For the Love of a Dog

This photograph was taken on May 20, 1862. Custer is reclining on the ground to the right.Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Throughout much of his adult life, George A. Custer surrounded himself with dogs. His love and care for these animals can be found throughout the writings of his contemporaries. During the Peninsula Campaign of 1862, Custer posed for a photograph with a number of fellow officers. He is on the right, reclining on the ground, with a puppy tucked close against him. Writing to his half sister Ann Reed on September 21, 1862, Custer mentions a dog he has adopted and named Rose. He must have been quite fond of Rose. Six days later, Custer would write to Ann again. Closing the letter he states “Rose unites with me in sending much love.”

Two years later, Custer would be photographed outside his tent. He is again on the right, sitting on a camp stool. At his feet and facing toward the camera is another dog. Could this be Rose? For a long time, the answer very well could have been yes. Until 1985, this photograph has been dated to 1862 and for good reason. Custer is seen wearing a simple coat with epaulets and not his famous General Officer uniform. Through his research, D. Mark Katz in his book, has dated this photograph to July 1864. He attributes it to Matthew Brady & Co. Further evidence specifically Custer’s facial hair, corroborates Mr. Katz’ assertion. In this photograph, Custer is clearly seen sporting a mustache. Photographs of Custer throughout 1862 show him wearing sideburns, probably grown in an effort to hide his age and youthful appearance.

Photograph of Custer taken in July 1864. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Photograph of Custer taken in July 1864. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The question remains, which, if either dog is Custer’s beloved Rose? In none of his letters to Ann does he describe her appearance or breed. We know the descriptions and breeds of the dogs Custer had later in life, mainly because there were so many. At one point, he owned over 20 dogs, and it would have been difficult indeed to tell them apart.

Whatever the case may be, one can only hope that Custer found the same comfort in Rose that we find in our dogs today. Throughout the brutality of combat, he could look to her as a faithful companion and loving friend.

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One Response to For the Love of a Dog

  1. Enjoyed reading this account of Gen. Custer and his dogs. Dogs were a great comfort to soldiers during the Civil War and still are today, as we see in many media reports about the close bonds between American soldiers and their Military Working Dogs. War has changed greatly in 150 years, but the relationship of loyalty and trust between soldiers and their dogs is unchanging and enduring.

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