Having just had to put my 18 year old Siamese cat to sleep today after a long illness of chronic renal failure, I got to thinking about the pets our civil war folks may have left behind when they went off to the war. While much has been written about the horses and mules of the war, little has been recorded — to my knowledge — of their pets, and surely they had them.
For the Southern farm boy who went off to don the gray, the pets were probably of the barnyard variety, with numerous dogs thrown in and most probably a barn cat or two to keep down the mice population. I do not know how many real house pets were to be found in that day. And the Union soldiers, coming from more non-agricultural homes, probably had their share of pets as well. Granted it would in no way equal the number of companion animals our country has today, which numbers something like fifteen million cats and about as many dogs, not to mention ferrets, birds, gerbils, and even the exotics.
We know that Robert E. Lee had a pet squirrel, and a squirrel is found on the Lee coat of arms. There’s a wonderful story about Abraham Lincoln visiting with Grant’s troops on the warfront and discovering a litter of kittens in one of the tents of his officers. It was told that Lincoln picked up the babies and held them on his lap, saying that at least their kitty mother would not have to learn of the death of her babies, and when he left, “advised” the officer in charge to see that they were well taken care of.
I have a very old and yellowed New York times page which tells of Lee’s chicken — a hen that they had picked up somewhere, and which Lee took with him to every site, the men making sure that the hen was kept fed so she would produce the eggs that the General liked for his breakfast, and woe unto he who failed to take care of the little red hen! If you know of more stories of pets in the war, do drop us a note.
Up at Gettysburg, one large statue is of a big dog lying down. The dog statue has become a favorite of children who tour the park, as he lies there still guarding his Union regiment’s land.
As you gather around the table tonight, take a minute to say thanks for the companion animals of the war years as well as the ones today which grace the homes of all of us.
[Farewell, Lady Sheba.]