Man’s Best Comrade: Sallie and the 11th Pennsylvania

'Loyal Heart' by Greg Stump

‘Loyal Heart’ by Greg Stump

The Eleventh Pennsylvania Infantry received a welcome visitor to their camp in West Chester in May of 1861. Their presence on the county fair grounds twenty miles west of Philadelphia had been a novelty to its citizens who came out in packs to watch the amateur soldiers drill under Colonel Phaon Jarrett. The enlisted men particularly enjoyed whenever the prettiest girl–Sallie Ann–dropped by to chat.

Richard Coulter, who eventually commanded the unit, declared the camp had “more the semblance of a Maytime picnic or a pleasure excursion, than what it was intended to be, a school of instruction, drill, and discipline.” Nevertheless he too was thrilled when one day a local civilian carried a small basket into camp and out popped “a little puffy, pug-nosed, black-muzzled canine, scarce four weeks old, and barely able to toddle upon its short and clumsy legs.” 

The regiment immediately declared this brindle Staffordshire Bull Terrier to be their mascot and named her Sallie Ann Jarrett to honor their two main influences. “She soon became accustomed to her new friends, and thrived rapidly,” recalled Coulter. “Milk and soft bread were to be had in plenty, and there was nothing for her to do but eat and sleep, snugly rolled up in her bed or lolling lazily on the blankets.”

The only known photograph of Sallie, courtesy of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission

The only known photograph of Sallie

As the recruits learned the ropes on the drill ground so did Sallie. Occasionally she wound her way through the legs of the men as they marched, but eventually she learned to always take her place at the head of the regiment alongside its commander. When the regiment shipped south in April of 1862, the men could not bear to depart without their one year old companion so along she went. Sallie showed dislike to civilians and her comrades claimed that she hated Rebels even more.

She was cleanly in her habits, and strictly honest, never touching the rations of men unless given to her. She would lie down by haversacks full of meat, or stand by while fresh beef was being issued and never touch it. She seemed to know that she would get a share, for the men never let her suffer if they had anything themselves, and she patiently waited until it was given her.

Sallie saw her first combat at Cedar Mountain and faithfully stayed with the with the men during the engagement. She did not panic under enemy fire, but instead cheered the men by grabbing at the bullets as they struck the dirt around them. She moved forward with the unit at Second Manassas and South Mountain before they feared she would be killed in the vicious fighting at Antietam and attempted to send her to the rear. But Sallie would not abandon her friends, and received a scorched mark through her hair from a Confederate bullet as a result.

One month later the regiment awoke to find their brave mascot joined by a litter of 10 yipping newborns. After her puppies grew up, the men sent them to loving families back north while Sallie remained in the field.

Colonel Richard Coulter

Colonel Richard Coulter

Like many Union soldiers, the disastrous December 1862 battle of Fredericksburg broke Sallie’s spirit. The 11th Pennsylvania led the front line of Gibbon’s division in the assault across Slaughter Pen Farm on the southern end of the battlefield. Eight of its members fell killed and seventy-five, including Colonel Coulter and three color bearers, were wounded in the assault before reaching the Confederate position along the railroad. “It was impossible to advance as our boys fell as fast as they attempted it,” wrote a fellow member of the brigade.

Unable to recognize any familiar faces, Sallie joined the mass retreat to the rear and looked to find safety across the other of the pontoon bridge along the Rappahannock. A hospital orderly to whom she was much attached whistled after her, but after a brief glance Sallie crossed the bridge with drooping tail and humbled crest.

Her pride would be again restored during the Army of the Potomac’s review in the spring of 1863. She took her traditional place at the head of her regiment during its review before Abraham Lincoln. According to a unit legend, the president doffed his tall stovepipe hat to acknowledge the canine.

She was of medium size, squarely and handsomely built, her coat soft and silky, chest broad and deep, her head and ears small, and her eyes a bright hazel, full of fire and intelligence. She was active, quick, and had remarkable powers of endurance. Her knowledge of the individual members of the regiment was truly wonderful, and one was at a loss to know how she acquired it; a whole corps might pass her, but she could make no mistake about her own regiment, and never followed any other.

Sallie was again temporarily separated from her comrades during the chaotic retreat through the town of Gettysburg during the first day of fighting in July 1863. Her location being overtaken by the Confederate army, she was unable and unwilling to pass through their lines to reunite with her regiment. Instinct brought her back to the 11th Pennsylvania’s previous location on Oak Ridge. There she remained for three days, licking the wounds of her comrades and keeping a faithful vigil over the deceased. A member of the brigade found her still watching over the fallen after the battle, weary and hungry from her unyielding watch.

'An Incident of Battle -- A Faithful Dog Watching the Dead Body of His Master' - Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper

Sallie was struck by enemy fire during the fighting at Spotsylvania Court House in May 1864. Colonel Coulter also had to once more be again carried from the field with a chest wound. But the pair pulled through together. While Sallie’s wound was not deemed mortal, the bullet remained lodged in her neck for several months. Eventually the minie ball forced its way back out of the wound, leaving a prominent, yet distinguished, scar on the veteran dog.

During the operations on the Weldon Road, the Hickford raid, and siege of Petersburg, she travelled along, or stayed with the men in the trenches or at the forts, or on the picket line, always at her old place at the head of the column when it moved, announcing the departure by barking and jumping at the horse of the officer in command until the line fairly started.

