Hanging on a wall at the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis is an oil painting — a portrait, really — of a dog named Sarge. Yes, a dog.
Sarge, which is short for Sgt. Dick, served as a mascot for the St. Louis Greys, a militia assigned to keeping order back in the 1860s just prior to the start of the American Civil War. Sarge marched in parades and alongside the troops.
If it surprises you to learn that a dog had any role in Civil War frays or on the battlefield, you’ll be even more surprised to learn that Sarge isn’t alone. There are many stories — some authenticated, some legend — of dogs serving in various roles during the war between the states.
Back in January 2012, Missourian columnist and book editor Chris Stuckenschneider first wrote about these loyal and fearless pooches in a serial story, “Patriotic Pals, Tails of the Civil War,” that was featured in more than 400 newspapers in 44 states as part of both a Read Across Missouri project sponsored by the Missouri Press Association and a Read Across the Nation project sponsored by the National Newspaper Association.
As Stuckenschneider began researching the story for the newspaper, she knew it also would make a wonderful children’s picture book.
“The subject matter is very original. I haven’t seen another children’s book that deals with dogs during the Civil War,” said Stuckenschneider, who wrote an award-winning children’s book, “Twist of Fate,” about the miracle colt born after his mother and a number of other horses were in a tractor-trailer accident on Highway 44 in Franklin County.
That story too began as a serial story for the newspaper. The book is now the second best-selling title for publisher Reedy Press in St. Louis.
You may have read the “Patriotic Pals” serial story in The Missourian back in 2012, but now is your chance to experience it again in a new way. “Patriotic Pals” is available as a children’s picture book.
The stories about the dogs are basically the same, but the tone is more playful and fun.
The serial story, Stuckenschneider explained, was more a vehicle for teachers (and parents reading with their children at home) to use with their students in learning about the Civil War. It was much longer — over 6,000 words broken down into nine chapters.
The book, which is about 1,500 words, is still focused on educating children and inspiring them to do their own research on the war, but it’s also about entertainment. There’s more humor and comic relief.
The characters telling the story were given more personality to draw in readers, said Stuckenschneider, and the illustrations — paintings by artist Richard Bernal — are engaging and full of detail.
Pups Embark on Road Trip to Learn
Told by Chuck, a sensible Border collie from the border state of Missouri, and his poodle pal, Tilly, “Patriotic Pals” is a flashback of a multistate road trip the two pups embark on after seeing Sarge’s portrait hanging at the Missouri History Museum.
The pups make a stop at Shiloh National Military Park in Tennessee, where they learn about Shanks, a loyal dog who charged into the fight with his master, who was killed and buried in an unmarked grave.
“Shanks stood watch by the grave for 12 days . . . When Mrs. Pfieff came to Shiloh to find her husband’s body, Shanks led her to the lieutenant’s grave,” the book reads.
From Tennessee, Chuck and Tilly head to Lexington, Va., and the home of Confederate Gen. “Stonewall” Jackson, who had a “spitfire” terrier named after him by a company of Confederate soldiers.
The men taught the dog tricks as an entertaining diversion in between battles. One was having the tiny dog hold a pipe between his teeth as he sat up straight during roll call.
Next, Chuck and Tilly stop at Antietam National Battlefield outside of Sharpsburg, Md., where one of the biggest battles of the Civil War took place and where Chuck and Tilly learn about Brutus, a Newfoundland who belonged to Capt. Werner von Bachelle.
This dog learned to salute and “legend has it” that he even tried to catch Minie balls (a type of bullet) in his mouth.
Other stories tell about Sallie, an actual bull terrier memorialized at Gettysburg, Pa.;
Harvey, a bulldog with the 104th Ohio (known as the “Barking Dog Regiment”) who was so loved by his soliders that they had pins with his portrait made so they could wear them; and
Fido, who was President Lincoln’s family pet before he was elected president.
Along with the tale of each Civil War dog is a sidebar feature about some fact relating to the Civil War. With Sallie at Gettysburg, for example, the sidebar gives the dates of the battle and information about President Lincoln’s now-famous “Gettysburg Address.”
With Shanks and the Battle of Shiloh, the sidebar notes how “Unionists named the battle after a little white church that became a hospital for the wounded.”
Stuckenschneider laughs a little as she reads the pages at Antietam National Battlefield where Chuck makes a point of repeating the name of the site over and over again so he gets the pronunciation correct.That, she said, was an idea born from her own reality.
“When I started doing my research, I didn’t know how to pronounce Antietam . . . I ended up calling the editor and he told me, and I kept saying it over and over again so I’d get it in my head.
“I took some of my own struggles and put them into the book.”
