As I learn more about the Civil War, I come to find some interesting stories regarding animals. Of course, the first that comes to mind are horses. Officers and generals rode them into battle, they were used to pull the cannons and limber chests, and there’s the cavalry. Then there’s the mules and donkeys who were used for general labor and hauling jobs.
But past the obvious stories about Traveler or Little Sorrel are the regimental mascots. I’ve heard of just about everything from raccoons (like with the 12th Wisconsin and the 104th Pennsylvania) to camels (Douglas, who belonged with the 43rd Mississippi) to bears (12th Wisconsin Volunteers) to sheep (Dick with the 3rd Rhode Island who was later sold and butchered). Most common among the mascots, however, were dogs. That’s not too surprising, given that dogs are “a man’s best friend” and strays or household pets would commonly hang around the campfires to glean scraps from the soldiers.
One dog has a tie to the Chancellorsville and Fredericksburg battlefield in a unique way.
The story begins before the Civil War at the Niagara Volunteer Firefighting Company on Penn Avenue in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. A stray bull terrier was seen hanging around the firehouse. For the most part, he was ignored or abused, as was commonly done to strays or mutts looking for a handout. The men of the volunteer company grew to respect the dog after he won a fight with a larger dog near the station. He was given the name “Jack” and tagged along on all the emergency calls.
When the call for volunteers rang out across the Union, many men from the firehouse signed up with Company F of the 102nd Pennsylvania Volunteers. Naturally, when it was time to ship out, they took Jack with them. The regiment’s first assignment was to protect Washington DC, which they did between August 1861 and March of 1862. Jack was there for every drill and learned what the different bugle calls meant. When hostilities between the North and South escalated in the summer of 1862 with the Peninsula Campaign, the 102nd PA was attached to the IV Corps under Brigadier General Darius Couch.
Jack and his fellow soldiers saw action at Yorktown and Williamsburg as they moved their way inland toward Richmond. It was said that Jack would stand at the end of the firing lines for his regiment and bark at the greycoats during combat. When the fighting was over, he would put his trusty nose to work and sniff out the wounded amongst the dying so they could be retrieved by the ambulances. Jack gave comfort to those in the field hospitals, doing a great deal for the morale of the men. When he wasn’t in battle, they said he would sniff out fresh water and even hunt small game to bring back to camp.
No soldier, or dog, can escape the dangers of war. During the fierce fighting at Malvern Hill during the Seven Days Battle, Jack took a minie ball through the neck and shoulder. The doctors and medics took good care of him and helped him to recover from his wounds. The regiment also lost 10 men killed and 37 wounded during 12 hours of being under fire.
After the Seven Days, the 102nd PA was given a reprieve from combat. At Chantilly, they supported artillery but were not engaged. In September of 1862, they missed the battle at Antietam, being in Pleasant Valley and not arriving to the field until the day after the fighting stopped. In the battle of Fredericksburg, on the 13th of December, the corps was for the most part held in reserve near the banks of the river, and consequently the 102nd was not called into action beyond being under artillery fire.
The regiment (and Jack) would see action again during the Chancellorsville Campaign around Fredericksburg. In what is commonly considered the Second Battle of Fredericksburg, the 102nd Pennsylvania, along with the 62nd New York, were sent up to Marye’s Heights, the sight of some horrific slaughter the previous December, to feel out the position. The Confederates entrenched along the heights fired down upon them and the regiment fell back to a safe slope. I can imagine Jack laying low with them, waiting for their chance to charge. When the heights were finally taken, the Union troops moved forward to pursue them. They came to the reformed line of graycoats around Salem Church.
Below is an assessment of the 102nd PA’s engagement at Salem Church according to Ranger95
“As Wheaton came up, he was ordered by General Newton to take two regiments and go to the support of the troops engaged on the right of the road. The One Hundred and Second, under command of Major Browre, and a Rhode Island regiment were selected. Crossing a ravine just beyond the Morris House, he soon reached the ridge beyond, where he came suddenly under a terrific fire of musketry from a hidden foe. For an hour and a half the position was held and until the ammunition became nearly exhausted, when the troops upon his left gave way, giving free course to the enemy, who came pouring down the ravine which had just been crossed. A new line was accordingly formed, on which the troops were rallied as they came back, and the well directed fire of these two regiments checked his fiery charge, and caused him to recoil. Night coming on, the sound of battle gradually died away, but the enemy was still active and began to push by upon the left flank of the corps. The action opened early on the following morning, but only desultory fighting occurred, and at evening the brigade re-crossed the river, at Banks’ Ford. The loss in the One Hundred and Second in this battle was twelve killed, fifty-five wounded, and one hundred missing. The regiment retired to a camp four or five miles north of Falmouth, where it remained until the 8th of June.”
During the retreat, Jack was captured by the Confederates along with 94 other men of his regiment. This wasn’t new for the dog who had been caught once before and escaped within six hours to return to his regiment. This time, he would be detained and held as a prisoner of war for six months. While this might seem comical to us now, to think that a dog would be held as prisoner and then actually exchanged for another Confederate prisoner, Jack’s presence at Salem Church did much for those boys in blue who were captured along with him.
As I said, Jack was exchanged and returned to his regiment six months later. In August 1864, the men of the regiment raised $75 and bought a silver collar and medal for Jack while in Pittsburgh on veteran furlough. Regrettably, it would be one of the last honors the soldiers could pay to their loyal mascot. On December 23rd, 1864, while the regiment was away on furlough, Jack disappeared near Frederick Maryland. No one ever saw Jack again and a variety of theories emerged. One was that a Confederate soldier killed the dog to get his silver collar. Part of me wondered if Jack wandered off on his own, as dogs sometimes will do, to die alone.
Whatever happened to Jack, the dog was immortalized in the memories of the soldiers who fought to preserve the Union. The 102nd PA saw action at horrendous battles in 1863 and 1864 such as Gettysburg, Wilderness, Cold Harbor, and Third Winchester in the Shenandoah. Jack served valiantly at all of them, fighting and barking alongside his fellow veterans.
Here’s a short video about Jack of the 102nd PA and other dogs in the Civil War