CAMPBELL, Ky. (Nov. 14, 2012 - ANS) -- The Screaming Eagle insignia
of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) is perhaps the most
recognized and famous shoulder sleeve insignia in the United States
However the history and symbolism of the patch is
often forgotten. The eagle on your shoulder is not just any American
Bald Eagle, but instead, it commemorates the most famous animal
mascot that ever served in the United States Army.
an American Indian named Ahgamahwegezhig -- or Chief Sky -- a member
of the Flambeau band of the Chippewa tribe, cut down a tree in an
attempt to capture two American Bald Eaglets in their nest. Chief
Sky later traded the surviving eaglet to Daniel McCann of Eagle
Point, Wisc., for a bushel of corn.
McCann took the bird to
Eau Claire, Wisc., and briefly kept it as a family pet. Caged inside
a modified oaken cask, the bird grew larger and quickly became too
expensive to feed. McCann actively sought to sell the as yet unnamed
bird to the many units of Wisconsin troops passing through the area
enroute to their muster site at Camp Randall in Madison, Wisc.
After many unsuccessful attempts to rid himself of the bird,
McCann eventually sold the eagle for $2.50 to Capt. John E. Perkins,
commanding officer of a militia company called the "Eau Claire
Badgers." Part of the money was, reluctantly, given by local
tavern-keeper S.M. Jeffers.
Old Abe and the 8th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment Color Guard 1863.
Photo courtesy of U.S. Army
In light of their newly acquired mascot, the unit renamed
themselves the "Eau Claire Eagle."
entered federal service and was re-designated as Company C,
8th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment. The Eau Claire
Eagles' mascot was adopted by the new 8th Wisconsin
Volunteer Infantry Regiment which was quickly nicknamed the
"Eagle Regiment." After much deliberation, the mascot was
named "Old Abe," in honor of President Abraham Lincoln.
During its time awaiting
muster into Federal service at Camp Randall, the 8th
Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment purchased a special,
shield-shaped perch on which to carry their mascot. It was
here, in Madison, Wisconsin where "Old Abe" was named in
honor of our 16th President, Abraham Lincoln.
8th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment spent its entire
military service in what was then known as the Western
Theater of the American Civil War comprising: Missouri;
Arkansas; Tennessee; Mississippi; Louisiana; and Alabama.
"Old Abe" was present during all of the 8th Wisconsin's
battles and was carried into combat by a sergeant on a
special perch alongside the 8th Wisconsin's National and
Seeing "Old Abe" atop his perch
during the battle of Corinth, Mississippi, Confederate
General Sterling Price remarked, "that bird must be captured
or killed at all hazards, I would rather get that eagle than
capture a whole brigade or a dozen battle flags."
During "Old Abe's" service, the 8th Wisconsin participated
in many battles, expeditions, and pursuits of Confederate
forces. Among these were the battles of: Iuka; Corinth;
Island Number 10; Big Black; Champion's Hill; the Red River
and Meridian expeditions; and the Battle of Nashville. "Old
Abe" was there every step of the way.
Wisconsin's most famous fight came in June of 1863, when the
regiment participated in a futile frontal assault along
Vicksburg's Graveyard Road. "Old Abe" and his regiment, then
part of Mower's Brigade, failed to penetrate the center of
the Confederate fortifications near a 90-degree bend in the
Confederate defensive positions known as Stockade Redan.
Their enlistments having expired, the men of the 8th
Wisconsin were mustered out of federal service in late-1864.
The 8th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment was no more.
On Sept. 26th, 1864, a contingent of 70 8th Wisconsin
veterans marched "Old Abe" to the state and presented him to
Governor James Lewis. "Old Abe" was donated to the people of
Wisconsin by the loving comrades alongside whom he had
fought for four years.
In 1865 an enterprising
Chicagoan, capitalizing on "Old Abe's" fame, sought to
enlist him in support of the United Sanitary Commission's
efforts to provide aid and comfort to wounded Veterans. Thus
the "Army of the American Eagle" was formed. Children were
"enlisted" to sell paper photographs of "Old Abe" in much
the same way that schools raise funds today. Proceeds from
the sale of these photographs went to benefit local
The Wisconsin War Eagle's
post-war life was punctuated by frequent nation-wide travel
in support of veteran reunions, patriotic gatherings,
Soldier relief benefits, and special exhibitions during
which he achieved a rock star-like status. In 1876, "Old
Abe" again toured the country as part of America's
"Old Abe" lived out the
remainder of his life in an aviary in the Capitol building.
In 1881, a fire broke out in a paint and solvent storage
area near "Old Abe's" aviary. A month later the famous
Wisconsin War Eagle, weakened by fumes, died in the arms of
his handler, George Gilles.
Many newspapers and
Veterans groups wondered aloud "what would become of this
famous, flesh and blood war relic?" Upon his death, "Old
Abe" was preserved and exhibited in the Capitol building's
Grand Army of the Republic Memorial Hall until a fire
destroyed the display in 1904. Sadly, only a few of "Old
Abe's" feathers survive, carefully preserved by the
Wisconsin Veterans' Museum in Madison.
sculptures of "Old Abe" stand atop the Wisconsin monument at
Vicksburg, Miss., and atop the entrance to old Camp Randall,
now the main entrance to the University of Wisconsin's
football stadium. Since 1865, Wisconsin-based J.I. Case farm
implement company has used "Old Abe" as part of their
corporate logo. "Old Abe" also serves as the mascot of
several Wisconsin high schools.
Since 1921, "Old
Abe's" head, in profile, has served as the shoulder sleeve
insignia of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). A
large-scale diorama of the 8th Wisconsin's Color Guard,
complete with "Old Abe," is on exhibit in the atrium of the
division headquarters building on Fort Campbell.
By Army Capt. James A. Page
Army News Service
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