After more than a year’s service in the Army of the Potomac, a combat veteran from Maine noticed that pets — animals of almost any kind — often turned even the most callous soldier a bit softer.
Edmund J. Brookings, 23, had enlisted in Co. B, 16th Maine Infantry Regiment, on August 1, 1862. A 5-11 “merchant” from Farmingdale (the town immediately upriver from Gardiner in Kennebec County), he had black eyes, black hair, and a dark complexion. He would survive the war to muster out in June 1865.
A Gettysburg veteran, Brookings had witnessed soldiers at their worst and best. Just as “sin and wickedness” could be found in the army, not to mention “recklessness and immorality,” he knew “noble, generous[,] high minded, yes, religious and moral men … men brave in withstanding crime as they are the charge of the enemy.”
Brookings believed — and perhaps naively — that “there is in man, notwithstanding the natural hardness of heart, and seeming brutality, an affection for that which is lovely or gentle. He has a constant drawing towards innocence and simplicity.
“Within the casemates of wickedness and recklessness, there lies that simple but powerful weapon for good—affection,” Brookings said. “Never have I seen its workings so distinctly manifest, and its beauteous attraction as apparent … as in the army.
“Affection shows itself” in “a love for some animate object like a dog, a kitten, bird or pet,” Brookings said.
Brookings remembered a “hard, rough, and unapproachable” soldier who had “a beautiful kitten, white as snow, which he fed punctually.” The cat slept in the soldier’s blanket, “and while in his tent it climbed upon his shoulder, and lay its little head on his neck, and purred itself to sleep.”
Wherever the soldier’s regiment marched, the kitten curled atop the man’s “knapsack, perfectly contented, or if in battle it was gently laid inside” the knapsack, Brookings recalled. The soldier was “kind and gentle” to the kitten, “not allowing any one to treat it badly.”
Thinking again about this particular soldier, Brooking asked, “Did not the little animal, by instinct, if not by perception, see the real nature of that man?” Could not an animal “sometimes discover the trait of character” in a particular soldier?
Another soldier had “a tame dove” that “would light upon his shoulder and eat from his hand, or pick [food] from his mouth,” Brookings said. He had read recently about the soldier who “carried along with him” a hen that sheltered in his knapsack and was “contented with her lot.
“I lately saw a young robin which a soldier carefully fed and kept comfortable by his tent, taking intense delight” in holding the bird, Brookings said.
And what about cavalrymen? “The soldier pets his horse, sees that he is as comfortable as himself, and many is the time that he turns back after leaving him, to pat him on the neck, or stroke his mane,” Brookings noted. “If the horse falls in battle, many a tear is shed over the fate of the poor beast.”
And then there was Major. Brookings did not know the dog’s name, but he knew the dog belonged “in the 10th Maine Regiment,” mustered out a few months earlier. The dog “is the pet of the company in which his master belongs.
“He always stays with the company—has been in all the battles in which his master has been engaged, running even to the mouth of the rebel cannons,” Brookings had heard.
“No harm or cruelty is allowed to trouble him, and any dainties which they [soldiers] have, are shared with the dog,” he reported. “This affection is reciprocated by the animal.”
What Brookings did not know was that Major would return to the army when most 10th Maine veterans joined the new 29th Maine Infantry Regiment. A black Newfoundland mix, Major had seen action at First Manassas with the 1st New Hampshire Infantry, then boarded in October 1861 the train carrying the newly minted 10th Maine Infantry south.
For some reason the dog took a liking to Co. H. Its members named their canine comrade “Major.”
He would have many adventures during the next few years. The March 2022 issue of America’s Civil War will feature an article titled “A Fierce Bark and a Steady Growl,” written by Nicholas Picerno, the nation’s leading authority on the 1st/10th/29th Maine infantry regiments.
The article tells the story of Major and the men with him he went into battle.
As for Edmund J. Brookings, he would survive the war to muster out in June 1865. Whether or not he brought home a pet to Farmingdale, history does not tell.
Sources: Edmund J. Brookings Soldier’s File, Maine State Archives; Soldiers’ Pets, Gardiner Home Journal, Thursday, August 20, 1863
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Brian Swartz can be reached at email@example.com. He enjoys hearing from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.