By Mike Crump
Amidst the thundering cannons and marching battalions of the American Civil War, a different kind of soldier joined the ranks – one with fur, feathers, and a spirit as resilient as any human. Picture bears ambling through Missouri, eagles soaring alongside Wisconsin regiments, and even a hen laying eggs for General Robert E. Lee.
In this lesser-known chapter of history, we unveil the tales of these unlikely heroes, the animal mascots that stood side by side with their human counterparts in the crucible of conflict, and while “Lions, tigers, and bears, oh my” is a famous quote from the movie The Wizard of Oz, the Civil War introduced a new roster so we can rephrase that as “bears, camels, bald eagles, and chickens, oh my.”
The 12th Wisconsin Volunteers, for instance, had a tame bear that remarkably followed the regiment all the way to Missouri. Such unusual choices brought a unique charm to the war front.
State identity played a role in mascot choices, evident in the 26th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry adopting a badger, emblematic of Wisconsin, as their mascot.
The 104th Pennsylvania and the 12th Wisconsin shared an affinity for raccoons. Notably, the 8th Wisconsin Volunteers, Company C, claimed one of the most famous mascots, an eagle named "Old Abe," honoring President Abraham Lincoln.
Confederate Critters: General Lee’s Hen and Old Douglas the Camel
General Robert E. Lee, known for his military prowess, also had a hen as a companion. Lost during the Battle of Gettysburg, the hen was miraculously found unharmed after an extensive search.
Meanwhile, the 43rd Mississippi Infantry, Company C, had a dromedary camel named Old Douglas, though his story met a tragic end at the Battle of Vicksburg.
Furry Companions: Dogs and Their Enduring Legacy
Dogs emerged as the most common pets for officers and soldiers on both sides of the conflict. Beyond providing companionship, these loyal canines played a vital role in boosting military morale. Some gained post-war celebrity status, with regimental dogs even immortalized in monument alongside their units, or their stories being told in news articles written by hometown newspapers.
In the annals of Civil War history, where battles and leaders often take center stage, the unsung heroes with fur, feathers, and scales deserve recognition. Animal mascots, whether symbolizing state pride or offering solace in the form of loyal companionship, made significant contributions to the troops. As we delve into the past let us not forget the tales of these unique creatures, forever etched in the memory of a nation divided.
- Full Measure of Devotion – Animals of the Civil War. Written by Alexandra E. Stern
- Animal Mascots of the Civil War. Alexandriava.gov/calendar