What do Ukraine and the Union Army Have in Common?

Ukraine Immigrants (Reuters)

We’ve all seen them–the images pouring out of our TVs and computers of the Ukrainian refugees heading toward who-knows-where, carrying armfuls of cats. It seems as if Ukraine is an entire country of cat people! And well-behaved felines, too. I know my own wouldn’t stay in my arms for longer than four seconds, no matter who was bombing us. Here at ECW, we try to feature blog posts about something other than men in uniform. We write about their wives, moms and dads, BFFs and GFs. We write about the faithful dogs who followed their masters into war, and the ones who thought it seemed like a good idea to go along with large groups of potential “masters” who might give them treats if they were good dogs. We have tossed a virtual fork of hay to war horses and cannon horses. We even featured General Robert E. Lee’s famous “War Chicken,” Nellie. Rarely have we featured cats.

Artillery kittens (Photo by Harry W. Frees, 1914. Shorpy.com)

Lee White told us about a tiny kitten at the battle of Resaca who became an artillery cat.[1]ECW reviewed a children’s book about Jack, the cat of Fort Sumter.[2] We have even written about President Lincoln and his cats.[3] But cats still seem limited in their war participation.

Fear not, Gentle Reader! In a well-hollowed-out rabbit hole, this was found:

Did you ever hear the story of the loyal cat? Meyow!

Who was faithful to the flag, and ever follow’d that? Meyow! [4]

These inspiring words are the chorus to a sentimentally patriotic ditty called “Poor Kitty Popcorn, or The Soldier’s Pet.” 

Civil War Kitty

Written in 1866, “The Ballad of Poor Kitty Popcorn” is one of the lesser-known compositions of Henry Clay Work, who also wrote the more popular (and better known) “Marching Through Georgia.” The song tells the story of a little southern cat who takes one look at the Union army and decides that is the life for her. She follows the troops, befriending a “gallant” Yankee who graciously carries Popcorn on his shoulder, “when her feet were sore” and “Whisp’ring in his ear with wonder at the cannon’s roar, Me-yow!”

At the war’s end, both are headed North, but the soldier dies (this is never explained) and is buried on the roadside. Little Popcorn is grief-stricken, and she pines away on his grave, dying in a snowstorm. On the cover of the sheet music, the mournful scene is depicted, with poor Popcorn expired by the tombstone which bears the inscription:

REQUIESCAT IN PACE

The song “Poor Kitty Popcorn” might have some actual elements of truth within its lines. The life of a soldier can be lonely, alternating tedium with terror, and the affection of a pet can offer much solace and amusement, creating a bond that can continue long after deployment is over. So, a pet cat accustomed to riding along perched on a soldier’s knapsack hardly seems so fanciful.

There are several versions of “Kitty Popcorn” available online, but I like this one best: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u8-ro3uGV9k

 

Sources:

[1] https://emergingcivilwar.com/2014/05/14/12217/

[2] https://emergingcivilwar.com/2014/03/11/fort-sumters-cat-jack-the-cat-that-went-to-war/

[3] https://emergingcivilwar.com/2014/04/08/a-cat-man-mr-lincoln/

[4] https://blog.library.si.edu/blog/2011/01/19/poor-kitty-popcorn-or-the-soldiers-    pet/#.YjkFwLhlB9s

[5] Ibid.

About Meg Groeling

CW Historian
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5 Responses to What do Ukraine and the Union Army Have in Common?

  1. Rod says:

    Given the Union Army’s scorched earth policy, the cat did what the slaves did, follow the only food left which had been confiscated by the Union Army. But the comparison does not stop there. Both the Union and the Ukraine were attempting to prevent a people from exercising their right of self-determination and independence.

    • Meg Groeling says:

      I am not sure just what or whom the Ukraine is attempting to prevent from exercising their rights–seems it’s the other way around. Still … cats!

  2. admiral squid says:

    Okay, writing about (union) Army cats is all well and good, but what about (union) Navy cats?? Do you know any story about them? (Especially the ones possibly on USS Hartford, I’ve been searching for an evidence of their possible presence aboard the ship, but so far came with nothing…)

    It would be great if you (or any other ECW writers) could come up with something on this! (ie. ship cats aboard USS Hartford)

  3. Ayn Marx says:

    Could this be a coded story about a relationship between a Union soldier and an ex-slave? Even amongst most abolitionists such would have been considered scandalous, but war being war, young men young men, and desperate young women desperate young women, I cannot doubt that it sometimes happened.

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