Looking back on all of the research she put into writing first the serial story and then the book, Stuckenschneider — whose dog from some 40-plus years ago after she was first married was the inspiration for the book’s main character, Chuck — said the stories of these dogs taught her something about the Civil War and its soldiers that she’s not sure she could have learned any other way.
“I think the thing I was struck by . . . was what these dogs represented for these men,” Stuckenschneider remarked. “I don’t think I really realized how much they were a constant reminder of home . . . a comfort.”
“Patriotic Pals” was just released a couple of weeks ago, but Valerie Jankowski, librarian at Washington Middle School, has already written a review of it on Amazon.com. She describes the story as “clever” and “engaging,” for children and adults alike.
“This book can be used so many different ways: as an introduction to the Civil War, as a way to illustrate how dogs can be much more than human companions, and as a geography lesson as the narrators . . . travel around the United States,” wrote Jankowski.
The target audience for “Patriotic Pals” are children in grades two to six, as well as younger children whose parents read to them.
‘It Takes an Amazing Team’
Stuckenschneider is quick to share the success of “Patriotic Pals” with the team of people who helped and contributed along the way — her friend and coworker Dawn Kitchell, who is the educational services director for the Missouri Press Association and who first asked Stuckenschneider to write a serial story for the newspaper about dogs serving in wars; illustrator Bernal who brought the story to life with his vision; and the staff at Reedy Press in St. Louis, Matt Heidenry and Josh Stevens.
(Not to mention Stuckenschneider’s mom, Amy Flottmann, whom she dedicates the book to along with her five grandchildren, for instilling in her a love of books and reading.)
“It takes an amazing team of talented people to create a children’s book,” Stuckenschneider remarked. “It looks so easy, but it is so labor intensive.”
As with any children’s picture book, the illustrations are key to its success, said Stuckenschneider, who couldn’t be more pleased with Bernal’s depiction of her story.
“I like how he combined very colorful art with the sepia tones for when he looks back to the legendary dogs, that makes the book both comic and serious,” she said.
Bernal, Richmond Heights, who has illustrated 10 books in his career, all mainly dealing with animals, said he likes working in sepia tones and felt for this project it was particularly appropriate as “it would be reminiscent of old photographs.”
By contrast, he used bright colors to depict present day scenes because he felt it would be fun for kids and a way to engage them.
At Reedy Press, Stevens said he knew from the moment he heard about the “Patriotic Pals” serial story that it should be developed into a children’s book as well.
“The serial story had already developed an audience,” he said. “Recasting an appealing story for younger children, and incorporating great visuals, only made sense.”
“The story was the most popular in the history of both our Missouri reading project, Reading Across Missouri, and our partnership with the National Newspaper Association,” she said.
Transforming the serial story into a book wasn’t as easy as people might expect. It basically required starting the writing process over.
“The new picture book is the best of Chris’ writing from the serial story,” said Kitchell. “It’s quite a process — imagine working for months to write about a monumental event like the Civil War in just 6,000 kid-friendly words for a serial story. Then, you spend the next year paring that down to 1,500 or so words for a book. It’s a hard process and takes great skill — and patience.”
Heidenry, who served as Stuckenschneider’s editor for the book, said what he likes best about the final product is the way “the art, typography and narrative all fit together in style and tone.
“Plus, the balance between the contemporary characters and the historical dogs keeps the text and art engaging.”
Stuckenschneider will give a reading and presentation on “Patriotic Pals” at the Washington Public Library Saturday morning, Sept. 14, at 10 a.m.
Other presentations will be held Sept. 26, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at Deer Run Branch, St. Charles City County Library in O’Fallon; and
Oct. 13 at 2 p.m. at Purina Farms in Gray Summit.
To see a trailer for “Patriotic Pals,” people can visit Stuckenschneider’s new website, http://chrisstuckenschneider.com.
Recording the trailer, Stuckenschneider notes, was an interesting experience. After writing a script for it, she had to find someone to act it out and provide the voice over, so she turned to her longtime friend and actor, John Anglin, Washington.
To purchase a copy of “Patriotic Pals” people can contact Stuckenschneider directly by email, email@example.com, or through her website.
Currently Stuckenschneider is working on a coffee-table book, “My Washington,” that will celebrate the town’s 175th anniversary in 2014.
The book will feature a cross section of 175 people from Washington talking about what the community means to them with photos by Jeanne Miller Wood. All of the proceeds will go to local literacy efforts.
It is expected to be available in 2014.
As far as children’s picture books go, Stuckenschneider said she has a few ideas she’s working on.
“Maybe one about a steam engine or another about a squirrel living at Busch Stadium,” she said.
Watch The Missourian for details.