Sunday, March 31, 2013


Tip and Major were two dogs who belonged to a regiment called the 79th New York Cameron Highlanders.  This group was organized in 1858, and it had mostly Scottish and Irish immigrants in it.  At first, it was more of a social club than a military unit.  The St. Andrews and Caledonian Societies of New York, plus wealthy people such as Samuel M. Elliot and James Cameron provided the money for the group.  They named themselves after the 79th Cameron Highlanders of Scotland, and they also used the Erracht tartan used by that group, but they didn't have any connection beyond that to the 79th of the British Army.

When the Civil War started, the Highlanders were mustered into active duty, but first they had to recruit some more members, since they didn't have enough.  They soon started fighting in a bunch of battles, and by the end of the war, they had fought at First Bull Run, Secessionville, Manasas, South Mountain, Antietam, and Fredericksburg.

Tip and some of the Highlanders in camp.
Photo from Civil War Dogs and the Men Who Loved Them

Everybody in the regiment knew Tip, who was a medium-sized, scruffy-looking dog.  Or at least that's how he looks in the picture.  Tip was born in Beaufort, South Carolina.  I don't know how he ended up with some Union soldiers from New York, but he stayed with the Highlanders for the whole three years of their service.  He probably got his name because the tip of his tail was missing, but there was one report that he was missing part of a hind leg.

Tip was friendly to all the men in the 79th, but his special human was William Samo, of the drum corps.  Tip was very helpful to the soldiers because he liked to go out foraging, and he often came back with pigs, sheep, and chickens.  Whenever the Highlanders did a dress parade, Tip marched right along with the band and drum corps.

Some men from the 79th in dress uniform

Another dog that was with the 79th was Major.  Sometimes when a soldier was calling to Major, one of the human majors thought he was the one being called.  The Highlanders were afraid that Major might get lost, so they identified him as a member of the drum corps by painting a drum on one side of him, and "D C 79" on the other.

Cameron of Erracht Tartan

On September 2, 1863, Union troops captured the city of Knoxville.  In order to defend the city, the Highlanders regiment took over an earthworks fort that they called Fort Sanders.  The Confederates had called it Fort Loudon.  This fort was at the top of a hill, and there was a ditch in front to help protect it.  The ditch was about 12 feet wide and 8 feet deep.

General Longstreet, who was in charge of the rebel army, decided to make a surprise attack on the Union position.  So during the night of November 28th, he moved his troops up to about 150 yards from the Fort Sanders.  The rebels tried to be very sneaky about this, but the Highlanders found out what was going on anyway.  One of the men went out to walk a dog -- maybe William Samo and Tip -- where they knew Longstreet's men could see them.  The man and dog crossed the ditch on a plank, so that made the Confederates think there wasn't any ditch around the fort.

The Highlanders' General Stevens and his command staff

When they attacked in the morning, the rebels found out all about the ditch when they tried to cross it.  First they had to get through a whole bunch of telegraph wire that the men of the 79th had strung up there.  After that, the Union troops had to cross the ditch, which they had lots of trouble doing because there was ice and sleet in it, so it was really slippery.  While the men were in the ditch, the Highlanders started lighting fuses on shells and throwing them down there.

A few of the rebels managed to climb up to the fort, but in the end, they had to retreat.  Of course, this made the Highlanders very happy.  They only had 20 people killed and 80 wounded.  The rebels lost 813 troops who were killed, wounded, and missing.

Monument in Knoxville dedicated to the 79th NY Infantry
Photo by Brian Stansberry

On May 13, 1864, the original group of Highlanders mustered out because their enlistment was up.  There was a Grand Review in Washington on May 23, 1865, and the regiment took part in that.  Then they went back to being a state militia again.  During the war, the 79th had a total of 298 killed and 304 wounded or missing, out of an original enrollment of 2,200.

Some members of the 79th Highlanders 

I didn't see any information about what happened to Tip and Major, but they seem to have survived the war.  I like to think they lived out the rest of their lives sleeping in the sun on some nice farm someplace, because that's what all retired war dogs should do!


  1. Enjoyed this post! It's always wonderful to see the faithful dogs of the Civil War remembered!

    1. I've been writing about Civil War dogs this year because we are starting the 150th anniversary of the War. A lot of my information comes from the book "Civil War Dogs and the Men Who Loved Them," by Anne Palagruto. But I also find some info online. I'm glad you like reading about this topic!

  2. Just came across your article. William Samo was my 2nd great grandfather :) Thanks for the great post :)

    1. Wow, that is very cool that William Samo was one of your ancestors! I'm glad you found my blog and wrote a comment in it.

    2. It is a great blog post! Very interesting. I found it while doing genealogy research. :) I wonder if he is in one pf the pictures......hmmm...