Article #22 - originally published in the March/April 2003 issue of "The Cigar Label Gazette"

cigar label art author pic Did You Know?
by Chip Brooks

Article #22

 
"In Loving Memory of Billy Ray Lawhorne 1942-2005"
---"my old friend, you are missed by all who knew you"---

I know many of you spend sleepless nights trying to figure out how I come up with these all encompassing, fact filled and intriguing articles?  Well I am going to let you in on the background of this one (I hate being responsible for sleepless nights...Ha!).

Nick Buzolich was having dinner with a few other label collectors and someone mentioned the Battle Eagle Old Abe.  Nick remembered that Judy Hill (another collector) had an outer with an eagle titled "Old Abe" and mentioned to her that the eagle was in the Civil War.  Judy Hill mentioned it to me one day and showed me the label.  Billy Ray Lawhorne (a Civil War expert and paper dealer) happened to be standing there with us and said he has an 1876 book about Old Abe.  There was a moment of silence...then Judy and Billy Ray in unison blurt out, "Chip you should write an article!"  Easy for them to say...

Did You Know?
"Old Abe"

Before Judy and Billy Ray ever made me aware of Old Abe, the Civil War eagle, the image that automatically popped-up in my mind was the black and gray version of Abe Lincoln.

Old Abe Inner
("Old Abe" Abraham Lincoln)

Inspired by the newfound info, I started going through my database of labels and found a very early (1870's) Heppenheimer & Sons label with an eagle titled "Old Abe".  To my surprise, I not only found a trade card from 1865 with the eagle's image but several web sites dedicated to the icon.  As I began to read through the book Billy Ray loaned me (only to discover that it was a special pamphlet originally printed in 1865...more later), I became fascinated with the tale of the eagle and his colorful history...so here we go: "Old Abe" the War Eagle.

Old Abe inner
(1870's F. Heppenheimer)

The story of Old Abe began in the spring of 1861 when a band of hungry Flambeau Indians (Chippewa Tribe) came to the Dan McCann farm and traded a young eaglet for a bushel of corn.  A crippled Wisconsin farmer, Dan loved music and entertained his children by playing the fiddle.  The young eagle would respond to the music by hopping up and down and beating his wings whenever Dan played.  Note: In 1937 the 'Centennial' newspaper of Chippewa Falls, ran Henry McCann's (Dan's son) account of the eagle's musical tendencies.  Henry remembered that when his dad would play "Bonapartes March Retreat From Moscow", the eagle would strut around during the slow part and flap his wings and hop and dance during the fast part as if he knew what it were all about.

Old Abe 11 months
(Old Abe - 11 months old)

In September 1861 when Dan heard his friends and neighbors were volunteering to go to war, he took the eagle to town and tried to interest the Chippewa Falls militia in trading for him. His offer was rejected and so was Dan because of his physical condition.  But Dan didn't give up. He went to Eau Claire where Company C, Eighth Wisconsin was being organized.  Expressing to Captain John Perkins "someone from the family ought to go", Dan offered his eagle as a mascot.  Captain Perkins liked the idea of a company mascot and promptly named the bird "Old Abe" in honor of President Lincoln.

Old Abe 1890's
(1890's F. Heppenheimer and Sons)

Additionally, the regiment changed their name from Badger Co. to Eagle Co. and on October 12, 1861, the Eagle Regiment started for the front.  In due time the eagle was sworn into the United States service.   With red and blue ribbons around his neck and a rosette of the same colors on his breast, the eagle was carried on a perch with the regimental flags.

Old Abe color guard
(Old Abe with his color guard)

This is where the stories and the accounts of the great eagle started to vary greatly.

In one account Old Abe flew over the heads of the men during battles, adding his screams to the cacophony of battle - the louder the noise in battle, the louder and fiercer were his screams.  Another account by David McLain, one of his handlers, stated that Old Abe always got quite excited in battle and would spread his wings and scream but never flew over the lines of either army.  McLain felt the incident at Corinth, Miss. May 28, 1862 is what set the newspapers off on their embellished stories of the great war eagle.

LFD Gen. Worth
(Old Abe at the Battle of Corinth)

On the morning of the battle at Corinth, General Sterling Price of the Confederate Army informed his men that the Wisconsin 8th had an eagle mascot and that he wanted the bird 'dead or alive'.  The General also advised the battlefield newspaper reporters that "I'd rather capture Old Abe than a whole brigade."

According to the eagle bearer McLain, during the battle a rebel bullet cut the cord that secured Old Abe to his perch.  He flew about 50 feet from the flag before McLain was able to retrieve him and set him back on his perch.  Old Abe had been shot through one wing and McLain had been shot through the left shoulder of his blouse and right pants leg.  Happily for both McLain & Old Abe no blood was drawn.  The next week several newspapers reported that the eagle had flown over the lines of both armies screaming loudly before returning to his perch.

Old Abe 1864
(Old Abe in 1864)

Old Abe served with the regiment in 42 skirmishes and battles and although frequently a target of the opposing soldiers, he lost only a few feathers.

Old Abe survived the War and his fame far exceeded the group who had originally adopted him as their mascot.  He returned to a post of honor at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison.  A room was equipped for him in the Capitol building and a man employed to care for him.  Though his fame continued to grow, Old Abe's real life took a turn for the worse.  Kept secured by a strong cord, he was carried on a perch by a long succession of eagle bearers. Never to soar freely again, he spent 16 years in a cage in the basement of the Wisconsin State Capital - an ironic reality for an American Symbol of Liberty.

