The mystery of the midnight howling on the banks of the Black River

SWMODave

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In the winter of 1864 the First Brigade of the Third Division of the Seventeenth Army Corps lay encamped on the banks of the Black River, near the railroad bridge, east of Vicksburg, Mississippi. ….

During this time they were annoyed in a peculiar manner at midnight by the mournful howling of a dog. When the soldiers first pitched their tents and encamped there, but few noticed this unusual sound in the neighborhood of the camp. Later, as the sentry paced his lonely beat in the silent night, he could distinctly hear the howl of a dog as if in great distress. Night after night, at the midnight hour, the mournful howl swept through the air, chilling the nerves of the lonely sentry and disturbing his thoughts of loved ones in his distant Northern home.

This mysterious sound continued for several weeks, and each day at the mess-table those who had served during the previous night on picket duty would tell of the unknown, howling dog that had disturbed their midnight meditations while pacing their lonely beat.

Thus, from one to another the story was repeated, until a superstitious dread took possession of some of the soldiers, and they imagined it to be a death-warning to themselves or their comrades. Those at the picket fires discussed the why and wherefore of the dog's howling so pitiously at the midnight hour near the bluff that overlooked the river.

All remembered the bloody work that had been done on the banks of that sluggish stream; how the Boys in Blue had forced a passage on their pontoon bridge in the face of the enemy, and how many a gallant comrade had sunk beneath its waters to rise no more.

They remembered how the brave sons of the South defended the crossing and burned the bridge in 1863 as they moved on towards Vicksburg. But they continued to speculate at the picket-post, at the mess-table, and around the camp-fires, as to the midnight howling, until some one proposed that they ascertain the cause of this annoyance—for such it had become, even to the less nervous and less superstitious soldier.

A feeling of curiosity, mingled with a desire to rid themselves of something unpleasant, was the principal incentive to this action. Accordingly one moonlight night a large number of soldiers sallied forth from camp, leaving their warm tents and blazing fires, not to meet an enemy, but to solve the mystery of the midnight howling, and, if possible, to capture the dog that made the midnight hour one of gloom and despondency to some of them. Moving on towards the position from which the sound seemed to emanate, they formed a circle and waited for the howl that had become as familiar as it was disagreeable and annoying to their ears. They had timed their movements,

and consequently had not long to wait; for, at the usual time that distressing, mournful howl, pealed forth on the air not far from the position which they had taken.

The Boys in Blue then drew in their, lines closer around the object of their search until they could see a dog not far away, lying prostrate on the ground.

Within easy reach they saw the object of their previous speculations, and each soldier looked with surprise as he beheld the form of a poor, emaciated hound stretched over the grave of a Confederate soldier!

This soldier had been killed in the struggle when the Northern army had forced its passage over the river and swept on and over all opposition to the ramparts of Vicksburg, which, after a long, weary siege, gave way to the Northern host on the memorable Fourth of July, 1863.

There, at the midnight hour, these men who had faced death in all its forms were startled at the sight they beheld of a poor hound keeping a sad, mournful vigil over the grave of his master. Then, when the brave man had fallen, the kind hands of those who had been his foes buried him on the bloody battle-field far away from his dear Southern home.

Away from the sight of father, mother, sister or sweetheart the hands of the Northern soldiers had laid him down to rest in a soldier's grave, with no one to mourn over him but the poor hound that had followed his master's fortunes through many a hard, weary march, and shared his frugal meal at many a camp-fire. And now, encircled by his master's foes when all had left him who had marched with him to the inspiring music of "Dixie Land," and "The Bonnie Blue Flag," only his faithful hound lay upon his grave, and had never ceased to mourn, during long, weary months, over the loss of his brave and gallant master.

No wonder that, as the blue-coated boys looked upon this scene, tears started to their eyes and wet their bronzed cheeks as they witnessed this wonderful exhibition of faithfulness on the part of a poor hound!

The dog lay there, crouched in fear, and though seeing no avenue of escape he could not, by any kindness or attention, be induced to leave his post of duty and love!

Few were the words spoken as each soldier left the poor mourner alone with his dead and walked to the camp. For months after, on each succeeding day, the remnants of the mess-tables were placed near the grave where the hound held his midnight vigils, for he could never be seen on the grave in the daylight.

Just before the camp broke up, some of the boys went, one midnight, to see if the hound was still there, but they found only his cold and dead body stretched over his master's grave!

The spring had come, and those who had solved the mystery of the midnight howling on the banks of the Black River were marching under the brave Sherman towards Meridian, Mississippi, and mingling again in the storms of battle, and shedding the blood of their brothers on the plains and hillsides of the Sunny South.

Incidents of the Civil War
 
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