Tazzy, the CEO of the Johnson clan stirred softly this morning as I rose and brewed a cup of coffee, badly needed to ward off the damp chill of a early November morning. His soft sigh as the aroma of the coffee wafted into the bedroom reminded me that I had promised him a story about another dog, many years ago, who won the hearts of a hardened regiment of Civil War soldiers from Pennsylvania. While at Gettysburg this summer, I was constantly alert for the back stories, behind the exploits of the great warriors who decided this battle, and some think, changed the course of the war. One of the back stories is about a little dog named Sallie who is enshrined for eternity on the battlefield of Gettysburg.
Sallie, a brindle bull terrier, was gifted to the 11th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment when she was a puppy thought to be just 4 weeks old. A young boy, watching this regiment train in early 1861 thought a puppy would be just the thing to insulate the men from the tedium of constant close order drill and delivered the pup to the men. The troops named the little terrier after a local lady, said to be breathtakingly beautiful. Sallie was rambunctious, friendly and of even temperament. She, however, was described as not particularly fond of rebels, Democrats and other females. She was given free reign in the camp and, predictably was well fed by the troops as she wandered about. Her nights were generally spent sleeping outside a Captain’s tent away from the raucous areas surrounding the troop tents, where she could snooze without interruption. By breeding and association, Sallie developed a reputation as fearless going into combat, an event that came soon enough for the pup.
The 11th Pennsylvania quickly became involved in the fighting and Sallie established an early reputation as a fearless guardian of the colors as the men marched into battle. Her first fight was in 1862 at the battle of Cedar Mountain. The 11th Pennsylvania then made it’s way to the great battles at Antietam, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, where she would race around the front line, staying close to the colors and barking ferociously at the enemy. In the spring of 1863, Abraham Lincoln was on the reviewing stand, conducting a review of the Union army, when the 11th Pennsylvania passed in front of him. He tipped his hat at the little dog, proudly trotting alongside the unit’s commanders, as it passed the stand. She was, indeed, a little dog with a big heart.
Gettysburg was the next great campaign for the 11th Pennsylvania. At the battle of Oak Ridge, the 11th Pennsylvania was badly beaten up by the advancing confederates. In the confusion of war, Sallie became lost and was separated from her unit for awhile. Three days after this fight, she was found, calmly guarding the bodies of her soldiers, having gone without food or water until rescued by the remainder of the 11th Pennsylvania as they returned to Oak Ridge to bury their dead. As is the custom in a war, the unit rested, reorganized and began fighting again, this time at Spotsylvania, where Sallie suffered a wound to her neck. She quickly recovered and accompanied the 11th to Ketcher’s Run where she was shot through the head and killed instantly, on the front lines, giving hell to the enemy until her last breath. Hardened combat veterans, weeping uncontrollably, buried the little dog where she fell, on the front line that she knew so well.
Gettysburg is a chilling place, even in the heat of summer. The magnificent statues and monuments that were erected by the survivors of this great battle, many years after the war, are reminders of the camaraderie that exists within a fighting unit. These monuments were erected in the late 1800’s, paid for by individual unit survivors in memory of their lost brothers. In 1890, the survivors of the 11th Pennsylvania, erected their monument on the sight where they faced the advancing confederate soldiers. Little Sallie rests at the base of this monument, eternally watching and waiting, never to be separated from her troops again. Visitors, to this day, leave treats and gifts for Sallie. We left a penny, turned so that Mr. Lincoln could once again offer his approval for the little dog who still reaches out and touches the heart of those who know the story.
This is as it should be.