Earl Hess added the study of human-animal relations and their role in the Civil War to a long list of scholarships. In his new Animal histories of the Civil War era, collects essays from insects and bees to pigs, dogs, camels and horses. Not only did the war reveal the need for Army veterinary service, but the extent of the suffering and slaughter of millions of animals probably contributed to the shift toward humane treatment of animals that gained ground in the mid-1800s.
CWT: How did you get to the topic of animal history?
EH: In 2018, historian Joan Cashin hosted a panel on animals and civil war at the Southern Historical Association conference. I took part in this and had the idea to make a book anthology. One of the things I wanted to do was look at what animal research has to say about the relationship between animals and humans. The other thing I wanted to do is to understand animals within warfare as opposed to peacetime relationships with humans.
CWT: You contributed with chapters on wildlife, vegetarians, and artillery horses.
EH: Animal literature is mostly about horses and dogs, as these were the most common contact with humans. But I read reports from soldiers and talk about insects, lightning bugs, and alleys. Wildlife is part of the wildlife, the soldiers have had a lot of contact with wildlife.
The vegetarian issue is because my wife and I are vegetarians, so we are sensitive to this issue for many different reasons. We don’t think it’s a big deal for a person to kill sentient beings just to consume them, and for other reasons as well. He was shocked to have a vegetarian perspective on the Civil War. The army’s dose was heavily focused on eating meat. Well, a lot of soldiers didn’t like it. They could not eat it without being ill. There were very few vegetarians in the Union or Confederate Army. But there were many soldiers who could have benefited from such a diet. Some may be wondering what this has to do with animal testing. The area deals with vegetarianism and the philosophical and other aspects of the vast industry created to care for and then kill and eat animals. This is part of the story of animal history. The essay I wrote about artillery horses as warriors talks about the bond between artillery horses and humans. We need to understand that some animals, such as dogs and horses, were not only used for military purposes. They were armed. They made them warriors. did they like it Some adapted to it; some do not. Some of the horses liked it, got involved in it, and developed a very close and loving relationship with the gunners assigned to care for them. Other horses could not submit to the military regiment. They were fired; they tried to escape. Some died in the service because they were so stressed. Tens of thousands of horses have died from disease, fighting and overwork in the field. I think it’s important that readers interested in the Civil War understand all of this.
CWT: I was surprised to learn of the lack of veterinary care.
EH: There were probably only six real veterinarians in America in the 1860s. The practice was very childish. Men had to dig into their civic experiences with home remedies to figure things out. Animal care was terrible in the Civil War.
CWT: The horses seemed so disciplined on the battlefield.
EH: Horses have herd instincts and understand the bitter command. They respond to other horses or people who develop dominance over them. Not all horses are smart, but many are smart. Not only artillery horses, but also cavalry horses. Some riders said the horse was smarter than some of their companions. The horses grabbed the signs of the bugs: they very quickly associated a particular bug signal with a particular move without telling them what to do. This is indeed one aspect of the cooperation between animal and human. This is not the rule of man; it is a cooperative enterprise between the two. The same can be said for dogs, although dogs were much less used than horses in the Civil War. One of the biggest things we can deduce from animal testing is the concept of agency: animals are not just machines, passive acceptors of what they are told, but animals in contact with humans have some degree of ability to influence or influence that relationship. to provide guidance on determining what they are willing or unwilling to do.
CWT: The book also describes how dogs were used.
EH: Lorien Foote examines how animals have been used to control enslaved populations. Some Confederate units used dogs to search for fleeing EU prisoners and in one case used them in a minor clash with black troops. I would not overemphasize this; not used in thousands. But apparently South Carolina used dogs in this way to force the slavery and domination of blacks after the Civil War and during the war itself.
CWT: It was suggested that the dogs be killed because they damaged the sheep needed for uniform wool.
EH: Joan Cashin has found a proposal from a Virginia legislature that all dogs should be killed because of war efforts. Those who raise sheep were usually very angry with dogs. There are so many dogs in many southern states that they have almost completely slipped out of their control. It’s a wonderful suggestion to kill all the dogs or suggest taxing the dogs as an alternative way to control them. But most dogs in the 19th century were not pets. People kept them for a variety of reasons. They helped them hunt, protect their property, or control blacks.
CWT: Pigs are also included.
EH: Southerners ate more pork than anyone else, and in the 1860s, the primary meat-packing place in America was Cincinnati, right on the north bank of the Ohio River, just a stone’s throw from the southern area, so it was a southern town. An estimated 6.8 million pigs were eaten during the war, and the Federal Army did a good job of feeding the southern pigs as they passed through the south. The Confederates tried to eat as much as they could.
CWT: Did Sheridan catch 15,000 pigs in the Shenandoah Valley?
EH: Meat deteriorated rapidly in the 1860s. The spoiled meat was handed over to the soldiers and then thrown out. Supplying soldiers with meat was the biggest headache for the commissioners and the most expensive task for the government. It caused all sorts of environmental problems. If you camp with thousands of people for a few weeks, you will quickly form a huge slaughterhouse full of intestines and offal that have had a detrimental effect on your health.
CWT: It is clear that the animals were dragged into the war, but not on an equal footing.
EH: In the modern world, humans are very separated from animals. We have no hands in killing the animals we eat. Pick up the steak ready for cooking. We don’t think of it as an animal. Our relationship with animals is primarily about pets. One of the things animal historians are trying to do is break through all of this and prove that the animals were with us on the road to life, even if we didn’t recognize it. I believe that the animal-centered vision of civil war will better understand the history of the conflict and make us more humble.
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