The Pride Of The Regiment
: BIRD DAY
: Good Stories For Great Holidays
BY HARRY M. KIEFFER (ADAPTED)
"Old Abe" was the war-eagle of the Eighth Wisconsin Volunteers. Whoever
it may have been that first conceived the idea, it was certainly a happy
thought to make a pet of an eagle. For the eagle is our national bird,
and to carry an eagle along with the colors of a regiment on the
march, and in battle, and all through the whole war, was surely very
"Old Abe's" perch was on a shield, which was carried by a soldier, to
whom, and to whom alone, he looked as to a master. He would not allow
any one to carry or even to handle him, except this soldier, nor would
he ever receive his food from any other person's hands. He seemed to
have sense enough to know that he was sometimes a burden to his master
on the march, however, and, as if to relieve him, would occasionally
spread his wings and soar aloft to a great height, the men of all
regiments along the line of march cheering him as he went up.
He regularly received his rations from the commissary, like any enlisted
man. Whenever fresh meat was scarce, and none could be found for him by
foraging parties, he would take things into his own claws, as it were,
and go out on a foraging expedition himself. On some such occasions he
would be gone two or three days at a time, during which nothing whatever
was seen of him; but he would invariably return, and seldom would come
back without a young lamb or a chicken in his talons. His long absences
occasioned his regiment not the slightest concern, for the men knew
that, though he might fly many miles away in quest of food, he would be
quite sure to find them again.
In what way he distinguished the two hostile armies so accurately that
he was never once known to mistake the gray for the blue, no one can
tell. But so it was, that he was never known to alight save in his own
camp, and amongst his own men.
At Jackson, Mississippi, during the hottest part of the battle before
that city, "Old Abe" soared up into the air, and remained there from
early morning until the fight closed at night, no doubt greatly enjoying
his bird's-eye view of the battle. He did the same at Mission Ridge. He
was, I believe, struck by Confederate bullets two or three times, but
his feathers were so thick that his body was not much hurt. The shield
on which he was carried, however, showed so many marks of Confederate
balls that it looked on top as if a groove plane had been run over it.
At the Centennial celebration held in Philadelphia, in 1876, "Old Abe"
occupied a prominent place on his perch on the west side of the nave
in the Agricultural Building. He was evidently growing old, and was the
observed of all observers. Thousands of visitors, from all sections of
the country, paid their respects to the grand old bird, who, apparently
conscious of the honors conferred upon him, overlooked the sale of
his biography and photographs going on beneath his perch with entire
As was but just and right, the soldier who had carried him during the
war continued to have charge of him after the war was over, until the
day of his death, which occurred at the capital of Wisconsin, in 1881.