Animal mascots were a fixture in many Union and Confederate camps during the Civil War. Dogs and horses were the most common mascots, but during the course of the war a virtual Noah's Ark of animals played this role, ranging from cats, domesticated raccoons, and sheep to such exotic good luck charms as a camel (belonging to the 43rd Mississippi Infantry) and a bear (mascot of the 12th Wisconsin Volunteers).
The morale-boosting benefits of keeping an animal mascot around were obvious to even the most dimwitted officer. These animals served as a reminder of pets back home, and playing with and caring for them gave troops a diversion from the tedium of camp and marching. Many mascots became strongly identified with their regiments, and some became legendary.
A number of the most famous and beloved of Civil War mascots were dogs. One such creature was Sallie, a brindle Staffordshire bull terrier that served as regimental mascot for the 11th Pennsylvania Volunteer infantry from the time she was a young pup. She accompanied the regiment at the Battle of Gettysburg but fell to Confederate fire in the war's final weeks, dying at the Battle of Hatcher's Run in Virginia in February 1865. Sallie is memorialized on the 1 1 th Pennsylvania monument at the Gettysburg National Military Park.
Another legendary Union mascot was Jack, a bull terrier mascot of the 102nd Pennsylvania infantry. Jack reportedly accompanied his masters into several major battles, including the Wilderness campaigns and the siege of Petersburg. Some accounts even report that he was captured at one point by enemy soldiers, and that the regiment was so desperate to get him back that they exchanged a Confederate soldier for the dog.
The most famous of Civil War mascots, however, was probably "Old Abe," a bald eagle that served as official mascot for Company C of the 8th Regiment Wisconsin Volunteers. Raised by Chippewa Indians in northern Wisconsin, then sold to a Wisconsin family that gave the bird to the regiment, Old Abe was a regular fixture at recruitment events and parades. The eagle also accompanied the soldiers into battle, tethered to a perch alongside the regimental colors.
Confederate soldiers repeatedly tried to kill this "Yankee buzzard," believing its death would sap the enemy's morale. These attempts failed, but the regiment reluctantly decided that the eagle's days were numbered if it kept bringing the bird onto the battlefield. With this in mind, the members of the 8th Wisconsin retired Old Abe from active duty in September 1864 and presented the eagle to the state of Wisconsin as a gift. Authorities then used lithographic images of the bird to raise money for soldier relief and the Chicago Sanitary Commission. Old Abe lived for another sixteen years after the war ended. Kept in a cage in the state capital, he was a popular attraction for visitors. The eagle finally died in 1881.
"Animal Mascots of the Civil War." Fort Ward Museum Online. http://oha.alexandriava.gov/.
Seguin, Marilyn W. Dogs of War and Stories of Other Beasts of Battle in the Civil War. Brookline Village, MA: Branden Publishing, 1998.