Civil War soldiers endured many hardships during the time they served. Though they couldn’t do much about the long marches and short supplies, many of them did find ways to cope with the loneliness and home-sickness. There are many recorded instances of soldiers bringing pets from home, or adopting pets they found, as a way to provide companionship and to boost their moral. Sometimes an animal would be adopted by the whole regiment as a mascot.
In searching the museum’s collection for examples of pets in the Civil War, I discovered a poem written by Colonel Salome Marsh of the 5th Maryland Infantry. He was so distraught over losing his dog, Sam, that he memorialized him in a poem. It’s a bit long, so I’ll just share the first part of it here. It’s not quite a literary classic, but it does convey Col. Marsh’s feelings for his lost pet.
Epitaph on a Favorite Dog
Poor Sam is dead and gone,
We ne’er shall see him more,
He has left us here to mourn,
Whom we did once adore.
Alas, Thy days are numbered,
True and faithful friend,
The tender ties are severed,
That kept thee to thy end.
When other friends proved false,
Thou wert always true,
Hence, death, hath given cause,
To mourn the loss of you.
Horses and mules were an essential part of the war effort, but many of them became more than just a mode of transportation to their owners. The most famous example is General Robert E. Lee’s horse, Traveller. He became so popular that people would pull hairs from his tails as souvenirs! An officer with the 3rd Louisiana had a pet donkey named Jason. Jason was allowed to sleep in his owner’s tent at night (probably for the added warmth), but he sometimes got the wrong tent and tried to curl up next to the commander instead!
Raccoons and squirrels were often kept as pets too. The 12th Wisconsin and the 104th Pennsylvania both kept raccoons as their mascots. A Union nurse, Clarissa Jones, was given a pet squirrel by her brother, Lane. She named the gray squirrel “Secesh,” which was a nickname at the time for Confederates! She wrote home to Lane about him, “Let me tell you about Secesh—I have put it out to board—the poor little beast seemed so lonely and felt so lean that I feared it pined for its native woods and as I had not the time to notice it thro’ the day I concluded to lend it to Tom Lyman Mr. H’s grandson. I took it there today to exhibit it to the children. Tom brought up a large cage which he made for his own pet of a like race – he offered it to me and knowing his propensity for….such things I loaned it to him till he got tired of it.”
Some farm animals became pets and mascots as well. General Lee kept a chicken in camp as a pet. She reportedly laid an egg under his cot every morning, which he then had for breakfast! The 2nd Rhode Island had a sheep they named Dick. Dick was taught to do tricks to amuse the men. Unfortunately for Dick though, he was later sold to a butcher for five dollars to buy food for the men.
There are accounts of a few more unconventional pets as well.
The 26th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry had a badger for their mascot, probably since Wisconsin is known as the Badger State. The 12th Wisconsin was a bit more unconventional though, and had a bear which accompanied them on their marches!
Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, except where otherwise noted.
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