The Dogs of War, Specifically One Named Sallie

I am fascinated at how dogs have served us in both armed conflicts and in keeping the peace, in finding the living and dead after a disaster and in serving those who are physically or emotionally challenged.

Right now, highly trained canines are sniffing out IEDs and other explosive devices in Afghanistan and Iraq, sniffing the streets and buildings in Tennessee after the tragic flooding that surprisingly took so many lives, and in the past few months have done their duty after earthquakes in Haiti and Chile.

In between their times of service, they are just dogs again, our friendly, happy, tail-waving playful canine friends, again doing service to bring a respite to those who serve in battle and in disaster.

I participated in a poetry reading on April 29 entitled “Civil War Voices in Poetry, Story and Song” which was sponsored by the Pittsburgh Poetry Society. Poet Shirley S. Stevens read two poems about “Civil War Heroines”, and I was ready to hear about women who had selflessly provided medical services or who had actually dressed as men and fought on the front lines.

I was surprised and moved, however, when the first poem, entitled “Sallie”, was not about a human.

Sallie

A pug nosed, brindle bull terrier,
barely five weeks old,
Sallie, named for a West Chester beauty,
grew to recognize the drum roll for reveille.
First out of quarters to attend roll call,
she stationed herself alongside
regimental colors.
Serving at Antietam, Fredericksburg,
and Chancellorsville, she bared her teeth
at Johnny Rebs, led the Union charge at Oak Ridge,
stood guard over dead and wounded infantry.
Even Abe doffed his stovepipe hat to this lady
on dress parade with her men.
Struck by a bullet at Hatcher’s Run,
she was buried on the battle field.
Sallie stand in bronze at Gettysburg,
devoted to the men of the 11th Pennsylvania.

“Sallie” © Shirley S. Stevens

I had no idea. I was moved by all of the poetry read that night, but so moved by this poem that I asked Shirley if I could share it with readers of The Creative Cat.

Shirley herself is a “cat person”, stating that “every poet needs a cat”, and I won’t divulge her e-mail address but I will say that her address contains both “poet” and “cat”.

I didn’t find any internet pages about Sallie, but I did find a book written about Sallie which you could check out of your local public library, Sallie Civil War Dog: War Dog of the Rebellion, by Helene Smith. In addition, I found a pretty comprehensive reading list about dogs who have served in war from the Alabama War Dogs Foundation.

I have also written a post entitled “Heartwarming Tales of Dogs” with lots of links where you can read modern stories about service dogs, and my article “Helping Haiti, People and Animals” also includes links to search and rescue dogs and more stories.