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 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
The Babcock butterfat test, developed at the University of Wisconsin, provided a simple, accurate, and inexpensive way to assess milk quality and to pay farmers accordingly. By improving standards and rewarding the best milk producers, the Babcock butterfat test transformed the dairy industry in the United States and set Wisconsin firmly on the path to…
The hollow metal cylinder sits on the rusted, triangular metal base. A latch and a small hinged door are open, exposing a small square hole where the names of potential draftees could be placed. A thin metal crank protrudes from the center of the cylinder ready to be turned at any moment. This is a…
This is a machine used to lower and raise miners and materials through mine shafts in the lead mining region around Platteville, Wisconsin. Made from wooden supports with a wooden barrel shaft and crank attached to a rope with a bucket, a windlass like this is deceptively simple. Cheap to build and easy to…
Old Abe began his career as a real, live eagle, serving as a mascot during the Civil War. In the decades that followed, the Grand Army of the Republic brought the bird on tours around the country. In the many …
It may come as a surprise to learn that during the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries slavery existed in the region that would become the state of Wisconsin. Over this period, thousands of enslaved African …
Following the South’s attack on Fort Sumter in 1861, Wisconsin, and the North as a whole, experienced a surge in patriotism and an eagerness to fight for the North, offering more volunteers than were needed. …
The Most Mischievous Mascot
1904 State Capitol Fire
Grand Army of the Republic
Object History created 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.