On a cold night in early February 1865, Sallie could not sleep. She kept waking up the soldiers whose tent she normally stayed at with a “prolonged and mournful cry.” The exhausted men tried to drive her away “but she persistently returned, repeating her moaning, as if predicting the sad fate of the morrow.”

Ulysses S. Grant had determined to cut the Boydton Plank Road supply line into Petersburg. On February 5, he sent two corps of infantry to Hatcher’s Run to support a division of cavalry raiding the road near Dinwiddie Court House. Sallie marched along with the 11th Pennsylvania–currently in Baxter’s brigade of the Fifth Corps.

The next day the regiment was sent forward with their division to reconnoiter near Dabney’s Mill. The men remembered this as a particularly rough march.

The country between Hatcher’s Run and Dabney’s Mill was covered with heavy timber, the ground softened by numerous swamps and cut up by ravines. The road upon which the columns and trains had to move was narrow, filled with stumps and knee deep with mud. A slight crust of frozen surface only increased the difficulties, and instead of being fresh for battle, the men were tired out by their conflict with the mud. Some lost their shoes, which stuck in the mire; their clothing was dampened, and their guns in some cases, rendered unfit for present use.

Still the Union soldiers pushed on until they ran into a staunch Confederate resistance. “The ground was fresh, the timber thick and netted with a web of undergrowth. As the men advanced through this maze, many were laid low by the deliberate fire of unseen riflemen.” The brigade halted to exchange volleys. Two of Sallie’s tentmates were killed in the firefight, the other two seriously wounded.

Suddenly the Pennsylvanians quit their firing. As they hauled off their wounded comrades they found Sallie at the bottom of the pile. “Poor Sallie fell in the front line in the fight at the Run–a bullet pierced her brain,” mourned a comrade in a letter after the battle. “She was buried where she fell, by some of the boys, even whilst under a murderous fire, so much had they become attached to the poor brute, who so long had shared with them the toilsome march and the perils of battle. It would, indeed, be a pleasant reverie if one could reconcile himself the poor Indian’s theory of the happy hunting-grounds, where his faithful dog would bear him company.”

Sallie’s bark will no longer be heard a the head of the column–her tail is wagless, and the marques, shelter tents and blankets that knew her shall know her no more forever–for her there is no “pomp and pride, and circumstances of glorious war.”

In 1890 the regiment’s survivors gathered at Oak Ridge on the Gettysburg battlefield. They had come to to dedicate a monument and were pleased with what they found in bronze at the bottom. “The 11th Pa. has a grand monument to mark their line of battle,” wrote a veteran. “A bronze soldier on top, looking over the field, while the dog, Sallie, is lying at the base keeping guard.”

Sallie MonumentThe men continued to frequently meet in Gettysburg for a reunion. Slowly the ranks thinned out time passed by. In 1910 the Pennsylvanians posed for a photograph to commemorate their service. As the group gathered beside their monument, three veterans in the back scooted over to allow another one more comrade in the shot.

Sallie deserved a place in the ranks.

Reunion of the 11th Pennsylvania Infantry at Gettysburg

Reunion of the 11th Pennsylvania Infantry at Gettysburg

This entry was posted in Battlefields & Historic Places, Monuments, Personalities, Sesquicentennial and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Man’s Best Comrade: Sallie and the 11th Pennsylvania

  1. kacinash says:

    Sallie has been one of my favorite Civil War stories since I first visited Gettysburg as a small child. That 1910 photograph of the veterans is wonderful. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Wow, I’d heard a little about Sallie, but never knew the full story. It was very interesting to read and I’m always on the look-out for great CW stories about animals that can be shared with children when I’m teaching at living history events. Thanks!

  3. scottmhuntington says:

    This is awesome, Ed. Such an interesting story and yet so sad.

  4. Meg Thompson says:

    As someone whose entire legacy as a Civil War historian may be “War Chicken,” I thank you for your lovely article. Animals bear the brunt of war without ever asking “why?” or rethinking a decision. They simple follow the people they love. Truly noble.

  5. It’s wonderful to see Sallie remembered so well on the 150th anniversary of her death at Hatcher’s Run. During her service with the 11th she was sometimes referred to as “Dick Coulter’s dog,” a reference to the regiment’s commanding officer, Col. Richard Coulter, who can be seen standing immediately to the left of the monument in this photo taken at its dedication at Gettysburg in September 1890: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/529102656197579697/. Shortly after the war, Col. Coulter wrote, with obvious regret, “There is nothing now to mark the spot where she fell, no stone or tablet to her memory, . . .” What Sallie’s devoted soldiers could not do at Hatcher’s Run, they accomplished in heroic style at Gettysburg. Readers familiar with the 11th’s 1910 reunion photo at their monument may be interested to know that sadly, Col. Coulter is not pictured. He died in 1908.

    • Edward S. Alexander says:

      Thank you for the comment and the remarkable photo. I went yesterday to the Civil War Trust preserved ground near Dabney’s Mill. I think Col. Coulter would be pleased to know that I found a bouquet of flowers placed there with a note attached dedicated in memory of Sallie.

  6. Dr Don says:

    My Great-Great grandfather, Thomas C Hopkins, was in the 11th Penn, killed at Antietam. I Didn’t know about Sallie Ann Jarrett until recently.. I’d like to think that he and Sallie knew each other, it makes history more personal and real. I’ll get up to Gettysburg sometime and look up the statue.

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