The Lion of Belfort, and the Story of a Boxer You Might Not Know

In Belfort, France, an absolutely massive sculpture of a lion sits at the foot of the citadel. The lion alone measures 37 feet from head to foot, and is made entirely of red sandstone dug exclusively from beneath Belfort Castle. The blocks that make up the statue were individually sculpted by the same man who designed the Statue of Liberty, Frédéric Bartholdi. The sculpture completed in 1880 is called the “Lion of Belfort,” and it commemorates the French resistance (some 17,000 people) to invading Prussian forces that vastly outnumbered them (the Prussians, 40,000 strong) for 103 days. The Prussian siege was eventually turned away, and less than a decade later, the massive lion was completed in honor of the battle.

Most people probably aren’t aware of smaller, quieter story associated with this battle.  In 1871, a white Boxer with black marks Boxer,2nd Lt. Burckhardt,Lion of Belfort,Frédéric Bartholdi named, “Box” stood defiantly alongside his owner, 2nd Lt. Burckhardt, at the front lines of a battle. Box had to stand on three legs because the fourth had been hit by shrapnel days before. As they stood there, the dog was hit by grenade, but Lt. Burckhardt standing right next to him was spared. While Box’s name is not on the Lion of Belfort or even a plaque near it, his memory lives on through a letter written by his owner, a soldier who believed he would surely have been hit by the grenade had Box not been there. His letter appears in “The Great Book Of Bulldogs Bull Terrier and Molosser: Part II Molosser,” and appears below:

“I had the best chance to learn to appreciate the loyalty and virtues of a Boxer. Just this fact gives rise to intercede for this breed by an example. In the campaign 1870/71 I was attended by a Boxer of paternal breeding; continuously the good fellow had taken part by my side in the combats and battles near Metz. He lived with us in our tents and during the siege was a safe guard towards every danger approaching the troop. There was a general interest and special liking in the loyal and high intelligent dog and in every report of mine to my parent’s home, situated on the far beach of the East Sea, it wasn’t allowed to miss a notice about the health of “Box”. Unfortunately, it shouldn’t him be allowed to see again the place, where he spent his first youth, for with the serious days near Metz our hard time still hadn’t ended. The regiment got the job to besiege the fortress Belfort, this were mad months and couldn’t be spared my loyal companion too. Already during the first weeks of the siege of this fortress my “Box” has been wounded considerably on his hind leg by a hostile infantry—projectile on one ordered officer’s patrol so that in the future I had to leave him in the emergency place where some sickly people cared for him. How incredible great was the joy of the animal, when he met me again after some days of absence; in spite of violent pains he jumped up to me crying as if he knew that I would have escaped death once again. As soon as I returned, no strange person was allowed to approach to his master; “Box” went growling to every entering person, but without any tendency to bite, showing by his attitude that the securing of his owner was his bitter seriousness. Only one word, one sign, even a look was enough, to show him that there wasn’t any danger. However, not too long I should be permitted to be pleased by his loyalty and readiness to make sacrifices! — The information of the intended liberation of Belfort by General Bourbaki became true. January 15, 16 and 17 brought us the three terrible days of battle “on the Lisaine”. All had to come along toward the more than ten times stronger enemy. Nobody could care for my poor patient. Happy, though even still on three legs, he accompanied us again to a serious patrol, this should be the last for some good German, but for my loyal dog too! — More terrible than the first two days were the hours of the third one; for the enemy fought for his existence. A shower of artillery and gunfire went down; still, like carved in stone, my dog stood by my side, his serious look seemed to rest on the hostile troupes, which started an assault on us. Suddenly a dull blow, – and sideways I saw my beloved dog, equally a bloody mass, blown up into the snow, torn by a piece of a shell, which doubtless would have hit me, the loyal animal had chosen another place than the occupied one! — Saved from death, the feeling crept up on me; my most loyal friend had suffered it instead of me.’ — The hostile attack was refused; now we went ahead the fleeing enemy in case of biting cold, through snow and ice, never to meet again my most loyal fellow soldier. The only visible memory of him is a picture, on which he is lying below me, at which sight I remember the hour, which tore him from my side! 

Hanover Burckhardt, Major (retired)

One thought on “The Lion of Belfort, and the Story of a Boxer You Might Not Know

  1. We had a boxer when I was a young child of about 3-4 years of age. My mother told me of the time I was playing in the front of the house. The boxer, Butch, saw the postman approaching. He methodically gathered up my toys, put them in a pile, and then took me & placed me on top of the pile. He sat between me & the postman. Never turning a lip, uttering a sound. He just kept guard.

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