Lifestyle

Wisconsin's Most Badass Citizen Was A Bald Eagle Named "Abe"

The story of Old Abe, Wisconsin's treasured bald eagle, is one that's been passed around trenches, campfires, and water coolers for nearly 200 years. Who was Old Abe and how did this bird single-handedly become the mascot for freedom and patriotism? Well, sit back, and read about the tale of the bird who won the Civil War. 

Sold to a Wisconsin man during a trading expedition, an eagle was purchased for a bushel of corn from a Native American Chief known as Ahgamahwegezhig in the spring of 1861. After being sold to a Union army soldier named Captain John E. Perkins, the eagle was named "Old Abe" after Abraham Lincoln—despite a distinct lack of male eagle genitalia. 

Old Abe would then spend the next three years alongside Union soldiers during the Civil War. A special perch was constructed for the war bird and Abe quickly became a symbol for the 8th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment, who were given the name "Eagle Company."

The bird accompanied the regiment in a series of successful sieges, including The Battle of Island Number Ten, in which thousands of Confederate soldiers were taken prisoner. 

Old Abe was said to have had a six-and-a-half foot wingspan and wore a red, white, and blue ribbon around its neck. The majestic bird spent three years in the thick of war during sieges in Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama.

During a battle in Corinthe, the Eagle Company marched into position as Old Abe held the American flag in her beak. During the height of gunfire, the bird circled the field, while screaming at the opposing forces. A Confederate bullet brought the eagle down, but left her with a mere flesh wound at the base of her primary wing feathers.

Confederates quickly learned of the eagle and, upon seeing Old Abe along Union lines, a General offered a bounty on the bird—dead or alive. 

Old Abe was shot again during the battle at Vicksburg and survived with nothing more than a bullet hole through the webbing of its left wing. 

The bird, a notoriously a picky eater, refused to eat grains and only consumed chicken, duck, and fish throughout its life. The famous war eagle even became inebriated once. When the 8th Regiment was on duty, a soldier left out a saucer of peach brandy, which the bird quickly drank up. It became intoxicated, tried to fly away, but fell over. 

Five members of the regiment served as eagle-bearers during Old Abe's years at war. Upon her return to Wisconsin, Old Abe was reclassified as a â€śWar Relic" by the state and an “Eagle Department” was set up in the state's Capitol building. This department included a caretaker, a two room apartment, and a custom bathtub.

​In February 1881, a small fire broke out in the Capitol building. Old Abe alerted people to the flames with her famous war cry, but breathed in a large amount of a smoke in the process. Despite the efforts of Wisconsin's finest doctors, the war eagle died a month later in the arms of her caretaker. 

Since her death, Old Abe's image has been adopted as the screaming eagle on the insignia of the US Army's 101st Airborne Division and has become a national treasure in Wisconsin. Everything this bird accomplished happened two months shy of her 19th birthday.

Jeremy Glass is the Vice editor for Supercompressor and once had a parakeet that died after it flew into the refrigerator.