Civil War soldiers faced the dangers of the battlefield with great valor, but they also had to come to terms with the boredom and loneliness that was part and parcel of army life. To help cope with the stresses of military service, many soldiers adopted pets or mascots that traveled with their owners on the march and in battle. One of the most famous Civil War mascots was “Old Abe,” the eagle mascot of the 8th Wisconsin Infantry, but all manner of creatures served as mascots. Probably the most common mascot was the dog, and they came in a wonderful variety of breeds and sizes. The importance of these canine companions to the soldiers they followed should not be underestimated; the following story, published in the Vicksburg Daily Herald, on July 21, 1864, illustrates this fact:
A DOG ON THE BATTLEFIELD – A TRUE STORY
This dog belonged to one of the companies of the 8th regiment Illinois Volunteers. His early puppyhood was spent at Bird’s Point, Missouri, where, at a very early age he became a very great favorite with the regiment – not on account of his beauty, for he is a homely little fellow – but by reason of the loving and kind disposition manifested toward all into whose society he was permitted to come.
When the regiment, with other Union forces, left Bird’s Point, on their expedition up the Tennessee, this dog Mousel, for that is his name, left with them. Wherever the regiment moved – in pitching or in striking tents, on drill or in preparing meals, on a march or on board transports, from one point to another – Mousel was a constant attendant.
During the siege of Fort Donelson, he seemed very much excited by what was passing around him, and would run from one point to another, apparently in the deepest anxiety, as if to inquire what all the noise meant.
During the nights of Thursday and Friday, when the regiment slept on their arms, amid rain, snow and ice, this little creature could not sleep or be quiet, because those whom he loved were suffering. His sympathetic nature seemed in perfect accord with the feelings which, during that stirring scene, filled every human breast.
On Saturday morning, when the battle was at its fiercest point – a time when grape, canister, shells, Minie balls, and buckshot filled the air with their sharp, quick, hissing, whizzing, fearful sound, and when the ranks on both sides were terribly cut down, our little dog, either frightened by some passing cannon ball, or by the bursting of a stray shell near by, took himself during the day away from the scene. Very late, however, when the firing ceased, Mousel made his appearance in great joy.
Going hastily the rounds of the regiment to see if all was well, he came back to his _____ was very uneasy, and much troubled about something. Not finding any relief in his home tent, around the regiment he again ran, and returned, as before, excited and in trouble. But, without any stay there, off he ran again, and this time to the battlefield. There he walked around among the wounded, dying, and dead, to find the object of his search.
In his faithful search for such among the many wounded and slain lying there, little Mousel found the body of Capt. W., of Company I, wounded in the left side by the fragment of bursting shell. It was a fearful wound, rendering the Captain completely helpless – unable even to move a limb, though not depriving him of life, or rendering him insensible to his condition.
Captain W. noticed the approach of the dog, just as the shades of evening were gathering around him. He thought it a harbinger of good – evidence of the coming of someone to remove him from the scene of agony and suffering, where, by a sad oversight, he had lain from 10 a.m., till that time.
But the dog only came to keep vigil with him, during that long, cold, fearful night. Seeming to comprehend the suffering of one whom he loved, this sympathetic, faithful little creature would caress the wounded Captain in every way he could – now lying down close by him, now roused up again by the groans of the suffering soldier, and then, in a most affectionate manner, lapping his hand, as if he would soothe and comfort him in such an hour. In this way, and in such a battlefield vigil, our faithful dog passed the night with the wounded Captain.
In the morning, when his master was removed to the hospital – a service in which the hand now penning these lines was permitted to engage – and his wound was cared for, the little watcher who had been his only companion during the past night sought again the regiment, and reassumed his accustomed quiet habits.
Such is the fidelity of a dog!
The “Captain W.,” of the story was Captain Robert Wilson, commander of Company I, 8th Illinois Infantry. Born in England, WIlson had served in the British army in India before immigrating to the United States in 1856. After being wounded at Fort Donelson Captain Wilson resigned from the service, but after recuperating, he joined the 5th United States Heavy Artillery. Wilson served with the 5th until 1865, ending the war as a brevet lieutenant colonel, awarded him for his gallantry at Fort Donelson.
The only other information I could find on “Mousel” was a brief blurb in the same edition of the Vicksburg Daily Herald as the main story about him. The brief article read:
STOLEN – The faithful dog, “Mousel,” belonging to “I” company of the 8th regiment Illinois Veteran Infantry, was stolen from the company some two weeks since, It would be well for the thief to keep at a safe distance from the 8th, for should any member of that regiment get sight of him he is “gone up” sure. We republish from the “New Year’s Call of 1863” published January 1863, at Jackson, Tenn., by some Union Soldiers, a short history of this faithful dog.
It was a sad end for a faithful dog that had served his regiment so well; I could not find any other mention of “Mousel,” but I’d like to think that the little guy found his way back to the soldiers that loved him.