Old Abe, Eagle Hero: The Civil War’s Most Famous Mascot is a children’s picture book written by Patrick Young and illustrated by Anne Lee. In terms easy enough for very young readers to understand, the book relates the familiar story of the mascot of the 8th Wisconsin Infantry regiment, a North American bald eagle named for POTUS 16. Since the story is familiar to Civil War buffs, I won’t go into too many details (but you can get some here and here). In fact, the story is so familiar that this same text was used in this earlier edition, with a different illustrator. And that different illustrator in this case makes a big difference. The watercolors in this new edition are striking.
So, this being a kid’s book, I asked a kid – my 12-year-old son – to read it, even though it’s a few years too young for him. But 12-year-olds being what they are, I couldn’t get him to sit down and type up a review. The long and the short of it is like me he dug the book. It took him all of about 5 minutes to read, but he got the gist of Old Abe’s story. However, he had the same question I had: after a concise account of Old Abe’s life from his birth through the end of the war, his story ends abruptly in 1876, when he travelled to Philadelphia for the centennial exhibition. What happened to Old Abe? When and how did he die?
A little digging on the web turned up the info, though I’m still not sure if the bird was a he or a she. In 1881, Old Abe died as a result of a fire near his rooms in the basement of the Wisconsin state Capitol. After his death he was stuffed and put on display in a glass case in the building, where he stayed until he and the building were destroyed in another fire in 1904. Below are a few pictures of Old Abe: with his fellow soldiers before reaching maturity, when his head turned white; a couple of publicity photos (he used to “autograph” them by poking a hole with his beak); and what is possibly all that remains of him, a single feather. All photos from this site.