The 8th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry stood tall during the Civil War. The unit was raised in Eau Claire and mustered in September 13, 1861 at Camp Randall in Madison. They fought in the Western Theater seeing some vicious fighting which included the Battle of Corinth, the Vicksburg Campaign and the Battle of Nashville. By 1864 when the regiment’s soldiers had completed their three year enlistment many soldiers opted to go home. Those that reenlisted reluctantly said their good-byes. Hard as it was to part with comrades they had fought alongside, it was even more difficult to say good-bye to the most favored member of the entire regiment. The one who proved courageous, stalwart and loyal throughout their enlistment. The one who constantly raised morale and persevered through all the trials thrown at them. With sadness at their farewell these Civil War veterans, the valiant men of the 8th Wisconsin said good-bye to their friend and mascot, a bald eagle named Old Abe.
There were many regiments that had mascots during the Civil War. In fact quite a few soldiers brought pets from home when they mustered in. There are stories of dogs, a bear, badgers and even a raccoon that accompanied men into camp. Yet none of those gained the fame and outright notoriety as Old Abe. The bald eagle that accompanied the 8th Wisconsin into battle had an unequaled reputation and was known far and wide.
Early in 1861 a Native American, Agemahgewezhig, also known as Sky Chief fell a tree during the sugar making season. He didn’t realize there were two baby eagles nested in it. Once the tree was down Sky Chief saw one had died but took the other small eagle with him and cared for it.
While still young, Sky Chief sold the baby eagle to a local farmer for a bushel of corn. Daniel McCann, who purchased the bird, brought it home to his children. There the eaglet grew used to human touch and care, responding to voice commands and companionship. Yet the day came that McCann felt he couldn’t afford to feed the bird and by early autumn tried to sell him to young military minded men on their way to Eau Claire to enlist. When that didn’t work McCann went to Eau Claire himself and eventually sold the bird to a gentleman that gave the eagle to a company of men raised in the area, Company C of the 8th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry.
The unnamed eagle was sworn in with the rest of the recruits and was even given a small rosette that hung on a red, white and blue ribbon and was occasionally put around the bird’s neck. As Company C, under the command of Captain Perkins marched to Camp Randall in Madison for training, crowds gathered to cheer the boys and their eagle. News of a company with a bald eagle as a mascot spread quickly and drew a lot of attention. Offers were made to buy the eagle but the captain was firm. No amount of money could purchase the mascot from the men. Continue reading