Patrick Cleburne’s Pet Raccoon?
In Craig L. Symonds’s biography of Confederate General Patrick Cleburne the following paragraph appears when he describes the atmosphere around headquarters:
Another aspect of life at divisional headquarters is revealed in a story told by St. John Liddell, the Louisiana planter who commanded one of Cleburne’s four brigades. Cleburne, it seems, kept a pet raccoon at headquarters. At night, according to Liddell, the raccoon would “push its way under the cover of somebody’s bed” for warmth. Occasionally the visit was unwelcome and it would be kicked out again, but it merely found another bed whose occupant was more hospitable. “One night, however, everybody seemed unfriendly to him and kicked him away. After trying all the beds, the poor fellow stopped and set up a most pitiable cry,” which induced some softhearted staff officer to take him in.[i]
It’s not clear where Cleburne got the raccoon, but apparently the best chance of having a friendly raccoon is hand-raising it. Perhaps the officers found an abandoned or lost cub and took care of it? The semi-outdoor life of camp and campaign probably suited the raccoon fine, and one can easily imagine him begging for food at table or scurrying off into the brush to find the favorites of his omnivorous diet. Raccoons are described as clean animals, and they self-groom, like cats. However, the habits of dunking food in water and being curious to tear apart nearly everything might have caused some “moments” at headquarters.
Raccoons do make exceptionally pitiable noises when distressed, and the little lost bandit probably would’ve disrupted the officers’ camp with his wailing on that night he couldn’t find a sharable bed. Yes, of course, I looked up recordings of raccoon noises. Check out this YouTube video, if you want.
Cleburne’s headquarters wasn’t the only “unit” with a pet raccoon. Apparently, the 12th Wisconsin Light Artillery Battery also had a masked pet.[ii] There were probably other units or individual soldiers who had raccoons but so far these are the mentions I’ve come across. (If you know of others, please be sure to share in a comment.)
It’s not the same as Robert E. Lee’s “war chicken,” but it’s a story! While planning for my tour last weekend which focused on Cleburne’s life and final battles, I felt like a raccoon needed to be involved. Having a real raccoon tagalong sounded ethically questionable and potentially dangerous to me, so I opted for a “stuffed raccoon.” (Besides, owning raccoons as pets is now illegal in some states, so be wary of taking too much inspiration from this history account.) I found the cutest little stuffed raccoon and decided he had to go along on the adventure. He made the trip from Virginia to Tennessee nestled in my large travel purse and then “climbed” into my tour backpack for the grand adventure. The plan was to reveal the stuffed raccoon while I told the story at an early stop during the tour and allow the tour guests to name the fellow during our lunch stop.
Unfortunately for Mr. Raccoon, he had to stay inside my backpack until early afternoon since we were caught in a long rainstorm. It was enough water to get through the waterproofing, so he was looking a bit damp and bedraggled by the time he got to make his appearance and I told the story on Winstead Hill, looking toward Franklin and near the position where Cleburne formed his troops for his last attack. Still, the story and the stuffed raccoon got a good reaction! By the end of the day, little-no-name-raccoon had been christened “Franklin,” and he has since returned to Virginia to become honorary guard of the Western Theater books either at home or at my office.
At this time, I have no idea what happened to Cleburne’s raccoon or what its name was. But I hope it survived the war and lived happily as a child’s pet or scampered into the woods…
The Spruce Pets, Pet Raccoons: https://www.thesprucepets.com/pet-raccoons-1237219
[i] Craig L. Symonds, Stonewall of the West: Patrick Cleburne & The Civil War (Lawrence, The University Press of Kansas, 1997). Page 103.
[ii] Earl J. Hess, editor, Animal Histories of the Civil War Era, (Baton Rogue, Louisiana State University Press, 2022). Page 211.
5 Responses to Patrick Cleburne’s Pet Raccoon?
Locally here in western North Carolina, I’ve relocated more than a few racoons. They tear up my birdfeeders and also raid my birdhouses for snacks.
After reading about this “pet”, I might have to amend my ways!
A great ready!! Thank you, Sarah
Sarah, you are so gentle and humane, as usual. Our 21 year old still mourns the loss of her purple stuffed ‘nocerous’ during a trip to Pittsburgh years ago.
A sweet tale for us to enjoy and a cute visual for those fortunate to be in Tennessee for this event!
I grew up with several families with pet racoons, in central Illinois. Younger ones were great pets, but after maturity, they often reverted back to their wild Irish ways.