The other day, Kelly the Museum Dog of Civil War Tails got to cross paths with a dog of history—although she didn’t know it. While out on our morning walk, we took a new route and headed down Confederate Avenue behind Culp’s Hill. I’m not sure that I have ever been back there, in all my trips around the battlefield over the years. Kelly is good at discovering new roads, though. Every alley or path might be an adventure, and we’ve taken to exploring one now and then. On this particular adventure, it meant our walk ended up being about three times its usual length!
As we tromped along, we passed the markers for the brigades of Confederate Gen. Edward Johnson’s division, including the old “Stonewall Brigade” made famous by, of course, Stonewall Jackson. A little farther on, we reached the marker for Gen. George “Maryland” Steuart’s brigade. Wait a minute! They’re the one with the black dog! So, while Kelly gazed down a path through the woods and wondered what exciting critters might be down there, I told her about a fellow black dog on Culp’s Hill.
On the morning of July 3, 1863, the fighting that had raged until well after dark the night before started up again. After fruitless assaults on the entrenched Union line, the Confederates of Johnson’s division tried one last time. On the right of Steuart’s brigade were the 1st Maryland Battalion and the 3rd North Carolina. The latter had been chewed to bits, and officers present recalled that only eighteen men were left in the ranks. The 1st Maryland had approximately 300 in its ranks—and also a furry canine mascot. In a painting of the fighting on the hill, artist Peter Rothermel depicts the dog as an average-sized black dog. According to the internet, the dog’s name was Grace or Gracie and she was listed on the muster rolls, but we have not been able to confirm that information.
The men of Johnson’s division were not looking forward to the attack. On the right, the Stonewall Brigade faced a heavily wooded, boulder-strewn slope, with the Union troops well entrenched behind log breastworks on the crest. Steuart’s brigade, on the left, would have to cross an open field. Major William Goldsborough, commanding the 1st Maryland, said the order to charge “was nothing less than murder.”
With bayonets fixed and Gen. Steuart advancing with them, the 1st Maryland started off. The regiment was split, with five companies on the left of a stone wall, and two companies on the right with the 3rd North Carolina. As soon as the five companies left the trees, the Union infantry and artillery opened fire. Maj. Goldsborough was wounded, and the battalion was shattered. The Virginia regiments to their left retreated, and Goldsborough watched the remnants of his battalion do the same, seeking cover from the “merciless storm of bullets.”
Meanwhile, the right two companies and the North Carolinians kept steadily advancing, still under cover. The Union troops waited until they were about fifty yards away, then opened fire. Still they advanced, but when they were forty paces from the Union line, an order came to retreat. Capt. William Murray, now in command after the major was wounded, also fell wounded. Some men rushed the Union works, and some retreated for cover.
Perhaps at this point in the fighting, the 1st Maryland’s mascot dashed forward and “came in among the Boys in Blue,” the Union brigade commander, Gen. Thomas Kane, recalled, “as if he supposed they were…merely the men of another noisy [fire] hose or engine company.” Some of his men recalled that the dog barked “in valorous glee.” Gen. Kane’s personal memory, however, was of seeing the dog limping on three legs, wandering through the fallen of both blue and gray, “as though looking for a dead master, or seeking on which side he might find an explanation of the Tragedy he witnessed, intelligible to his canine apprehension.”
By the end of the fighting, the dog had been riddled with bullets, but in true loving, forgiving canine fashion, she licked the hand of one of her Union captors before she died. Gen. Kane ordered her honorably buried “as the only Christian minded being on either side” of the murderous fighting on the hill.
Gen. Steuart made it through the fighting safely, but the devastation to his men—the 1st Maryland alone lost half its number—reduced him to tears. As he watched them fall back, he cried, “My poor boys! My poor boys!”
While Kelly has no idea that she was treading the same ground as another black dog 158 years ago, it was poignant for me to stand with her by the three markers related to the 1st Maryland. We reached the marker for Steuart’s brigade first, on Confederate Avenue and then, as we headed back up along the Union line, we found the monument for the 1st Maryland Battalion. It is the only one on the battlefield raised by a Confederate veterans’ association and bears their 1864 designation of 2nd Maryland—a witness to the fact that they were facing fellow Marylanders, the Union 1st Maryland, Eastern Shore. The monument stands near the location where their commander, Lt. Col. James Herbert, was mortally wounded on the night of July 2nd.
Following the curve of the road a little farther, we came upon a small marker about 100 yards inside the Union lines. The wording is nearly eroded away, but it reads, “Point reached by 1st MD Battalion C.S.A. July 3rd, 1863.” This then, would be approximately where the regiment’s final surge broke into the Union lines and probably near where Gen. Kane saw the wounded black dog. One wonders if, as the veterans dedicated the main monument and the small marker, any of them thought of their furry companion who also fell on that deadly slope.
Hawthorne, Frederick W. Gettysburg: Stories of Men and Monuments as Told By Battlefield Guides. Gettysburg: The Association of Licensed Battlefield Guides, 1988.
Pfanz, Harry W. Gettysburg: Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1993.