Best Defense

Rebecca’s War Dog of the Week: Portrait of a Confederate Soldier and His Dog

Though we know it is a photo from the Civil War, no other date is assigned to it.

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Best Defense is in summer re-runs. This item originally appeared on October 10, 2014.

By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent

The Library of Congress has an expansive and truly mesmerizing collection of online archives — most captivating, I find, are the photographs. I came across this photo titled: “Unidentified soldier in Confederate uniform with shotgun sitting next to dog.”

Though we know it is a photo from the Civil War, no other date is assigned to it. The both look a little weary — either from battle or from the tedium of having to sit for the long business that was taking a photograph in the mid-1860s we’ll never know. But though there isn’t any descriptive information about the young man or the dog beside him — who they are or where they’re from, or even if the dog belonged to him — we can be certain of two things: This young man is proud of being a soldier and of his dog, who by virtue of simply being in the photo, is important.

Earlier this week, Tom sent me a link to a poem by Benjamin Busch, called “Dog Trail.” It is a beautiful, haunting ode, in which the narrator pays homage to his Labrador, a black dog “the color of crows,” remembering how he bayed at the moon and how, in the mind of the speaker, the dog was just protecting his own.

“Defend the house.  
Defend the house.  
Be fearless and savage.  
Stop at nothing but the top of the earth.  
And to the moon:  
You are too close to what is mine.”  

And then, in the final stanzas, these lines capture it all — the quality that transcends — portrait dog, military dog, house dog.

“Good dog.   
All he needed to hear for a lifetime of soldiering.”

Good poem.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. @tomricks1

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