Did A Newfoundland Dog Save Two Soldiers of the 108th NY at Fredericksburg?

LoyaltyOfDogs

First Sergeant
Joined
Aug 8, 2011
Location
Gettysburg area
I’m trying to decide what to make of two very different versions of an encounter between two soldiers of the 108th​ New York Infantry and a Newfoundland dog during the retreat from Fredericksburg. It’s possible that the dog saved the men, as reported in one account. Or, based on the other one, maybe the men killed the dog. Yes, the accounts are that different!

I know which version I prefer to believe, and I can think of one plausible explanation for the difference. But most of all, I’m curious what other members think.

Here is the account that appears in the regiment’s 1894 history, A Complete Military History and Record of the 108th Regiment N.Y. Vols., from 1862 to 1894,” by George H. Washburn, secretary of the regiment’s veterans organization.

“An Incident of Fredericksburg”
By F. M. Thrasher

“Claud Leonard and Sergeant Peter Anger of Company F were, among thousands of others, trying to escape the wicked fire of the rebels after the fate of the battle had been decided. All hands were hurrying pell mell in a broken, scattered condition, for the town under the hill. and taking the nearest route for the pontoons to get back across the river under the shelter of the Federal guns.

“There was an old canal to cross; the water had been pretty well let out, leaving it in a muddv, filthy condition.

“Selecting a most favorable site for a crossing. Anger slid down and lit on a timber thrown across. Claud was a little more clumsy, but succeeded in getting down all right. While crossing the timber a deadly missile in the shape of a chunk of railroad iron struck square in front of the boys, throwing up the mud and water as if a torpedo had exploded there, knocking Claud off the timber and left him floundering in the river, covered from head to foot, mouth, ears and eyes full. He hollered, ‘Pede! Pede! my Got in himmel! what's dot? Dot's der damdest schell I eferseeni Holy Moses, helb me oud.’ The sergeant, one of the best natured boys in the army, though in nearly as bad a plight as his comrade, did his best to help Claud out of trouble. All this time the shells and railroad iron was coming down the road thick and fast, and along with them a big black Newfoundland dog, tail between his legs, running as if the devil himself was after him. Seeing the timber across the canal, the dog made for it just as the sergeant had Claud half out of the mire, striking the two amidship with such force that Claud, sergeant, dog and all went back into the mud nearly out of sight. The sergeant grabbed the dog by the neck, Claud by the tail, and in about three minutes had that dog in sausage. Claud cut his tail off, swung it over his head in triumph, shouting, ‘hoora! my Got, der baddle is a victory, anyhow.’ Inasmuch as the sergeant is with us to-day, some of you ask him about the Newfoundland dog at Fredericksburg.”

But the story as told in Terence G. Crooks’s book, “Rochester’s Forgotten Regiment: The 108th New York In The Civil War,” reprinted on the website of the New York State Military History Museum, (near the bottom of the page, two paragraphs above the endnotes) not only omits the comic German exclamations and reference to turning the dog into “sausage”; it also ends quite differently:

“However, all of the victims managed to survive since the sergeant latched on to the head of the dog while the private clung to the tail and the large Newfie swam to shore.”

Mr. Crooks’s footnotes attribute this version of the story to a 32-page pamphlet by George H. Washburn that was part of the program for the 1888 dedication of the regiment’s monument at Gettysburg. He states it was evidently an early version of material later published in the regiment’s history.

So what accounts for the two different versions? As I read the 1894 story’s German dialect, I thought that version must surely have been intended as a humorous retelling of the event. The reference to Sergeant Anger’s presence on the occasion when the story is being related suggests that maybe it was read or recited at a reunion where he would then have an opportunity to interject, at the end of the tale, that the dog actually saved him and Private Leonard, if that is indeed what happened.

That’s my “take” on the story, mainly because I prefer to believe that the dog saved the soldiers. But what do other members think?
 

John Hartwell

Major
Forum Host
Joined
Aug 27, 2011
Location
Central Massachusetts
It is a bit of a puzzle, isn't it?

The main conflict to me seems to be the men and dog wallowing in a "muddy, filthy" canal with the water "pretty well let out;" --- and the men being saved as "the large Newfie swam to shore.” Was it a river or a muddy ditch?

I'd say that, in all likelihood, something happened involving the sergeant, the private, and the dog. Beyond that ... ?
 
Have you ever seen how huge a Newfoundland is? That only 2 men could overcome it--and in such conditions--seems very unlikely to me and is more likely that the dog saved the men.
Especially a retreating mob of men running for their lives under fire. I don't buy it. I think they made a joke to save face and cover up how scared they actually were.
 

LoyaltyOfDogs

First Sergeant
Joined
Aug 8, 2011
Location
Gettysburg area
Especially a retreating mob of men running for their lives under fire. I don't buy it. I think they made a joke to save face and cover up how scared they actually were.
I think you're exactly right, @Copperhead-mi. Humor is so effective at dispelling fear that human nature compels us to improve our memories of a tense situation by embellishing a story in just this way.
 
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