Tale of Tails to Travel Across the Country - The Missourian: Features People

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Tale of Tails to Travel Across the Country

Serial Story About Dog Mascots of the Civil War Written by Missourian Columnist and Book Editor Chris Stuckenschneider Will Appear in Newspapers All Over the United States

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Posted: Saturday, January 7, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 12:30 pm, Mon Jan 9, 2012.

Whether you're a Civil War buff or not, you may think you know many of the stories of the battles between the states, but there's a good chance you have never heard these tales . . . or, better yet, tails.

Next weekend, The Missourian will begin a nine-chapter serial story about dog mascots of the Civil War. 

"Patriotic Pals: Tails of the Civil War," written by The Missourian's own columnist and book editor Chris Stuckenschneider, is an interesting series chock full of details about battles, regiments and leaders. While it's targeted at young readers and includes ideas and activities for how students can extend their learning, the stories will appeal to readers of all ages.

But equally as interesting as each chapter in "Patriotic Pals" is how the serial story came to be in the first place and where it's going from here. 

This story won't just be featured in The Missourian, but in newspapers all across the state as part of the Read Across Missouri project offered through the Missouri Press Foundation. It also will be featured in other states' newspapers as a Read Across the Nation project offered through the National Newspaper Association.

Ultimately Stuckenschneider plans to turn the story into a children's book, just as she did with "Twist of Fate, The Miracle Colt and His Friends," a serial story she wrote in 2007 that also was featured in many newspapers across the country.

Read Across Missouri is a project that the Missouri Press Association & Foundation offers each year.

"Our goal in this project is to have children across the state reading and learning about Missouri history inside their community newspapers," said Dawn Kitchell, director of the statewide Newspapers In Education program for Missouri Press and also educational services director for The Missourian. This is the eighth year for the project in which about 100 Missouri newspapers typically participate by publishing the same serialized story.

Pup Stories Are Popular and Plentiful

Kitchell has long been on the lookout for a serial story involving pups, ever since "Hank the Cowdog" series won students' and teachers' hearts years ago.

"I always get feedback saying, ‘We wish you would do another "Hank" story,' " said Kitchell. "But it's just not available, so over the years I've been looking for a story about dogs."

Last spring she approached Stuckenschneider, her close friend and colleague, about writing a series about dogs involved with the each of the wars fought by American soldiers.

"It was an idea I had after reading news stories about dogs who were involved in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan," said Kitchell, mentioning the military dog that served with SEAL Team 6 on its mission to capture Osama bin Laden.

"Then I thought, ‘I'll bet there were dogs and pets involved with every war, so I proposed to Chris that she research the idea and write a serial story for the newspaper."

They narrowed the scope to be just the Civil War, which is marking its 150th anniversary over the next several years, from 2011 to 2015.

"We hoped we would be able to find a dog mascot from some of the major Civil War battles," said Stuckenschneider.

"And we hit the jackpot!" Kitchell remarked, finishing her friend's thought.

"We went looking for these stories, and we found them." 

Research and Writing

Stuckenschneider began her research with a simple American history textbook borrowed from a teacher friend. To gather more information, she purchased Ken Burns' documentary series on the Civil War, plumbed the Internet for more stories and visited history museums in St. Louis and Springfield, Ill., and earlier had been to Shiloh, Tenn.

"I had some early success learning about a painting of a canine mascot in the Missouri History Museum, and from there the pieces just started to fall into place," said Stuckenschneider. "I kept researching and making calls to museums and to Civil War experts and gradually uncovered stories about mascots from major battles in a variety of states - that was important as well. We wanted the story to begin in Missouri but to branch out and include a number of states."

When it came to writing the chapters, Stuckenschneider called in advice from "a master of historical fiction"  - Deborah Hopkinson, a children's author who visited Washington several years ago for The Missourian's annual Family Reading Night event and also has had several of her titles selected as Book Buzz Picks.

"A key goal for me was to educate, but also entertain," said Stuckenschneider, explaining she was concerned because she couldn't verify the accuracy of some of the details regarding the dogs, but the details were what made the stories so interesting.

"Deborah said that is the stuff of historical fiction, that what I was writing wasn't nonfiction," recalled Stuckenschneider. "The stories were folktales, legends, and I should state that somewhere in the serial - which we did in the last chapter. I also sprinkled in statements like ‘as legend has it,' when referring to parts of the stories that seemed particularly hard to believe, like the claim that Brutus caught slugs called minie balls in his mouth. One Civil War expert laughed at that statement and said it would be the last minie ball he ever caught."

She enlisted Chuck, a Border collie from the border state of Missouri, to be the narrator.

"It was easy to visualize Chuck because the first dog my husband and I owned was a wonderful Border collie named Chuck," said Stuckenschneider. "At first I thought that Chuck could be in school and be assigned to write a research paper on Civil War mascots, but then I came up with the idea of him being owned by a Civil War re-enactor.

"I envisioned Chuck on the front porch of a beautiful house overlooking the river in Washington, and our area Civil War expert, Walt Larson, came to mind, so I borrowed his first name. And with that the two were off, gallivanting across the country."

