The most famous Civil War mascot was a young eagle from Wisconsin. “Old Abe,” as he was known by the men of the 8th
The Wisconsin boys joined up in northern Wisconsin; they trained in Madison and moved to Chicago as they prepared to enter the war. Their young eagle – seemingly trained – was already acknowledged as a novelty when St. Louis first saw him. Old Abe was about to become an institution.
The day after the eagle arrived in St. Louis, on October 15, M. Jeff Thompson (Missouri’s legendary Swamp Fox of the Confederacy) captured and burned a railroad bridge on the Big River just south of Desoto, Missouri. The 8th Wisconsin rushed to the scene, the men laying on their arms in the rain in Desoto that very night, arriving at the bridge on the 16th of October. Thompson was gone. The regiment and its eagle mascot proceeded south another 20 miles, to Pilot Knob, and there went into bivouac.
Thompson had not left the scene all together. A few days after he assaulted the Big River Bridge, Thompson was reported to be at Fredericktown, Missouri. Union soldiers stationed at Pilot Knob and Cape Girardeau were ordered to converge on Thompson’s force, and so the Eagle Regiment marched east on October 20 with three other regiments of infantry. The next morning, October 21st, Thompson attacked at Fredericktown. The Eighth Wisconsin – only a week in the war zone – was told to guard the Union baggage train assembled near the courthouse, a mile from the battle. Old Abe was tethered to the courthouse roof, out of the way. Then as the boom of cannon and rattle of small arms reached the courthouse, Old Abe spread his wings, he screeched and cried. The eagle screamed.
The 8th Wisconsin did not go into battle at Fredericktown. Once the battle was over, eventually the new regiment went into winter camp south of St. Louis, on the Mississippi near present day Imperial in Jefferson County. The men and the eagle remained at Camp Curtis until January 17, 1862, then joined Ulysses Grant and the Union’s drive into Tennessee.