A Dog’s Tale: Pat and Mike Go To War

(Above: "The Army Forge" by Edwin Forbes, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper.)

Patrick Callaghan of the 1st Vermont Cavalry felt the warm northern Virginia summer sun on his face as the blacksmith forge wagon bounced and rattled quickly down the dusty Virginia road. He looked down at the little black dog leaning into him on the seat and stroked his head. As usual, Mike’s tail was wagging and he seemed to be enjoying the ride.

Mike sometimes went out with the 1st’s  patrols and knew the Confederates, in gray or butternut uniforms, were the bad guys. Callaghan was startled as the alert little terrier spotted some and suddenly stood on the seat and began to growl and yap incessantly. But the warning was too late.

(Left: The Regimental Flog of the 1st Vermont Cavalry.)

A crash of sound and a wall of flame erupted from the woods. Callaghan heard the buzzing sound of bullets barely missing his head. The bullets did not miss the horses, however, and as they staggered to the ground the wagon twisted and flipped, sending Callaghan and Mike flying into the air.

Callaghan tumbled into the ground and rolled without serious injury, but was stunned for several moments. Then he heard the wailing sound of Mike in pain and looked to see the little terrier limping toward him on three legs, with one of his front legs broken. Callaghan had been in several battles and seen many friends wounded and some killed, but seeing his canine companion in such pain affected him as few things ever had. Pulling the small dog to him, he managed to get them to cover behind the wreckage of the forge.

(Below: A Civil War army forge wagon.)

The regiment had soon beaten off the ambush. Running to one of the troopers with the whimpering Mike in his arms, Callaghan called on him to transport Mike to the nearest field hospital to see what a doctor might be able to do for him. As was often the case with dogs in Civil War regiments, Mike was one of the best-known and loved “soldiers” in the regiment. As the trooper galloped off with Mike across his saddle, word spread through the regiment that their little mascot was seriously injured. Even the most hardened veteran among them said a silent prayer for his recovery.

Patrick Callaghan was born somewhere in Ireland around 1840 and would have thus been a child in Ireland during An Gorta Mór, The Great Hunger. After surviving that horror, he came to the United States in 1855 and moved in with the family of Daniel Conway in Rutland, Vermont. It would seem likely that the Conway family was taking in a family friend from the same area they lived in Ireland, which was common with Irish immigrants. Conway was a blacksmith and trained young Patrick in that trade. Patrick would later spell his surname Colligan, but it’s Callaghan on all his military records. He grew to be 5'7”, and was said to have a dark complexion, black hair, gray-eyes.

When the Civil War broke out, like so many Irish-born men in the U.S., Patrick enlisted, joining the 1st Vermont Infantry regiment on May 5, 1861. Like most of those early Federal volunteer regiments, it was enlisted for 3 months; longer, most thought, than it would take to end the war.

(Left: A hand-drawn map of the Big Bethel battlefield.)

The 1st Vermont had a few noteworthy incidents in their short history. On May 23, while stationed at Fortress Monroe, the regiment made the first reconnaissance upon Virginia soil by Federal troops, marching six miles inland to Hampton. On June 10th they participated in the Battle of Big Bethel, considered by many to be the first significant battle of the war. A regular army officer, Lt. John Trout Greble, became the first West Point graduate to be killed in the war.

Callaghan mustered out back in Vermont when the 1st returned in August 1861. Hearing that Vermont was recruiting a cavalry regiment and would need blacksmiths attached to them, he enlisted in the 1st Vermont in September. At some point, while he was home, or when the regiment was training or traveling south, Callaghan acquired a little black dog he named Mike. Mike, who appears to have been some type of terrier, was one of many dogs who became beloved “members” of Civil War regiments on both sides. And what better Irish buddies could there be than “Pat and Mike?”

Dogs had been with or used by armies for thousands of years. Greek, Roman, and Celt armies were known to have had dogs with them. And perhaps because they depend on the humans to help take care of them, and often crave the affection of humans, they reminded soldiers of children and would thus become the most beloved “members” of the regiment.

(Right: A war dog with a Roman legionnaire.)

Napoleon, who saw horrifying scenes of human carnage throughout his military career, said after the Battle of Marengo: “I walked over the battlefield and saw among the slain, a poodle killed bestowing a last lick upon his dead friend’s face. Never had anything on any battlefield caused me a like emotion.” And this was apparently not a dog he had come to know the way those in a regiment or company might, yet he was that moved. So one can imagine the strong affection soldiers would develop for dogs that lived among them and even accompanied them into battle.

From letters home and histories of Civil War regiments, we know that dozens of Civil War regiments had canine members, as did many navy ships. Some of them became celebrated and even commemorated. Though army regulations prohibited pets in regiments, the rule was ignored by both officers and enlisted men. Some of these dogs were kept in camp, but some accompanied their regiments onto the battlefield, with many being killed or wounded.

However they lived or served in their regiments, their mere presence lifted the morale of the men. They were a small part of civilized life there in the hell of war. A dog, with their unlimited capacity for affection and loyalty for the humans who cared for them, was a little bit of family, a little bit of home there in camps. And for the dogs, their regiment became their “pack.”

(Left: Sallie, on the 11th PA monument at the Gettysburg battlefield.)

One of the most famous “war dogs” of the Civil war was “Sallie,” who was with the 11th Pennsylvania. Unlike most of the dogs with Civil War regiments, Sallie was a puppy, just 4 weeks old, when she was given to Lt. William Terry while they were training in West Chester, Pa. Her full name was “Sallie Ann Jarret” after a pretty girl of the town and the commander of the regiment, Col. Jarrett. Like many of the dogs in Civil War regiments, Sallie was a terrier, probably a Staffordshire Terrier. Because she was with the men from the time she was a puppy, the soldiers became extremely attached to her.