Having the narrator dog be from Missouri was key for another reason, said Kitchell. The Reading Across Missouri story always focuses on Missouri history, but this year she wanted to tackle a broader topic in the Civil War, so the story was begun in Missouri.

A wrinkle developed in the process when Stuckenschneider sent the rough draft of eight chapters to Kitchell who noticed that all of the dogs were Union; the Confederacy wasn't represented.

"That was a dark day, but funny one too," said Stuckenschneider. "I realized in rereading the chapters in their entirety that my research had turned up only Union dogs, but I was so happy to get the draft finished I tried to talk myself out of that being a problem. When I spoke with Dawn, neither one of us could let it go," Stuckenschneider added. "It was back to the books - hoping against hope that I could find a rebel pup. When the bitty pooch Stonewall Jackson turned up I could have kissed the ground he walked on."

Another issue that proved trying was making sure the history of the battles was as accurate as possible. To accomplish this task, several Civil War "experts" read each of the chapters to verify the facts.

"We realized a story like this would have to be vetted through a lot of people," Kitchell remarked.

Meet the ‘Patriotic Pups'

As with any story meant for children, illustrations and images are important, so while Stuckenschneider was writing "Patriotic Pups" she was trying to come up with old photos of the actual mascots or get permission from various museums and individuals to use their illustrations.

"We contemplated using a caricature of Chuck, but thought it would be more meaningful if we used actual photographs of the mascots and of Chuck," said Stuckenschneider. "I was able to locate several portraits of the dogs in museums, and found a gentleman in Ohio who collects Civil War memorabilia - he had originals of several dog photos from the war. 

"For some of the other photographs, we used dogs we knew that looked like the dogs described in the stories that were passed down by men in the regiments."

Stuckenschneider laughs, though, when she recalls how she found the image of Chuck the narrator. She was on vacation in England, staying in the Lake District, when she visited a pub called The Drunken Duck.

"Inside the door, lying right on the floor by the bar was the most gorgeous Border collie," she said. "I worked up my courage and asked his owner if I could take a photo. The man was so kind - Chris Lewis is his name. He offered to take ‘Bob' his dog outside and have him pose on a picnic table, sheep and rolling hills in the background. 

"I've been in touch with Chris and he's really pleased ‘Bob' will be making his debut in the newspaper."

Several of the other dog images used in the story are pets who actually belong to people Stuckenschneider knows. 

"That's a fun addition that makes ‘Pals' even more special to me," she said. 

Following is a brief description of each of the eight "Patriotic Pals" in order of their appearance in the story:

Sgt. Dick, an American Staffordshire terrier, mascot of the St. Louis Grays, a militia involved in the Camp Jackson incident in St. Louis;

Shanks, a hound who lived to tell about the battle at Shiloh, Tenn. He witnessed the action alongside his owner, Union Lt. Louis Pfieff, He charged into battle with him, stayed by his battle grave until his wife appeared and then led her to the site so she could take his body home;

Stonewall Jackson, a Jack Russell terrier stray who appeared out of nowhere to provide morale to one of the regiments with the Virginia Howitzers of the Confederacy. He was adopted by Sgt. John Van Lew McCreery, who taught him tricks as an entertaining diversion in between battles. One was having him hold a tiny pipe between his teeth as he sat up straight during roll call. The dog was a fierce fighter, barking and running around as cannons and rifles fired;

Brutus, a Newfoundland who fought alongside the Iron Brigade at the Battle of Antietam. Legend says he chased after minie balls, trying to catch them in his mouth. Union Capt. Werner von Bachelle trained that out of him and instead taught him other tricks, like how to salute. When Capt. Bachelle died at Antietam, Brutus was found dead atop his master's body.

Sallie, a brindle, Staffordshire bull terrier, has a bronze statue at Gettysburg, where you can read her "witness" account. She was the pet mascot of the 11th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. Sallie kept the soldiers company, stood alongside them during battle, tended to the wounded and watched over the dead.

Harvey, a bull terrier, pet mascot of the Union's 104th Ohio "Barking Dog Regiment," which had other pets too, including raccoons and squirrels. Harvey's chapter shares details about the Battle of Franklin.

Dog Jack has a portrait hanging in the Allegheny County Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall in Pittsburgh, Pa. He served in the war with the Volunteer Firemen of Niagara, Pa. It's said he responded to bugle calls, bounded into the heat of fray, sought out the wounded and stayed with them until help arrived. He was twice taken prisoner by the rebels.

The final chapter tells about Fido, President Abraham Lincoln's beloved pet, whom he left in an adoptive home in Springfield, Ill., when he came to the White House.

"Patriotic Pals" will be featured in The Missourian every weekend beginning with the Jan. 14-15 issue and ending with the March 10-11 issue.

The series also includes a companion teacher guide, written by St. Clair teacher, Jennifer Hawkins, who was the Missourian in Education teacher of the year back in 2004. Questions in the guide are aligned to Missouri's Grade Level Expectations and are appropriate for most elementary students. The guide is available by linking to the Newspaper In Education pages at www.emissourian.com

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