1870's outer cigar label art
(1870's outer)
1890's outer cigar label art
(1890's outer)

In 1880, Old Abe made his last public appearance at the National Encampment of the G.A.R. (Grand Army of the Republic) in Milwaukee, where he and General U.S. Grant were honored guests.  When the bands played, the now 20 year old mascot, remembered his fighting days and according to published reports "uttered his wild battle cry of five or six wild screams in quick succession."

Old Abe replica
(Replica of Old Abe, Wisconsin's Assembly Chambers)

Old Abe died March 28, 1881 from smoke inhalation in a fire at the Capitol.  Instead of being buried with honors, Old Abe was stuffed and put on display at the State Capitol.  There was another fire at the Capitol in 1904 and the bird was destroyed.  Several replicas were created of Old Abe so that people could always remember him and the soldiers who fought in the Civil War.  One of the replicas has kept watch over the State Assembly Chamber since 1915; another one resides in the Library of Congress.

Chicago Sanitary Fair of 1865
As promised earlier more about the "Old Abe" special pamphlet and trade card...

Old Abe CVC cigar label art
(1865 CDV for Sanitary Fair)
Original Photo cigar label art
(Original Photo Used)

Old Abe was the guest of honor at the Chicago Sanitary Fair in May of 1865.  The "Old Abe" trade card or Carte De Vista was sold not only at the fair (for the benefit of disabled soldier's home from the war) but several months prior to the Fair as a promotion.

Side Note: Carte De Vista's were small portrait photographs created using a process patented by the Parisian photographer Andre Disderi in 1854.  He used a multi-lensed camera to produce eight small images on one large glass negative.  Contact prints were made from these and each portrait was then cut up and pasted on cards.  This was the most efficient way of mass producing and distributing photographs at that time.

On the back of the card not only were the prices listed for sale, "Price 15 each, 10 for one dollar.  Nine dollars per one hundred.  Sent free of postage.", but an advertisement stating that "A complete and authentic history of the eagle was being prepared for sale at the Fair and would be ready a week or two before the Fair opens".

Side Note: I have tried on several occasions to shorten and/or end this article but I continue to discover more fascinating details related to Old Abe...so please forgive the length and read on.

The Army of the American Eagle

Little Corporal
(Orig. March 1869 Issue Vol. 8)

In March 1865, Alfred Sewell (future) founder of the children's magazine "The Little Corporal" came up with a brilliant marketing strategy to raise money for the Fair.  Sewell felt the children of America would want to do their part to help the war veterans.  He founded the "Army of the American Eagle" where rank was determined by the number of trade cards the children sold.

Ranks in the Army were earned as follows:
One Dollar ..............Corporal
Two Dollars ............Sergeant
Four Dollars ...........2nd Lieutenant
Six Dollars ..............1st Lieutenant
Ten Dollars .............Captain
Thirty Dollars .........Major
Fifty Dollars ........... Lt. Colonel
$100 ........................ Colonel
$200 ........................ Brig. General
$400 ........................ Major General

On the day before the Chicago Sanitary Fair opened Sewell presented the organizer $15,000 in net profits from the "Army of the American Eagle".  Money had been received from children in every State in the Union where the rebellion had not interrupted mail service.  This was a pretty amazing feat considering this was 1865, no Telephones, TV, Internet, Radio, with only a few ads in newspapers and 'word of mouth' - Sewell's campaign was a resounding success.

The "Old Abe" Pamphlet

Old Abe pamplet
(CSF pamphlet 1876 * 6th Edition)

The pamphlet or 'small book' that was sold at the Chicago Sanitary Fair was written by Rev. J. O. Barrett.  Relaying the story of Old Abe, the pamphlet not only provided testimonials of how the eagle was captured and subsequently traded to the McCann's but several battle accounts from various soldiers that fought in Old Abe's regiment.

The dedication page of the 1st edition 1865 "Old Abe!" pamphlet is quite poignant:

"To American Patriots:
Who Reverence the wisdom and virtue of Abraham Lincoln,
the martyred President of a bleeding country."

"To Soldiers of the Federal Army: Who made themselves a breastwork of defense, for Liberty and Home."

"To Confederates of the South: Who cheer again the eagle that hovers among."

"Thirty-Eight Stars of a United Republic."

This embodiment of our national emblem so captured the imagination of the public that he was remembered by ships being named in his honor, company's (like Case Farm Machinery)

Old Abe-Case Logo
(J. I. Case Co.)

taking his likeness and incorporating it into their logo, artists composing songs about the icon and authors writing literary works in his honor including Herman Melville's Battle-Pieces which includes a paean to Old Abe, "The Eagle of the Blue", which closes with these lines:

"Though scarred in many a furious fray,
No deadly hurt he knew;
Well may we think his years are charmed -
The Eagle of the Blue."

Old Abe-Monument
(Jim Falls, Wisconsin)

Several monuments have been erected to honor this Civil War Hero.  This 10 foot eagle is located near the NSP Power Station on the banks of the Chippewa River in Jim Falls, Wisconsin.

I think it is pretty amazing how our history is chronicled on of all things...cigar labels.  A little piece of paper with great art (generally) that has led me to understand and appreciate life gone by and the struggles, sacrifices, successes and the great creative genius that was and is America.  I hope you appreciate it as well.

Thanks to Billy Ray and Debbie, Judy, Nick, Si and Doug for their images, info and encouragement...Oh, thanks also to my proof reader and lovely wife Marilyn who seems to talk more than read...Ha!!!

Hope you enjoyed the info...until next time,

May You and Your Collection Prosper!

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