8th Wisconsin Infantry

8th Wisconsin Infantry Regimental Marker
8th Wisconsin Infantry Regimental Marker

NPS Photo

Monument located on the south side of Union Avenue, approximately 0.1 mile west of Grant Avenue. Also, a marker designating the assault of 22 May 1863, located on Graveyard Road at the midway point between Union Avenue and Confederate Avenue. This unit was attached to Brig. Gen. Joseph A. Mower's 2d Brigade of Brig. Gen. James M. Tuttle's 3d Division, Maj. Genl's William T. Sherman's and Frederick Steele's XV Army Corps, and commanded by Col. George W. Robbins. [Refer to pages 504, 548 and 550, Volume 5 of the WPA Monumentation Survey Books.]

The 8th Wisconsin , nicknamed "The Eagle Brigade," went to war with an eagle as a mascot. Originally captured by the son of the chief of the Lake Flambeau Tribe of Chippewa Indians on the headwaters of the Chippewa River during the summer of 1861, the young bird was traded for a bushel of corn to a man named Daniel McCann, who then took the 2-month-old eagle to Eau Claire, Wisconsin. A civilian, S. M. Jeffers, purchased the eagle for $2.50, and presented it to Company C of the newly-formed 8th Wisconsin Infantry. James McGinnis was the first of six proud bearers, carrying the eagle on his perch to the left of the colors.
Old Abe on 8th Wisconsin Marker
"Old Abe" on 8th Wisconsin Infantry Regimental Marker

NPS Photo

The 8th, with other regiments, disembarked at Hamburg, Mississippi, in quest of Gen. Beauregard's Army and formed a line of battle at Farmington, Mississippi on 9 May 1862. The eagle flew for the first time over the battle at Farmington, with Corinth, Iuka, and then Vicksburg following. McGinnis became ill and Thomas J. Hill, from Eau Claire, was given the task of carrying the eagle. Later, when Hill was appointed to a regimental position, the job fell to David McClane from Menomonie, Wisconsin, on 18 August 1862.

Soon after the Battle of Corinth, someone in the regiment cropped the tail and wing feathers of the bird to prevent his flying away. McClane became disgusted with the treatment inflicted upon the eagle, and resigned his post on 1 November 1862, passing the duty to Edward Homaston of Eau Claire. Homaston, reared in the Green Mountains of Vermont, had watched the flights of eagles daily, and took to the eagle (now nicknamed "Old Abe") with a natural instinct. The friendship between man and bird became very strong as they thoroughly understood each other.
8th Wisconsin Assault Marker, 22 May 1863
8th Wisconsin Infantry Assault Marker, 22 May 1863

NPS Photo

On 26 June 1864, after 3 years of war, a remnant of Company C carrying "Old Abe" arrived at Eau Claire for a well-earned rest. Two months later the eagle returned to battle, his last conflict occurring on 18 August 1864, at Tallahatchie River, near Abbeville, Mississippi. "Old Abe" was the hero of 25 battles and as many skirmishes. Twenty-six members of Company C, 8th Wisconsin, were mustered out, and bearing "Old Abe," arrived at Madison, Wisconsin, on 22 September, where he was presented to Governor Lewis and given permanent quarters in the State Capitol.

Old Abe became a nationally known celebrity, and appreared at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia and the 1880 Grand Army of the Republic National Convention. In 1881 a small fire broke out in he the basement of the Wisconsin Capitol, and Old Abe would eventually die from inhaling too much smoke. Less than a year later, a taxidermied Old Abe was placed on display in the Rotunda of the Wisconsin State Capitol, but a fire in 1904 would not just destroy the remains of Old Abe, but the entire Capitol building as well.
patch of the 101st airborne

Since 1915 a replica of Old Abe has presided over the Wisconsin State Assembly Chamber in the Capitol Building. Here at Vicksburg, Old Abe sits rightfully at the top of the Wisconsin State Monument.

The curent 101st Airborne Division of the US Army honors Old Abe with his depiction on their official insignia. The 101st Division was founded in Wisconsin after World War I, and chose Olde Abe for their path to honor his legacy and the Civil War traditions of the state.

Last updated: January 27, 2018

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