Unusual Civil War Mascots : “Old Douglas”

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Future Confederate President, Jefferson Davis was a strong proponent of a program called “The Texas Camel Experiment”, while Secretary of War under President Franklin Pierce. The purpose was to see if camels would be viable alternatives to horses and mules, which were dying of dehydration in vast numbers. The program proved to be a failure for various reasons, and the camels were sold at auction. details are unknown, but one ended up in Mississippi and eventually died, fittingly enough, at Davis’s hometown of Vicksburg.

“Old Douglass”, became the mascot of the 43rd Mississippi Infantry, and assigned to Company A at the outbreak of the Civil War. In fact, he was more than just a mascot, he was given duties to perform, namely carrying instruments and knapsacks for the regiments band. Needless to say, the regiment’s horses would go into “panic mode” at the site of “Old Douglass”, and he is recorded to have spooked one horse into starting a stampede, which reportedly injured many, and possibly killed one or two horses. In the beginning, the men tried to treat Old Douglas like a horse, the camel was known to break free of any tether, and was eventually allowed to graze freely. Despite not being tied up, he never wandered far from the men.

His first combat was during the Iuka Campaign and the Battle of Corinth in Mississippi in the fall of 1862. He remained with the regiment until the Siege of Vicksburg, where he was killed by Union sharpshooters from an Iowa regimen. Enraged at his murder, the men swore to avenge him. Missouri Colonel Robert S. Bevier enlisted six of his best snipers, and successfully shot the culprit. Of Douglas’s murderer, Bevier reportedly said, “I refused to hear his name, and was rejoiced to learn that he had been severely wounded”.

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Private Joseph W. Cook, Company A 43rd Mississippi Infantry.

Enlisted and mustered on 5/15/1862 at Aberdeen, MS as a Private, 16 years old, he mustered into “A” Company Mississippi 43rd Infantry. Wounded (date and place not stated) (Wounded in head), POW 7/4/1863 Vicksburg, Mississippi. POW 12/16/1864 Nashville, TN. Confined 12/20/1864 Camp Douglas, IL. Oath Allegiance 6/18/1865, Camp Douglas, IL (Released). Promotions: Corporal. Died 4/29/1913 in Helena, Arkansas.

Joseph wrote the following for Confederate Veteran Magazine several years after the war.

FIRST REFERENCE, FROM CONFEDERATE VETERAN MAGAZINE, VOL. 1, P.267:
“Company B, of the Forty-third Mississippi Infantry, had a veritable camel, belonging to Lieut. W. H. H—— [Lt. William H. Hargrove], and the use he was put to was to carry the baggage of the officers’ mess. The horses of the command were afraid of the camel, and the driver was instructed to stop just outside the camp when it halted. But in a forced march toward Iuka, Miss., the command had halted just after dark, and the camel and driver got in the line of march before he knew it. The result was that a horse made a break with a fence rail attached to his halter, and running through the camp, he stampeded men and animals in every direction. Many men took [to] trees or any other protection, and the panic spread through much of the brigade, and many men and animals were badly hurt,and one or two horses, I think, were killed. The camel was in the siege of Vicksburg, and was killed there by a minie-ball from the enemy. But none of the Forty-third have forgotten the stampede near Iuka, Miss., just before the Battle of Corinth.”

SECOND REFERENCE, FROM CONFEDERATE VETERAN MAGAZINE, VOL. 11, NO. 11:
“‘OLD DOUGLAS’ –***** CAMEL BURDEN BEARER.
J. W. Cook, of Helena, Ark., who belonged to Company A, Forty-Third Mississippi Regiment, writes of an interesting attache of the regiment who could not speak for himself even had he survived the carnage of war: ‘Old Douglas’ was an African camel and belonged to the Forty-Third Mississippi Regiment. He was given to Col. William M. [actually ‘H.,’ for Hudson] Moore, of the regiment, by Lieut. [William H.] Hargrove. of Company B. Col. Moore assigned Douglas to the regimental band, for whom he carried instruments and knapsacks. The camel’s first active service was with Gen. Price in the Iuka campaign. He was sent to the wagon train, and stampeded all the teams. There was only one horse in Little’s Division which would face Douglas at first, and that was Pompey, the little bay stallion belonging to Col. Moore, but it was not long till he was on intimate terms with all. His keeper would chain him to keep him from wandering off, but Douglas would sit back and snap any kind of chain, then proceed to graze at leisure, though never leaving the regiment or interfering with anything that did not interrupt him. When the regiment was ready to start, Douglas would be led up to the pile of things he was to carry, and his leader would say, ‘Pushay, Douglas,’ and he would gracefully drop to his knees and haunches and remain so till his load was adjusted and he was told to get up. His long, swinging gait was soon familiar with the entire command, and ours was called the ‘Camel Regiment.’ Douglas was in the engagements of [Gen. Sterling] Price and [Gen. Earl] Van Dorn in Mississippi, and went with us to [Gen. John C.] Pemberton at Vicksburg, where he was killed by a skirmisher during the siege. His gallant owner had fallen in the second day’s fight at Corinth. Douglas was a faithful, patient animal, and his service merits record in the Veteran.”

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The 8th Wisconsin Infantry was known as “The Eagle Regiment”. It’s mascot was a bald eagle named, “Old Abe”, “Old Abe” miraculously survived fighting at Greenville, Island No. 10, Farmington, Corinth, Iuka, Henderson’s Hill, Pleasant Hill, Cloutierville, Bayou Lamourie Atchafalaya River, Lake Chicot, Jackson, Haynes’ Bluff, Vicksburg, Richmond, La., and Nashville. He lived until 1881, and his image was adopted as the eagle appearing on a globe in Case Corporation’s logo, and as the screaming eagle on the insignia of the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division.

