Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Dogs in the Kabinettskriege Period

Charles Lee with one of his numerous dogs 
 Dear Reader,

Whether you are a good, loyal, dog loving person, or an evil, faithless, degenerate cat lover, you still want to hear more about animals in the Kabinettskriege period, right?

The fact of the matter is, dogs were loved in this period of history, much like they are today. At the Battle of Germantown, a fierce battle in the 1777 Philadelphia campaign, the American soldiers actually captured one of General William Howe's dogs, a fox terrier, (name, alas, unknown). The dog had followed Howe into battle, and in the confusion, retreated with the Americans instead of the British. Caroline Tiger has written a fascinating study of this incident. 

A recent study of dogs, gentlemanly conduct, and warfare
 Many Americans soldiers advocated taking the dog as a prize of war, or even charging it with being a spy. General Washington soon became aware of what was happening, and returned the pooch to his owner, with a friendly note, stating:

"General Washington's compliments to General Howe. He does himself the pleasure to return him a dog, which accidentally fell into his hands, and by the inscription on the Collar appears to belong to General Howe." [1]

Thus, Washington proved that he was a gentleman, and this incident left a profound effect on General Howe. Howe was far from the only dog lover in the Kabinettskriege period. General Charles Lee, a British and American soldier, was seldom seen without at least six dogs. General Washington had many dogs, and after the war, named one of them Cornwallis after the British general!

Frederick II of Prussia, working with his dogs
Frederick II "the Great" of Prussia also loved his greyhounds and whippets very much. While often spiky and unkind in human relationships, he always had a soft spot in his heart for animals. This might be a result of his childhood, where often pets were his only consolation when dealing with his menacing father. His favorite dog was Biche, a whippet who was given to him early in life. Much like General Howe's dog, she was captured by the Austrians during a battle. At the end of the war, the Austrians returned Biche to Frederick, and he cried tears of joy.

Later, when Biche passed away, Frederick wrote the following:

“I have had a domestic loss which has completely upset my philosophy. I confide all my frailties in you: I have lost Biche, and her death has reawoken in me the loss of all my friends, particularly of him who gave her to me. I was ashamed that a dog could so deeply affect my soul, but the sedentary life I lead and the faithfulness of this poor creature had so strongly attached me to her, her suffering so moved me, that I confess, I am sad and afflicted. Does one have to be hard? Must one be insensitive? I believe that anyone capable of indifference towards a faithful animal is unable to be grateful towards an equal, and that, if one must choose, it is best to be too sensitive than too hard.” 

One of our modern-day "dog's of war"
However, like James Herriot, Frederick believed that it was important to always have animals in his life, and went on to have many other dogs. He loved dogs until the end of his days, as evidenced by his last words, “cover the dog, he is shivering.” Frederick’s love for dogs, (and other animals) shows us another side of his character, often missed by historians. Much like today, dogs were an essential part of life during the Kabinettskriege period.

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Thanks for reading,

Alex Burns 

[1] Washington Papers, Washington to Howe, Oct. 6, 1777. 


  1. Fascinating!! I had forgotten that Freddy had a whippet! And I love the James Herriot mention....:-)
    Does "Biche" mean anything in particular?

    1. As you may remember, Frederick loved French. Biche is the French word for a deer, specifically a female deer. Doe or hind might be a good translation. I'm glad you enjoyed the post! Let me know if you have any other questions!!