In honor of Groundhog’s Day last weekend and the squirrel inside our parents’ house this week, we’re taking a look at critter mascots and pets today.
While many regiments had dogs as mascots, some regiments had roosters, one regiment had a raccoon, one had an owl named “Minerva,” and one had a black bear. One regiment had a 30-year old goose who waddled in time with the band’s music. A Union cavalry regiment kept a lamb as a mascot for a while. A Confederate regiment in the western theater even had a camel named “Douglas.” One of “Stonewall” Jackson’s units had a pig named Susan Jane. Originally they were going to fatten her up to eat, but then the men ended up liking her and kept her.
Perhaps the most famous non-canine was “Old Abe,” the 8th Wisconsin’s bald eagle. He traveled with the regiment throughout the war, and would circle above the fighting during battle, always returning to his specially-made perch afterwards. He even learned commands and would stand at attention or “lie down” along with the men. He survived the war and became the highlight of veterans’ reunions. He lived until 1881, when smoke inhalation from a fire killed him.
Gen. Robert E. Lee even had a pet—a hen who travelled with him on campaign. Despite his own unusual pet, he nevertheless did as any good father would and constantly teased his youngest daughter, Mildred, about her own pet—a squirrel. She named the squirrel Custis Morgan—“Custis” after her oldest brother and “Morgan” after the daring Confederate cavalryman, John Hunt Morgan. In his letters to Mildred, Gen. Lee wrote, “If you would immerse his head under the water for five minutes in one of his daily baths, it would relieve him & you of infinite trouble.” He also suggested the family have “Squirrel soup thickened with peanuts,” adding that “Custis Morgan in such an exit from the stage would cover himself with glory.”
As we wait for the early spring that Punxsutawney Phil decreed when looking for his shadow last Saturday, may you enjoy watching the critters around you, inside the house and out.