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1864 April 23: Life in Wisconsin’s “Eagle Regiment”

April 26, 2014

The following extract is from the April 23, 1864, issue of The Prescott Journal.

Sketches of the War—Life in the “Eagle Regiment.”

[Extracts from a volume, now in press, by GEO. W. DRIGGS,¹ ESQ.,
of the 8th Wisconsin Regiment.]


The life of a soldier in the field is one of changes—of sun-lights and shadows, varying as the circumstances of the position may demand.  At times, his spirits may be buoyant and cheerful, while at others he may feel despondent and gloomy.  In camp, he passes through the usual routine of duties which he may be called upon to perform—such as picket, patrol and grand guard duty, and returns to his quarters, where he gives himself credit for the labor he has performed.  In sunshine and shower, he is subject to detail, and when called upon, he is ever found ready to respond to the call of duty, be it ever so perilous.  At times, he feels as though he were a loyal threshing machine, through which others may reap a harvest of renown, and is only consoled in the belief that certain favorable events may transpire which will afford him relief.  While on guard, he is constantly counting the hours as they pass drearily by, and he knows full well when the time arrives for his successor to make his appearance.  Thus the soldier might properly be termed a “time-piece,” for what he performs to-day may be a repetition of yesterday ;  thus he becomes a “repeater,” ever watchful to the interests of his government, and the cause in which he is engaged.  He shares the hardships of a campaign without a murmur and he feels a pride in being classed as one of our country’s patriots—possesses a hatred of treason, and proudly assails any indignity shown the “old flag,” under which the hope of his country, and his life is periled.  United, they become as one, and every feeling and principle is blended into a compact.  Thus, a concert of action may always be found to operate against any opposition on the part of those who unjustly seek to overthrow this once peaceful and prosperous Union.


Old Abe

Old Abe, ca. 1875²

Is the name given to the “Live Eagle,” carried by the 8th Reg. Wis. Vet. Vols.  He was originally taken from his nest in the northern part of Chippewa county, Wis., by a Chippewa Indian, when about two weeks old, and brought to Eau Claire as an object of interest and curiosity, where he was purchased for a small sum by the “Eau Claire Badgers,” now Co. C, this Regiment, on the eve of departure for their Regiment at Madison, where he was introduced, and immediately adopted as a pet, and assigned a conspicuous place beside the colors.  A perch was built for him of shield shape, with the stars and stripes painted thereon, to which he is attached by a small rope, giving him liberty of his limbs and wings for a distance of several yards.  He has grown from the little unfledged gosling to a full feathered magnificent bird, the largest of his species, causing his “bearer” much trouble on many occasions to return him to duty, from the “detached service” on which he was detailed by his own order—setting himself at liberty by using his claws and beak to sunder the tie which bound him to so narrow and contracted a sphere.²

Once when the regiment was in line, ready to march at the signal, they were detained a whole hour by his escape, make several wide circuits over the heads of the gaping crowd and alighting in a distant tree top, from which he was recaptured by an ambitious youth, regardless of life or limb.  The regiment has become so attached to him by his long habitation with us, that rather than lose him, or see him fall into the hands of the enemy, every man would expend his last cartridge in his defence.  Gen. Price [Sterling Price] has been said to declare that he would rather “capture that bird than a whole brigade.”  The eagle’s exploits during the battles of Corinth the 3d and 4th of October, 1862, have no doubt been greatly exaggerated, and the author aims at nothing more than a simple statement of facts.  The string which held him to his perch was, undoubtedly, cut by a Minne ball from the enemy ;  he did soar aloft over the heads of the belligerents, and, others say he returned with the cap of some unfortunate secesh in his beak.  Be that as it may, he is undoubtedly Union to the core, manifesting his desire to end the troubles of our now severed country by all means within his power, responding to the cheers of our brave boys on the battle field, or in camp, by spreading his wings, patiently enduring the tedious march, or whiling away the dull hours of camp life.  He is very rapacious ;  eyeing greedily, birds in their flight, or domestic fowls in pursuit of rations, beyond his reach.  If it were not for his attachment to this mundane sphere, he would excel the best of us in “jayhawking.”  He is also very discreet, judicious, and somewhat dainty in the selection of his food, preferring all small animals alive, such as squirrels, chickens, birds, rabbits, &c., thus discarding all modern inventions of cookery.  His life and history thus far has been one of excitement, and passed amidst most stirring scenes.  He has filled the place assigned him in the regiment with credit and honor as a living personification of our national emblem, gaining for us the appellation of the “Eagle Regiment,” and exciting universal admiration on our marches, from the inhabitants who are loth to admire anything from “Yankee Land.”  Various are the names applied to him by strangers, “Owl !” and “Yankee Buzzard !” being very common.

On our advent into Oxford, Miss., last year, a young lady of decidedly southern origin, rushed from a stately mansion by the wayside, with arms extended and hair streaming, exclaiming in scornful and sarcastic tones :—”Oh !  see that Yankee Buzzard !” which was responded to from the ranks in such unmistakable language that she made for the house on double-quick.

With all due respect to the bird, it is fair to state that he has seen nearly as much of this world of ours as he would if left in his own native condition, having spread his wings over seven of the now rebel States, though in closer proximity to terra firma than would seem natural.  May his life be preserved through the trying scenes yet to come, and his wings be spread over all the rebellions States and at the close of this unnatural war be returned to his native home, there to live in state, surrounded by everything to make his bird live happy—the admired of the admired.

Another particular pet of the Regiment, is our dog “Frank”—a pretty white and brown “Pointer and Setter,” who came to us at Camp Randall, Madison, Wis., two years ago, and has followed the fortunes of the regiment ever since ;  pursuing his peaceful avocation of hunting birds and rabbits, and he has had a wide field to labor in ;  he has accompanied us on all our marches, railroad and steamboat travels, attaching himself to no individual in particular, but to a company for a time ;  he seems to prefer the old school-teaching system of “boarding around,” and has so endeared himself to each member of the regiment, that to abuse him, is to abuse the soldier who he accompanies.  However large an army we may be placed in, he readily distinguishes any member of this regiment—not by name, but by scent, and cannot be induced or persuaded to follow any other.  He possesses a peaceful and quiet disposition, and will take the grossest insult from a larger animal without retaliation, unless there are a sufficient number of the boys present to back him—when he will show fight, and succeed in vanquishing his antagonist.  On several occasions he has followed us unconsciously to the battle field, where the leaden missiles, possessing no charm for him, he suddenly makes his exit—narrative drooping—living in retirement and seclusion for several weeks afterwards.

It is natural for soldiers leading the roving life of Gipsies, isolated a large portion of their time from all society but themselves, to form strong and lasting attachments—as in our case, where the twin relics of the regiment the “Eagle and the Dog,” whose history has become so intimately connected with it, and each individual member of it, as never to be forgotten.

Long may they live to reap the benefit of honors so nobly won.

1.  George W. Driggs was a sergeant major in Company E of the 8th Wisconsin Infantry. Driggs’ book, entitled Opening of the Mississippi; or Two Years’ Campaigning in the South-West: A Record of the Campaigns, Sieges, Actions and Marches in which the 8th Wisconsin Volunteers have Participated, Together with Correspondence, by a Non-Commissioned Officer, was published in Madison, Wis., by Wm. J. Park & Co. in 1864. It is available digitally on Google Books. This article appears on pages 37 and 38 in the book.
2.  “Old Abe at the Wisconsin State Capitol (Third),” ca. 1875, from the Wisconsin Historical Society, via Wikipedia, (Image ID: 7536 ).

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