Review: “Old Abe, Eagle Hero”

30 08 2010

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.




3 responses

31 08 2010
Nick Kurtz

I did a presentation on the 8th Wisconsin for my roundtable and the consensus I found was that Old Abe was likely female. Of course it could be wrong but that’s the way the evidence leans.


31 08 2010
Chris Evans

Thanks for posting about ‘Old Abe’. He (or She) is one of my favorite stories of the American Civil War. I love the stories about ‘Old Abe’ breaking from his perch and then the men would think ‘Abe’ was gone forever and the he would somehow find them in camp after it was all over.

I believe ‘Abe’ killed another eagle mascot of a Wisconsin regiment when they were sharing quarters at the statehouse. ‘Abe’ really was a tough old bird.

When I see a demonstration of a eagle or see one flying in the sky I usually of ‘Old Abe’.

It would be neat if someone could do a unit history of the 8th Wisconsin and have a lot of verifiable information on ‘Abe’ tied into the story.



10 10 2010
Patrick Young

Re: Chris Evans comment on a history of the 8th Wisconsin and Old Abe.
The best book I know of is Old Abe the War Eagle by Richard H. Zeitlin, Ph.D., the late director of the Wisconsin Veterans Museum (Wisconsin Historical Society, 1986), which the Society is selling, I believe, for $9.95.
Zeitlin originally reserched the story of Old Abe and the 8th Wisconsin for his history Ph.D. at the Univeristy of Wisconsin-Madison. He later turned it into a book. It is a readable tale and thoroughly documented. The book’s biggest flaw, from my standpoint, is that it lacks an index.


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