A bald eagle stands guard over the State Assembly Chamber in Wisconsin’s Capitol building. Between two and three feet tall, the raptor has the characteristic white head and tail feathers, a brown body, and a yellow beak and talons. He sits atop a tree stump in front of a large mural called Wisconsin that represents the state’s past, present, and future.
Upon first glance, this eagle might appear to be a generic symbol of American pride. But this is a very particular bird. This is Old Abe, the “Live War-Eagle” (and most mischievous mascot) of the Eighth Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Named after Abraham Lincoln, Old Abe was the Eighth Wisconsin’s mascot when they served in the Union Army during the American Civil War. Later, he also served as a powerful symbol of allegiance to Wisconsin’s Republican party as a mascot of the Grand Army of the Republic.
Old Abe has been perched in many different places around Madison, Wisconsin since his death in 1881 when he was stuffed and preserved. The Old Abe that currently stands guard in Wisconsin’s Capitol is actually an imposter. One of several replicas, this particular Old Abe was created to honor the memory of the original who was lost in the 1904 Capitol Fire.
Written by Rachel Ramthun, March 2017.
McCrory, Thomas J. Grand Army of the Republic: Department of Wisconsin. Black Earth, WI: Trails Books, 2005.
United States Census Bureau. “Resident Population and Apportionment of the U.S. House of Representatives.” United States Census Bureau. Accessed September 2, 2016.
Wisconsin Historical Society. “Wisconsin’s Involvement in the Civil War.” Accessed September 2, 2016.
Zeitlin, Richard H. Old Abe the War Eagle: A True Story of the Civil War and Reconstruction. Madison: The State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1986.