The regiment was organized September 4, 1861, with a numerical strength of 973. It was mustered in September 13, and left the state October 12, for the lower Mississippi. The Color Guard were the “caretakers” of “Old Abe”. He was tethered to a shield-shaped perch atop a wooden pole by a strong cord, and carried by one of a total of six soldiers, given the honor of being his handlers. In combat two soldiers were assigned to bear and protect him. Fighting seemed to inspire him !
He’d screech loudly and flap his wings, drawing the ire of Confederates, who could be heard from time to time shouting, “kill the Yankee crow”! “shoot their wild goose”! Three of his six handlers were wounded in action. Abe lost a few tail feathers, but came through the war relatively unscratched.

Old Abe and the color guard at Vicksburg, July 1863: Ed Homaston (far left holding perch), Sgt Ambrose Armitage (third from left).

David McLain, a Private in Company C made the following statement about “Old Abe” :

I have frequently seen Generals Grant, Sherman, McPherson, Rosecrans, Blair Logan, and others, when they were passing our regiment, raise their hats as they passed Old Abe, which always brought a cheer from the regiment and then the eagle would spread his wings

So... what do you think? Please leave me a comment.

9 Comments:

  • Taylor:

    EastTennessee:


    Great story about “Old Douglas.” And I remember reading about President Davis’ “Texas Camel Experiment” some years ago, and I can understand the reasoning behind this unusual plan, but camels wouldn’t have the agility and trainability that’s required of war horses. I can well imagine the chaos created the first time the horses of Company B met Douglas. Horses don’t like the look and smell of an unfamiliar large animal, and they need a ’slow introduction.’ Being a flight animal, when a horse is confronted with something as scary as a camel would have been to them; their instinct is to get out of Dodge, full bore, and it doesn’t necessarily matter if you’re on their back! A panicked horse will run blind, set other horses off, and can do serious damage to themselves and everything around them, which appears to be what happened in Luka, Mississippi - a very unfortunate incident.


    Even mules can be an issue for some horses, if they haven’t been exposed to one before. They smell different than horses and I had this experience when I did a 10 day ride up Twin Peaks Mountain, outside Colorado Springs, a number of years ago. I was riding with a few friends and into our third day, a “mountain man” appeared it seemed from out of nowhere, looking as if he had just stepped out of the 1800’s, riding a mule and leading another pack animal. Two of the horses instantly panicked and went into a bucking spree worthy of a wild west rodeo show, and needless to say their riders were unceremoniously thrown within seconds and their horses left town. Fortunately no one was hurt (other than a bit of pride) and the horses couldn’t run too far off as the terrain was a little tricky. But it gave our ‘mule friend’ a good laugh as he rarely saw horse people in that part of the mountain and he good naturedly suggested that we all get ourselves a ‘good mule!’

  • EastTennessee1948: Thanks Taylor, you were very fortunate indeed ! "Old Douglass" met his demise toward the end of the Vicksburg siege. The Confederates were starving by that time, they were literally eating about anything with four legs, so needless to say, his last contribution to the Confederacy was being a meal. Several of the men kept bones as souvenirs.
  • Vale: Thanks for sharing this with us! One question- Why didn’t they just use the camels as pack animals and not enter into battle with them?
  • EastTennessee1948:

    I would think “Old Douglas” would have been difficult enough to control under normal situations, (marching, bivouacking, etc). But in combat ? Not me ! LOL !!!

  • Taylor: Vale:
    Having ridden a camel years ago (and an elephant!) I’ll stick with horses anytime where the terrain is challenging. Camels feet are designed to go over smooth surfaces, where the sure-footedness of horses you can almost always count on. I’ve ridden some pretty narrow trails in mountains throughout the U.S. and I’ll take a horse any day!
    Camels tend to be more inquisitive than most horses and I could see this being a problem when used as a pack animal - they also have a longer stride and are notorious for needing a little extra encouragement to leave "home." And when mixed with horses, the lightening speed of an angry horse to wheel around and kick out could cause serious injury, as camels are a little slow at getting out of the way.
    I’m no expert on camels, but the little I do know, I would think that the terrain covered during the WBTS, would have caused some serious problems with their feet, even though they could go days without food and water. And there were no camel foot experts at the time, and very few around today, although there are a few places in the States that do long distance camel rides; so they would need to have a specialized hoof trimmer for their camels.
    Personally, I love camels - they are very affectionate and fun to ride, but they’re not my choice for wilderness camp outs!
  • EastTennessee1948: I wouldn’t want to be the one having to "encourage" Old Douglas to move when the shells began to fly !
    Reminds me of an incident described by Sam Watkins in his book, "Company Aytch" (H). During the initial Confederate attack, at Shiloh, an artillery shell obliterates a Confederate supply wagon, and all but one of it’s mule team and the the poor teamster, who ends up on the surviving mule’s back. The panicked animal makes a bee-line for the Union position, passing up the charging Confederates, some of which began to cheer him !
    He’s frantically trying to turn the mule around, and yells, "It ain’t me boys, it’s this dang mule ! WHOA DANG YOU" !!!! The first time I ever read that, I laughed so much, my sweet wife thought I’d lost my mind !
  • Taylor: Such a good visual and it is pretty amusing. "Whoa" should never be an option!
  • Vale: Poor mule and teamster! I didn’t think about the terrain affecting a camels ability, but it makes sense. Same with its stubbornness to move!
  • enjay: I never knew about the camels. Interesting read!

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