DECEMBER 2001

"OLD ABE"

With the terrorist events at the Pentagon and the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, the Eagle has been very prevalent on many websites.  A few weeks ago, one of my sons sent me a website showing some of the old stereoscope pictures for sale.  Well, darn if there wasn't one with an Eagle on it, so, I decided to find out a little about that eagle.  This particular eagle was Old Abe, the mascot for the 8th Wisconsin Infantry Regiment, Company C--"Eagle Company," as it became known.  Everything I've read agrees that "Old Abe" was caught as a small eaglet by Chippewa Indians in the spring of 1861.  What happened next seems to depend on what one reads.  One account states that the young eagle was sold to Daniel McCann, a farmer from Eagle Point.  Another states that a group of soldiers bought the young eagle.  Then there is the story which is probably the right one, that the eaglet was sold/traded to Mr. McCann for some corn.  Then it seems Mr. McCann first tried to sell the eagle to one of the companies of the 1st Wisconsin and being unsuccessful with that, donated the young eagle to the Eau Claire "Badgers" which eventually became Company C of the 8th Regiment.

With the outbreak of the war, patriotism was growing then, just as it does now in the 21st Century.  The Captain in charge was hesitant at first to accept the unusual volunteer, but with friendly persuasion from influential residents, Capt. Perkins finally agreed.  The Eagle was probably given a more rigorous exam than the soldiers got when they volunteered - examining his eyes, claws, beak, wings and plumage.  Eventually, the still young eagle was sworn in by placing red, white and blue ribbons around his neck and a matching color rosette on his breast.

Eagle bearer was a new rank created to carry the Eagle, tied to a special perch, right beside the Regimental colors.  Not only did the Confederates try to capture the colors, they tried their darnedest to capture or kill Old Abe.  Can you imagine how demoralized the company would have been had they lost Old Abe?  It seems Old Abe was with the company in nearly every battle and skirmish they participated in and suffered only miner injuries twice in three years.  It's kind of ironic that none of the Color or Eagle bearers were ever shot down.

During battles, Old Abe would screech and scream, the louder and fiercer the war got, the louder and more excited Old Abe got.  In September 1864, after his three years' service, Old Abe was presented to the State of Wisconsin.  He had his own quarters, as well as a caretaker, in the basement of the Capital.  Seems Old Abe always recognized his Eagle bearers from the Regiment when they came to visit him.  He clucked with pleasure and would even rub his head against the men's cheeks.

He traveled to Regimental Reunions, conventions, encampments and even to the Philadelphia Exposition.  In the winter of 1881, a small fire started in a room close to Old Abe's quarters.  Old Abe let out screams louder than anyone had ever heard there in the capital and brought attendants and watchmen running to see what was happening.  Thus, the fire was discovered.  It was extinguished quickly, but Old Abe got sick from the smoke and died just a couple of weeks later.  So popular was Old Abe, state officials had him stuffed and he remained on display for another 20 some years.  In 1904, there was another, much more devastating, fire which destroyed the Eagle's remains.  Today there is a replica on display in the State Capital as a memorial to the much admired and loved mascot.

For more information and a list of Old Abe's battles, the War bearers and his Peace attendants, go to:
http://users.ap.net/~chenae/oldabe3.html

 

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