On Bipeds & Brutes

National Museum of Animals & Society Blog

An Eagle Hero

Old Abe the Screaming War Eagle of the Wiscons...

Image via Wikipedia

I treasure animal biographies that represent a little snippet of our nation’s history. Recently I was given a copy of the children’s book Old Abe, Eagle Hero which profiles the life of an incredible bald eagle named after President Abraham Lincoln.

The following re-telling is taken from the website of an old-time portrait company named after the famous bird –

Old Abe, the American War Eagle, was the mascot of the 8th Wisconsin Regiment in the Civil War. He had been captured in the spring of 1861 from a nest in a tall pine tree in northern Wisconsin.  A Native American named Oge-ma-wa-ge-jig took him from the nest, and the eagle was later sold to a local farmer, Dan McCann, in exchange for a bushel of corn.

Dan McCann later presented the eagle to Captain John E. Perkins of the Eau Claire Badgers,Company C of the 8th Regiment. In honor of President Lincoln, they named him
“Old Abe”.

As the newly formed company made its way to Madison,Wisconsin in the fall of 1861, word spread that they were carrying a live eagle at their head. Thousands gathered in La Crosse to see the eagle, and the scene repeated itself in Madison when they arrived at Camp Randall in September 1861.

From this time on, the Wisconsin Eagle Regiment became known all through the army, and to the Confederates as well. Old Abe was not just a mascot, but became a patriotic symbol for the entire nation. Confederate General Price ordered his men to try to capture or kill Old Abe, adding that he would rather get that bird than a whole regiment.

Old Abe was in thirty-nine battles during the Civil War including Fredericktown, and the Siege of Vicksburg. One of the Wisconsin soldiers at the Siege of Vicksburg was a young soldier named Henry Hamilton Bennett.

After the Civil War, Old Abe was given a permanent home in the Wisconsin State Capitol building in Madison. He was a popular attraction and was viewed by thousands. He was also taken to various parts of the United States, being in great demand all over. He attended national conventions, was taken to the great Centennial Exposition in 1876 at Philadelphia and other noted gatherings, where he was the center of attraction.

In 1879, H. H. Bennett visited the capital to take stereo photos of Old Abe, one of which is shown on this page.  It was one of his most popular images.

Just two years later, a small fire in the capitol building near Old Abe’s cage created so much smoke, that Old Abe was nearly suffocated. While he survived the fire, he never fully recovered.  A few days later, on March 26, 1881, he expired in the arms of his keeper, George Gillies.


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