The 11th would fight in nearly all the major battles of the Army of the Potomac from August 1862 on, with heavy casualties at 2nd Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and Hatcher’s Run. Somehow in the middle of all that, Sallie managed to get pregnant and have four litters of puppies, which members of the regiment sent home.

Sallie would follow the men into battle. She was said to bark at the Confederate line during battles. On the first day at Gettysburg, during the chaotic retreat from Seminary Ridge to Cemetery Hill, Sallie got separated from the unit. It was a tough blow to the regiment. They had 75 casualties on the day, and Sallie would have made it 76. But a few days later, before they moved south to pursue the Confederate army, Sallie was found standing guard over the regiment’s dead on Oak Ridge.

(Right: A dog mourns the death of its owner in Winchester, Va., in 1864. From Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper)

Sallie was wounded in the neck at Spotsylvania but recovered. The men said she has earned her “red badge of courage.” Her luck ran out at Hatcher’s Run on February 6, 1865, however, when a bullet pierced her skull, killing her instantly. The soldiers were distraught, many weeping, as they buried her on the battlefield while still under fire.

In 1889 the regiment would dedicate their monument at the Gettysburg battlefield. The monument on Doubleday Avenue includes a bronze statue of Sallie on the pedestal of the monument. Twenty-four years had passed since they had buried their little companion in Virginia, but they had not forgotten her.

There were many other celebrated dogs with Civil War regiments. “Union Jack,” known usually as just “Jack” was another beloved comrade. The terrier was with the 102nd Pennsylvania. Jack was a firehouse dog who accompanied the men of his firehouse to war. He was wounded at both the battles of Malvern Hill and Fredericksburg in 1862 and then was captured at Salem Church in 1863.

His value to the regiment was confirmed by the fact that two Confederate soldiers were exchanged to get him back. In December 1864, he accompanied some of the men on furlough to Frederick, Maryland. They returned to the regiment brokenhearted, as Jack was lost while there, perhaps being killed or kidnapped for the valuable silver collar the men had presented to him.

Little Mike never became as well-known as some of these other dogs, but he would have one moment in the sun. When Pat Callaghan and the 1st Vermont Cavalry arrived in Virginia, Mike settled right into the routine of army life. Not satisfied with the peaceful life behind the front lines with the blacksmith wagon, the feisty little dog would sometimes accompany cavalry patrols. He was said to have no fear of the rifle or even cannon fire during battles.

This fearless spirit was nearly his undoing more than once. In the incident described at the beginning of this article, the troopers were able to get Mike to a field hospital in time for a surgeon there to save his leg. Mike would walk with the limp for the rest of his life -- a reminder of his “veteran” status, but he continued to soldier on. At the Battle of Kelly’s Ford, in March 1863, he had the tip of his tail shot off but this minor wound didn’t slow him down in the least.

Mike’s Civil War fame stems mainly from a chance encounter with Edwin Forbes, an artist whose drawings illustrated the pages of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper. Leslie’s magazine was one of the best-known publications of the late 19th and early 20th century. Though photography existed at the time of the war, it was as yet only able to capture static figures, and thus could not photograph battles in action. Publications like Leslie’s and Harper’s Weekly brought the war to life with illustrations, though their stylized battle illustrations often bore little resemblance to the reality of battle.

(Right: Edwin Forbes.)

Forbes also liked to illustrate the everyday life of the soldiers, and one day he came around the camp of the 1st Vermont. The activity around the blacksmith wagon caught his eye. He began to sketch a horse being re-shod, probably by Patrick Callaghan, when this little black terrier sauntered up and began to intently watch from just a few feet away. He looked for all the world as if he was supervising the job, and Forbes couldn’t resist putting him in the drawing. Thus the little terrier was immortalized by one of the leading illustrators of the war and his service still noted today.

Both Callaghan and Mike survived the war and returned to West Rutland, after mustering out on August 9, 1865, but both paid a price for their service. Patrick’s health would be affected the rest of his life by malaria and asthma he contracted in Virginia. Mike’s limp would have been a constant reminder of his heroic past for all their neighbors. The little canine hero likely received lots of attention and affection from people around the town.

Callaghan moved briefly to Missouri in 1869, where he met and married Mary Ann Saltsman in Rolla on September 10th. In subsequent census records, he changed his name to Colligan. Less than a year later they were back in West Rutland. The blacksmith and his wife would raise seven children before he passed away on January 31, 1917, at their home on Marble Street. He was buried in an unfortunately unmarked grave in St. Bridget's Cemetery.

It’s not recorded when Mike passed away, but it must have been a very sad day for Patrick. All owners bond with their dogs, but a dog who had gone to war with his master and made it home to grow old and perhaps pass away in his arms would have shared a bond seldom seen between owner and dog or even between many humans. It would be comforting to believe that Pat may have had a copy of that Forbes illustration hanging on the wall to remind him of those long-ago days in Virginia, sharing a tent and the dangers of war with his good friend Mike.


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Tags: American Civil War, Dogs, Vermont

Comment by Joe Gannon on May 15, 2020 at 5:12pm

The regimental flag of the 1st Vermont Cavalry

Comment by The Wild Geese on May 19, 2020 at 9:37pm

Desperate hand to hand combat between Federal Cavalry, commanded by General Averill and Stuart's Confederate Troops, at Kelley's Ford, on the Rappahannock, Virginia. On St. Patrick's Day, March 17, 1863. Mike lost the tip of his tail at this battle. From an issue of Frank Leslie's Illustrated Almanac.


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