The Best Defense

Rebecca's war dog of the week: Union Jack, from lucky dog to courageous lion

By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent

In between headlines on Gen. William Starke Rosecrans and cartoons depicting attempts to evade the draft, the Nov. 8, 1862 edition of Harper's Weekly featured a rousing profile in patriotism on an emerging Civil War hero -- Union Jack. Though this soldier was of the "brute creation," he exhibited "far more courage, devotion, trust-worthiness ... than many a shoulder-strapped and gold-bedizened animal now walking upon two legs."

Jack's story makes for quite a war-dog yarn. It seems that before fighting for the North, Jack, a "young dog of the mastiff breed, of medium size and jetty blackness, except a white breast and a dash of white on each of his four paws," belonged to a rebel jailer in Front Royal, VA. As the loquacious reporter for Harper's Weekly tells it, Jack took a liking to the men of the First Maryland regiment while they were there on provost guard duty, and left behind his Confederate beginnings to accompany the Union soldiers to the battlefield. And it was there that he displayed his valor and loyalty.

On the road, when our parched men were fainting from thirst, he would always run forward, and whenever he discovered a pool of water would rush back, barking loudly, to tell them of it. When ... our poor fellows were literally dying from starvation, this noble animal has been known to go and catch chickens for them and to bring them in his mouth! or he would waylay  every rebel horse or wagon passing with food, and bark imploringly for them to bring relief. On one occasion, when a sick and exhausted Union soldier had been left behind, Jack staid with  him for several hours until a wagon took him up.

The puppy, as he's often called in the piece, was not afraid of battle and remained on the front lines with his men through shelling and gun fire. Jack was also known to shepherd the soldiers along through roll calls running "about in the greatest excitement, as if to call his friends together, and then, placing himself alongside of the drummer, would put up his nose and commence a long howl."

A gentle-mannered dog, Jack was still considered a lion by the soldiers who "claimed him as their own." Such the staunch loyalist was he, that Jack never so much as flirted with his rebel roots again. Indeed, his "disgust and hatred" for Confederate soldiers was evident:

No kindness, no attempt at caressing could get the 'gray-coats' to win him over or even induce him to take food from them; but he growled and snapped at them upon all occasions, until many threatened to shoot him."  

This profile of Jack was clearly placed to boost morale in the North during a time when the Civil War -- a war in which two percent of the U.S. population would eventually be lost -- was going full throttle. But there's little doubt that this war-dog was worthy of the commendation he received in this article. When this story was published the men in his regiment were already planning to bring him back to Baltimore where they would honor him with "a splendid collar made expressly for their favorite."

Illustration from Harper's Weekly, 1862

The Best Defense

How to think about defense journalism

When I was reporting in Iraq, the Washington Post's bureau chief had a list of emergency numbers printed up and put on a laminated card you could keep in your wallet. Like who to call if you are kidnapped.

If I had the power I'd print up this comment by Fred Reed, the Hunter S. Thompson of the right, laminate it, and give one card to every member of the Pentagon press corps:

Reporters don't meet Important People because we news weasels are meritorious, but because the press enjoys power all out of proportion to its worth. If people knew reporters as well as I do, they would emigrate. You could take a blind cocker spaniel with a low IQ and give him, her, or it a press card from the Washington Post, and in three weeks every pol in the city would kiss up to the beast, who would develop delusions of grandeur.

It's the reporter's disease: You come to believe that the Secretary of the Air Force wants a press breakfast with you because he respects the depth of your thought. No. He thinks you are an idiot, and in all likelihood loathes you, but he knows that what you write will show up in the White House clips."

I just want to note that one of my dogs already has delusions of grandeur, and she doesn't even have a press card.