- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
In between headlines on Gen. William Starke Rosecrans and cartoons depicting attempts to evade the draft, the Nov. 8, 1862 edition of Harper’s Weekly featured a rousing profile in patriotism on an emerging Civil War hero — Union Jack. Though this soldier was of the “brute creation,” he exhibited “far more courage, devotion, trust-worthiness … than many a shoulder-strapped and gold-bedizened animal now walking upon two legs.”
Jack’s story makes for quite a war-dog yarn. It seems that before fighting for the North, Jack, a “young dog of the mastiff breed, of medium size and jetty blackness, except a white breast and a dash of white on each of his four paws,” belonged to a rebel jailer in Front Royal, VA. As the loquacious reporter for Harper’s Weekly tells it, Jack took a liking to the men of the First Maryland regiment while they were there on provost guard duty, and left behind his Confederate beginnings to accompany the Union soldiers to the battlefield. And it was there that he displayed his valor and loyalty.
On the road, when our parched men were fainting from thirst, he would always run forward, and whenever he discovered a pool of water would rush back, barking loudly, to tell them of it. When … our poor fellows were literally dying from starvation, this noble animal has been known to go and catch chickens for them and to bring them in his mouth! or he would waylay every rebel horse or wagon passing with food, and bark imploringly for them to bring relief. On one occasion, when a sick and exhausted Union soldier had been left behind, Jack staid with him for several hours until a wagon took him up.
The puppy, as he’s often called in the piece, was not afraid of battle and remained on the front lines with his men through shelling and gun fire. Jack was also known to shepherd the soldiers along through roll calls running “about in the greatest excitement, as if to call his friends together, and then, placing himself alongside of the drummer, would put up his nose and commence a long howl.”
A gentle-mannered dog, Jack was still considered a lion by the soldiers who “claimed him as their own.” Such the staunch loyalist was he, that Jack never so much as flirted with his rebel roots again. Indeed, his “disgust and hatred” for Confederate soldiers was evident:
No kindness, no attempt at caressing could get the ‘gray-coats’ to win him over or even induce him to take food from them; but he growled and snapped at them upon all occasions, until many threatened to shoot him.”
This profile of Jack was clearly placed to boost morale in the North during a time when the Civil War — a war in which two percent of the U.S. population would eventually be lost — was going full throttle. But there’s little doubt that this war-dog was worthy of the commendation he received in this article. When this story was published the men in his regiment were already planning to bring him back to Baltimore where they would honor him with “a splendid collar made expressly for their favorite.”