The morale of the rank and file was always elevated by the presence of pets. The soldiers enjoyed playing with the animals and were eager to endow their mascots with larger-than-life attributes. The 12th Wisconsin Volunteers had a tame bear that marched with them all the way to Missouri, and even the lowliest stray dog would become the stuff of regimental legend.

When the volunteer firemen of Niagara, Pennsylvania, enlisted en masse in their state's 102nd Infantry, they brought along a doleful black-and-white bull terrier named Jack, whose subsequent career spanned nearly all the regiment's battles in Virginia and Maryland It was said that he understood bugle calls and obeyed only the men of his regiment, and that after a battle he searched out the wounded and the dead.

According to a tongue-in-cheek account by the regimental historian, Jack was wounded at Malvern Hill. Captured by the enemy at Savage's Station, he managed to escape. His barking was heard above the din of battle at Antietam, and he was wounded again at Fredericksburg. At Salem Church, he was taken prisoner a second time. Six months later, according to the chronicler, he was exchanged for a Confederate soldier at Belle Isle.

Rejoining his unit, Jack went south under General Grant through the bloody campaigns of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania and the siege of Petersburg. Alas he did not witness the final victory at Appomattox: He was last seen on December 23, 1864, at Frederick, Maryland, where his unit was on furlough after participating in the siege of Petersburg. He disappeared forever a few days after his comrades gave him a beautiful silver collar worth $75, apparently the victim of a robber.

Many other dogs won fame for their apocryphal exploits on the battlefield, Major, a lion-hearted mutt who accompanied the 10th Maine - later reorganised as the 29th Maine - was said to demonstrate his mettle by snapping at Confederate Minie balls in flight. Eventually he caught one - at Sabine Crossroads during the Red River Campaign in 1864 - and perished.

Then there was the dog that entered legend at Antietam. During the battle, the beast's owner, Captain Werner Von Bachelle of the 6th Wisconsin, fell mortally wounded. As the story went, the pet stayed at Von Bachelle's side and the next morning was found atop the corpse, shot dead while defending his master.

The most celebrated of all Civil War mascots was the 8th Wisconsin's eagle, Old Abe, who was carried into battle tethered to a perch alongside the regimental colours. During the war, he had no fewer than six bearers, three of whom were shot from under him. When the regiment was mustered out in 1864, Old Abe was sent to the state capital at Madison where he resided until the end of his days in a special cage at the Statehouse. Hundreds of photographs were made of him both during and after the War, and by the time he died in 1881, he had become, for millions, a symbol of American courage and fortitude.

Sgt. Martin Cross, 1st Virginia Artillery

The above article first appeared in the ACWS Newsletter, June 1998