On Oak Ridge, just northwest of Gettysburg, stands a monument to the Eleventh Pennsylvania Infantry. Visitors to the battlefield can pass within a few yards of it while driving by on Doubleday Avenue. Through the window of their vehicle, they can see a statue of a soldier atop a granite pedestal. With his rifle raised and his eyes fixed on the ridge to the west, he seems ready to confront the rebels that advanced across the fields on July 1, 1863. Unless they get out of the car and walk around to the side of the monument that faces away from the road, however, visitors will miss the bronze figure of a little terrier lying on a stone ledge at the base.
Sallie was given to one of the regiment’s officers by a supporter in 1861, while the recruits were still in training camp in West Chester, PA (Alexander, 2015). The soldiers were amused by the puppy’s cute pug nose and clumsy gait. They fed her milk and soft bread and named her after a pretty young Philadelphia woman who sometimes visited the camp.
As she grew, Sallie began marching beside the colors during dress parade, reporting for roll call, and patrolling the camp “on her own kind of inspection” (Robertson & Kagan, 2011, p. 80). The men admired her. She was “square and handsomely built, her coat soft and silky…and her eyes a bright hazel, full of fire and intelligence,” wrote an officer (Alexander, 2015, para 11). Moreover, “she was cleanly in her habits, and strictly honest, never touching the rations of men unless given to her” (Alexander, 2015, para 5). When the regiment was ordered to move out of camp, Sallie went along.
The Eleventh faced its first combat test at Cedar Mountain, VA in August, 1862. The men discovered that Sallie would not consent to go safely to the rear (Alexander, 2015). Instead, she stationed herself in the front line, chasing the incoming bullets that strafed the dirt. In every subsequent engagement, she loyally stayed with the troops, even after her fur was scorched by a rebel shot at Antietam and she received a neck wound at Spotsylvania.
During the first day’s fighting at Gettysburg, the outnumbered Federals on Oak Ridge were forced to fall back. Entangled with soldiers from two different army corps, the survivors of the Eleventh Pennsylvania struggled through the chaotic, jammed streets of the town to the relative safety of Cemetery Hill. Once there, they realized that Sallie wasn’t with them (Martin, 2003). No doubt they feared that she had been killed, and they must have been overjoyed three days later when an officer with the Twelfth Massachusetts returned Sallie to them. She had stayed, apparently without food or water, behind enemy lines on Oak Ridge with the Eleventh’s dead and wounded, “faithfully licking their wounds or patiently watching their lifeless bodies,” according to the colonel (Martin, 2003, p. 440).
For this conduct, the regiment’s veterans honored Sallie by including her likeness on their Gettysburg monument. Dedicated 25 years after the war ended, the marker is the only one on the field that depicts a dog who was present during the battle (Stone Sentinels, n.d.). At reunions, when the veterans posed for photos beside their monument, they made sure not to block Sallie from the camera’s view. Clearly, they were deeply attached to her.
Why did this little dog mean so much to the soldiers? She probably made them laugh with her antics and strong personality, inspired them with her devotion, and reminded them of home (after all, she came to them as a gift when they were still drilling in their home state). In addition, she may have provided a form of canine therapy. Research suggests that veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder can benefit from interacting with dogs, either by participating in service dog training or by living with a dog as a pet (Yount, Ritchie, St. Laurent, Chumley, & Olmert, 2013; Stern et al., 2013). Specifically, veterans who work or play with a dog may report sleeping better and needing less pain medication, and they may feel calmer, less depressed, less irritable, and less lonely.
One reason for these results may be that interacting with a dog stimulates the production of oxytocin, a hormone that reduces stress and encourages social bonding (Yount et al., 2013). Other possible reasons: (a) petting or playing with a dog can lower anxiety by helping individuals focus on the present rather than ruminating on disturbing memories, (b) walking a dog offers opportunities to meet and talk with neighbors, which in turn can decrease feelings of social isolation, and (c) taking care of a dog can lessen veterans’ feelings of guilt related to their combat experiences by providing a way for them to help another living being (Stern et al., 2013).
Similarly, Sallie’s presence in battle and in camp might have helped the soldiers of the Eleventh Pennsylvania cope with combat-related fear and trauma, as well as loneliness, homesickness, and depression. They were devoted to her, and they were grateful that she seemed to feel the same way about them: “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” (Alexander, 2015, para 11).
Sallie almost made it through the war. On February 6, 1865, at Hatcher’s Run, VA, the regiment pushed through thick woods to meet the rebels (Alexander, 2015). When the men paused to carry the wounded to the rear, they found Sallie’s body. She had been shot in the head. Although still under heavy fire, they took the time to bury her.