Louisiana regiment adopted a pelican, a symbol of their home state.
The most renowned bird of the war, however, was Old Abe, an eagle who was the mascot of the Company C of the 8th Wisconsin Volunteers. Named in honor of Abraham Lincoln, Old Abe saw action in over 40 battles and skirmishes, flying over the fighting, screeching at his enemies. Confederates referred to Old Abe as “the Yankee Buzzard,” and attempted repeatedly to capture the eagle. Old Abe soon became known throughout the land, appearing in public and participating in fundraisers. His picture was even sold to raise money for the war effort. After retiring in 1864, he lived in the Wisconsin state capitol building.
Bears were also popular mascots. Both Wisconsin and Minnesota boasted brigades who had bears in their numbers. When Union forces took West Liberty, Kentucky in 1861, their list of captured included 52 horses, 10 mules and “one large bear.”
The 43rd Mississippi Company A became known as “the Camel Company” for their mascot, a camel they named Old Douglas. Old Douglas made himself useful by carrying supplies for the company, and even managed to make friends with the regiment’s horses, but found himself in trouble after he wandered into a wagon train, causing havoc and injury. Old Douglas was killed at Vicksburg.
Other regiments included badgers, squirrels, raccoons, wildcats, and even pigs as mascots.
Animals adopted as mascots during the Civil War enjoyed the attention and devotion of entire regiments, but provided something even more important to the men who claimed them – comfort and joy during a turbulent time.