Puppy, Pig, and 'Gator: pets of the 47th New York

John Hartwell

Forum Host
Aug 27, 2011
Central Massachusetts
A San Francisco man named Joshua Butts, who was serving in the 47th New York, wrote a series of “Letters from Port Royal,” for his hometown newspaper, The California Farmer and Journal of Useful Sciences. In the fifth of these letters, dated June 5, 1863 (and printed in the August 14th issue), he speaks at some length of his regimental critters:

“I mentioned in one of my letters that some of our men brought in, on our return from the plantation, a PUPPY and a PIG, both of exceeding tender age. As they appeared to be orphans, utterly heartlessly forsaken by their unfeeling Secesh parents, and as they seemed to be honest, and of the first families, it was determined to adopt them as regimental pig and puppy, and also to teach them Union principles from the start; so we got an empty barrel of flour, and made them a hen-coop, and put in with them a matronly hen, to teach them to scratch for a living. She nursed them very faithfully for a while, but was greatly grieved when, after all her maternal anxiety about them, they would not by any coaxing, go to roost with her. Soon she fell into a decline, and went the way of all hens, though someone maliciously hinted that a few of the boys had a quiet Thanksgiving dinner about that time, but I cannot vouch for it by any means.
"Our proteges waxed fat and older, and amply repaid us for our long and tender care of them, by their cunning little ways, and the true Union spirit they manifested. They were taught to eat, sleep, and play together; if need be to fight together. Sometimes they would get into a kind of family quarrel, and then, woe to the man that interfered with them; they would both turn upon the man bold enough to meddle with their family arrangements. The pig would aim for the shins, and the puppy for the heels, and many a brave soldier has been compelled to retreat at double quick before their united strength, amidst the uproarious cheers of the multitude. Indeed, they were taught too well, for when they became staid and properly behaved juveniles, they would bristle up and show fight, when any one approached them, showing the Secesh leaven remaining in their otherwise quiet natures.

“But, they could not serve the whole regiment with fun sufficient to keep all in a healthy condition, and so our men one day caught an ALLIGATOR measuring nearly nine feet in length -- a real Simon pure. Our Regiment, with the exception of one company, is nearly all from New York City and Brooklyn, and most of them would have run ‘wid der machine’ to fires, and in processions, and were up to anything for the sake of fun. About 100 of them were out one day, a mile or so from camp, after wood in a swamp, and came across ‘the varmint,’ and one said, ‘Now, boys, here’s a mint of fun in store for the 47th. Though I am a private, for the present I am your captain and general. Obey me every man.’ ‘Yea! Yea,’ said all.

“They had an old cart with them, that they had found on one of the plantations, which they drew with ropes, the same as they do the fire engines. They charged upon him in front, flank, and rear, and he was soon a prisoner of war, tied upon the cart, and in full route for camp. On their way they were met by Gen. Sherman, as they came rushing along as if a whole city was on fire, and they had the only engine that would avail in putting it out. He got out of the way in short order, and hailing them, asked to what regiment they belonged. ‘To the 47th Regiment.’ ‘I thought so, no other regiment could have caught and carried a live alligator to the camp -- an Alligator Regiment truly!’

“And by that name it is known in the Department of the South to this day. The upshot of the affair was, it became a regimental pet, and finally was, as a matter of course sent to Barnum; but not till long after we had secured numerous juvenile alligators, making things lively for a while.”


[Note: this not the actual alligator in the story!]
[Happy Holidays! ]


Jun 27, 2017
Southeast Missouri
A very good story indeed. It had everything one needed for a great story. I am sure all of the pets were very loved by all including the gator. A lot of pets in the 47th NY. They must have been quite a regiment. Thanks @John Hartwell for the story and your hard work in finding these stories.
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