Tuesday, September 2, 2014

CALAMITY: A CIVIL WAR DOG

On October 14, 1862, a bunch of men from Waukesha and Walworth Counties got together and formed the 28th Regiment Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry.  They joined up because of President Lincoln's second call for volunteers.  I couldn't find any explanation of why they didn't answer Mr. Lincoln's first call, so don't ask me why they didn't.  All I know is that during the summer of 1862 about 1,000 men got recruited to join up.

These men were divided into 10 companies, and their commander was Colonel James M. Lewis.  They spent 9 weeks training at Camp Washburn, near Milwaukee.  Then, on December 20, they got on the train and headed south to Arkansas, because that was where the action was.

One of the men who enlisted in this Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry as a private was named Peter Bodette.  He was born on January 30, 1819 in Lower Canada, which still belonged to Great Britain in those days.  His father was Elazar Salom Beaudet, and his mother was Marie Lafleur.  So as you can see, his ancestors were of French descent.  Probably, he changed the spelling of his name so that people of English descent could figure out how to pronounce it.

When Peter Bodette was 15 years old, he came to the U.S. and settled in Vermont.  He married a woman named Louise Mellette, but she died in 1846.  After that, he married a woman named Josephine Orcutt.  The Bodettes moved to Waukesha County, Wisconsin in 1857.  All together, Mr. Bodette fathered 15 children.  All but one of his children outlived him.  The one who didn't was his oldest, Peter Jr., who had joined the 8th Vermont Regiment.  He was killed only one week before his father joined up in Wisconsin, at age 43.

Peter Bodette
Nowadays, you would not even be accepted into the army if you were 43 years old, but during the Civil War, the military pretty much took anybody who could carry a gun.  And if he knew how to shoot it, that was even better!

Okay, so like I told you, the 28th Regiment of the Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry got shipped to Arkansas to do some fighting at places like Helena, Montana Elba, and Mark's Mills.  When the soldiers were in Fort Bluff, Private Bodette found a little puppy.  He was black on his sides and back, and yellow underneath.  The pup soon grew up to be a fairly good-sized dog.  The men liked having a canine mascot around, so they fed him and took care of him.

One morning in the summer of 1864, Captain Thomas N. Stevens was riding past the barracks right at dawn.  The dog ran out and started barking, which spooked the captain's horse, and he was almost thrown off.  He was so mad that he pulled his pistol out and fired 3 shots at the dog.  Two of the shots hit him, but the men nursed their mascot back to health.  When Colonel Edmund B. Gray heard about the shooting incident, he named the dog Calamity, which everyone called him after that.  I couldn't find any information about what Calamity's original name was, even though I'm sure they must have called him something before he was Calamity.

One way that the dog was useful to the regiment was that he would go out with the men who were foraging for food.  The men were not allowed to shoot any hogs, but if they could kill them, they could have them to eat.  So Calamity would chase down a hog and then hold it by the ear until the men could come and kill it.  I don't know why the men weren't allowed to shoot the hogs, but maybe a gunshot would give away their position.  Of course, a hog being held by the ear by a dog would not be very quiet.  So maybe the foragers were trying to save ammunition.  I wish my sources would have explained this, but they didn't.

The Battle of Spanish Fort
After the 28th Wisconsin finished fighting in Arkansas, they were sent to Alabama, where they fought at a place called Spanish Fort.  This was a big siege that went on for over a week before the Union forces won.  Spanish Fort turned out to be the last major battle of the war.  On the first of June, 1865, the brigade was sent from Mobile, Alabama to Texas.  They mustered out at Brownsville on August 23, 1865.  All in all, the regiment lost 1 officer and 12 enlisted men who were killed in action or who later died of their wounds.  Six officers and 221 enlisted men died of disease.

Peter Bodette's fellow officers gave Calamity to him at the end of the war, and we have to assume he took the dog back to Wisconsin with him.  I wish I had some information about what happened to Calamity after that, but I don't.  What I do know is that the Bodette family moved to northwestern Wisconsin in the early 1870s, and Peter spent the rest of his life there.  He died at Boyceville on July 29th, 1897, of kidney disease and congestive heart failure, and he was buried in Downing Cemetery.


4 comments:

  1. I stumbled across your blog post and I found it completely fascinating. I'm sure Calamity brought much joy to the regiment. They did very well to nurse him back to health after being shot twice!

    I pondered your question about why the men weren't allowed to shoot the hogs. If my limited historical knowledge serves me right then the guns were single loading and so every bullet was sacred. However I have another possibility for you to consider. These soldiers were answering a 2nd call to join up so not your traditional hardened soldiers. Maybe they had to kill the hogs at close range as a way of getting them used to the act of ending a life and so preparing them for the horrid tasks ahead - Just a thought

    You've gained a subscriber I look forward to reading more of your excellent blog posts :)

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    1. Dear SilverDogCharms,
      Thanks for your comments on my blog! I'm glad you liked reading it, and I hope you will keep reading it in the future. Your idea about why the soldiers weren't allowed to shoot the hogs is also interesting, and it's one I hadn't thought of.
      Dorrie

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  2. Thanks for sharing Calamity's story! Glad to know that he survived the war. Those dogs meant so much to their soldiers, just as our Military Working Dogs still do today.

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    1. Thanks for reading my blog and posting a comment. I too am glad that Calamity survived the war!

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