Loyal dogs populated both armies in the Civil War. For every Union
dog, there was a Confederate dog taking part in the battles.
Like wars before it, the Civil War had no organized canine corps. (The first canine corps for the U.S. did not come about until World War II.) But if men were going to war, so were lots of dogs. Some were pets the men brought from home; others were stray pups that joined a regiment along the way. All were happy to fight for which ever cause their newly-made friends were fighting for.
Dogs Were Helpful in Many Ways
Dogs were highly useful for morale. When soldiers were at rest, there was nothing better than a wagging tail, a wiggling body, and an eager pink tongue offering kisses.
Dogs were also expert at finding water sources for troops. Officers leading men into unknown territory had only primitive maps, and water, of course, was a vital commodity. Both soldiers and their horses needed regular water breaks. Even when a regiment was marching near a river, a dog who could show routes down a steep embankment was worth more than the morsels of food the men were feeding him.
And in a day when provisions were slow to arrive and often difficult to come by, some dogs were reportedly good at finding food for more than just themselves. Chickens were relatively easy prey to kill and bring back. Other dogs were skilled at pulling food off loaded wagons that happened nearby. And if the men had time to hunt for their own dinners, there were few better assistants than dogs.
Stories of loyal dogs involve those who stayed by their wounded masters, and some who remained by a body even though the master was gone. (One widow located her husband’s remains because the family dog, who had accompanied him to war, remained near the shallow grave where the man had been hastily buried.)
But for the most part, dogs of the Civil War were just nice to have around.
Confederate Dog, Sawbuck
Sawbuck was a dog who traveled with the Confederacy. Unlike many of the men and some of his four-legged counterparts, he made it through the entire war and was able to go home.
Sawbuck’s master (there is no record of the man’s name) was part of
the Louisiana Brigade led by LeRoy Augustus Stafford.
Stafford had been the sheriff of Rapides Parish, Louisiana. In 1846, he joined the military to fight in the Mexican-American War. By 1860-61 regional tensions grew but, Stafford voted against southern secession.
When the matter was decided differently from what Stafford might have liked, he knew he couldn’t let his neighbors down. He used his expertise from the earlier war to form “Stafford’s Guards,” using local men who volunteered. Sawbuck’s master and Sawbucks must have been among those who joined the company.
On June 4, 1861, Stafford and his men left Louisiana to meet up with the Army of Northern Virginia.
Sawbuck Goes to War
Sawbuck was described as a medium-sized bird dog with black and white spots.
During a battle, Sawbuck was known to race up and back along the front lines, barking at the enemy. He was at Gettysburg where Stafford’s men succeeded in taking Cemetery Hill, holding the position during the twilight of July 2 before being forced to retreat.
At some point during the war, Sawbuck was shot in the right foreleg. He recovered, and after that, the men encouraged him to remain behind the lines where he continued to cheer them on.
In the chaos of war, one of the challenges faced by both men and dogs was not knowing what came next. If you were injured or separated from your regiment during a battle, where were you supposed to go?
In Sawbuck’s case, he knew what to do. John O. Casler, a Confederate who wrote Four Years in the Stonewall Brigade, wrote a letter to the Confederate Veteran magazine, to report that Sawbuck survived the war. His letter told how the dog stayed with his company:
Sawbuck knew every man in his brigade. If a battle ended and Sawbuck was separated from his group, he waited at the side of the road as Confederate soldiers marched by. When he saw one of his men, he dashed over to the fellow, bounding and kissing in excitement. Then man and dog joined together to go off to find their unit, no longer alone anymore.