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I’d Rather Have That Eagle…(Part 2 of 2)

Part 1 describes the 8th Wisconsin Infantry’s entry into the State of Missouri in October, 1861, with their eagle mascot, “Old Abe.”  Old Abe heard the sounds of battle the first time at Fredericktown, Missouri, on October 21, 1861.

The Wisconsin men left Missouri for Cairo, Illinois in January, 1862, when Ulysses Grant left the relative safety of that place to march on Forts Donelson and Henry.  The Eighth Regiment had a small part to play in the Island No. 10 campaign, entering New Madrid, Missouri, on April 7, 1862.  Soon the men were on transports steaming up the Tennessee River.  They landed at Hamburg, Tennessee, near the battlefield of Shiloh, following in Grant’s wake.

History records that at the Battle of Farmington, Mississippi, on May 9, 1862, the Eighth Wisconsin Regiment first went into battle.  Old Abe was close to the fighting – closer than he was in Fredericktown.  Guard duty in northern Mississippi and Alabama occupied the summer, until a Confederate force commanded by Missouri’s own Sterling Price threatened the Union’s hold on Corinth, Mississippi.  Price attacked, pushing the Union troops from their outer trenches.  As the battle for Corinth reached its climax, Old Abe broke his tether and soared over the heads of the Confederates.  He invigorated the Union defenders.  General Price was reportedly moved to say:

“That bird must be captured or killed at all hazards. I would rather get that eagle than capture a whole brigade or a dozen battle flags.”

Corinth, October 3-4, 1862, was Old Abe’s finest hour.  But as the Wisconsin Historical Society reports, all together he witnessed 37 battles or engagements in the Civil War.  He was wounded once or twice, some say.  When the Eighth Wisconsin returned to Madison in 1864, the men presented their mascot to the Governor.  Old Abe lived in a special room in the Wisconsin Capitol until 1881, when he died as the result of a fire.  He was revered then; he is revered now.  A bronze likeness stares down from a perch above the rostrum of the Wisconsin State Assembly chambers.

After World War I, the 101st U. S. Army Division was reconstituted a reserve unit with headquarters in Milwaukee.  Called up in World War II, the unit retained its numerical designation and a shoulder patch honoring Wisconsin’s famous eagle, as it moved into airborne operations.  The “Band of Brothers” of Normandy fame, the Screaming Eagles of the 101st Airborne Division, trace their lineage to a day long ago in Fredericktown, Missouri.

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