Old Abe leads a regiment

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Photo challenge #13 was about Old Abe, eagle mascot of the 8th Wisconsin Infantry, who led a 20-year life that could be considered rich and accomplished for a human. She’s on a short list of birds famous enough to be named (like Martha, the last passenger pigeon, who died in a zoo).

Old Abe’s life is well-documented, starting with her sex: “She though a female bird is named after our president,” wrote Sgt. Ambrose Armitage in his journal. She was captured on northern Wisconsin’s Flambeau River by Ahgamahwegezhig (Chief Sky), a Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe. Ahgamahwegezhig traded the bird to Daniel McCann, who sold the eagle to an Eau Claire militia. Called up for Civil War service, the Eau Claire “Eagles” joined the 8th Wisconsin regiment at Camp Randall.

Old Abe was present at 37 battles in the western theater, including Vicksburg. She was so charismatic that Confederate Gen. Sterling Price supposedly said “I would rather get that eagle than capture a whole brigade or a dozen battle flags.” After the war, Old Abe returned to Madison and lived in the capitol, drawing countless visitors. She attended events around the country and even inspired souvenirs.

In 1881 Old Abe died from smoke inhalation during a fire. Her taxidermied body was then displayed in the capitol rotunda for two more decades, until the capitol burned down in 1904. She now stands at the top of Camp Randall arch, dedicated in 1912.

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