It was the first month of the Civil War, and a new regiment was training at the fairgrounds in West Chester, Penn. A civilian came into camp with a wicker basket and presented it to one of the officers. The captain reached inside and, with a smile, withdrew a pug-nosed, black female terrier scarcely four weeks old. When placed on the ground, the puppy toddled about on clumsy legs.
In the weeks that followed, the dog happily discovered that she had hundreds of uniformed friends. Each could be counted on to give her a pat or a morsel of food. The soldiers named her after one of the local beauties in West Chester; thus did Sallie become the official mascot of the 11th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment.
The little terrier quickly developed a personality of her own. Sallie was even-tempered and affectionate with the members of the regiment. Yet, she exhibited a distaste for all civilians and strangers, whether male or female. She was clean in her habits and proud in her bearing.
Sallie knew the drum-roll announcing reveille, and she was first out of quarters to attend roll-call. In drills, she latched herself to a particular soldier and pranced alongside him throughout the exercise. At dress-parade, the dog took a position beside the regimental colors. During encampments, she slept by the captain's tent after strolling leisurely through the area on her own kind of inspection.
Her first battle came in 1862 at Cedar Mountain. Sallie remained with the colors throughout the engagement. She did the same at Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville. No one ever thought of sending Sallie to the rear in time of combat. She was the regiment's spirit and its inspiration. And she would not have voluntarily stayed in the rear anyway.
In a spring 1863 review of the Union army, Sallie marched alongside the 11th Pennsylvania. A tall man in the center of the reviewing stand saw the dog. With a twinkle in his eye, he raised his stovepipe hat in salute. Thus did Abraham Lincoln give a special acknowledgment to the mascot.
On the first day's fighting at Gettysburg, the 11th Pennsylvania was driven back a mile from its original position. Sallie disappeared in the smoke and chaos. Three days later, medical details moved onto the battleground. There they found Sallie, still comforting her wounded friends and guarding the bodies of her dead compatriots. How the dog escaped harm amid that bloody three-day struggle was a near-miracle.
The following May at Spotsylvania, the dog received a neck wound and thereafter proudly bore "a red badge of courage." Then, in the Petersburg lines throughout the night of February 4-5, 1865, Sallie's mournful cries awakened many in the regiment. The next morning the 11th Pennsylvania made a concerted attack at Hatcher's Run. Men in the second wave were advancing under heavy fire when they found Sallie on the battlefield. She had been shot through the head and killed instantly. Weeping soldiers, oblivious to the hail of gunfire in the struggle, buried the little dog where it lay on the battlefield.
There is an epilogue to the story. In 1890, surviving veterans of the 11th Pennsylvania dedicated a monument on the Gettysburg battleground. From afar, it looks like all other regimental memorials: a bronze statue of a defiant soldier standing atop a tall and ornate marble pedestal. But something else is there.
Near the base of the monument, on a small ledge, is the bronze likeness of a little dog. It is Sallie, who appears to be asleep. In all likelihood, however, she is keeping watch through eternity over the spirits of soldiers with whom she shared an undying love.
*Transcript of a WVTF radio broadcast
©Copyright 2001, James I. Robertson Jr.