“The Veteran Eagle; And What the Children Did,” by Alfred L. Sewell (from The Little Corporal, December 1866; pp. 88-90)
In the last Corporal, I promised, that this month, I would write a short article, telling as briefly as I could the story of “The Children’s Army of the American Eagle,” and how The Little Corporal was begun. Many have been interested in our Children’s Army, and have asked me for its history. I wish to tell the story here, because, although many of my readers served in that Army, and therefore know much about it, and though many others have heard something of it, still, as I frequently see statements about the Eagle and his work at the Great Fair which are only partly true, I want to put on record an authentic statement, which shows how much children can do when they really try. I wrote something about this in the first number of my paper, (July, 1865,) but as I had then only ten thousand subscribers, probably not more than one-tenth of my present readers ever saw it.
The story of “Old Abe,” the Wisconsin Eagle, has been told so often, that I need say only a few words about him. When the Children’s Army was first organized, however, the Eagle was not so well known. Wisconsin knew him, of course. His own division of the Union army knew him. A few thousand people who had seen him knew him. General Grant had doffed his hat to him; and with spread wings he had often led brave boys to victory; but for all that, his fame had not filled the nation, as now; and it took months of hard work and patient inquiry for Mr. Barret to gather the facts, which he afterwards wrote out for a pamphlet that I published in June, 1865.
From this pamphlet we learn, among other things, that the royal Eagle was taken from his nest by O-ge-mah-we-ge-zhig, a wild Indian in upper Wisconsin, in the summer of 1861. The Indian children called him “Mee-ke-zeen-ce,” (Little Eagle.) Having been sold by his captor, he was finally presented to Company C., Eighth Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry. A standard was made for him, and he was carried beside the regimental flag. For three years he was in all the marches of the regiment, and in all their battles, cheering on his soldier comrades, valiantly doing his loyal duty.
A correspondent, who witnessed his appearance in battle, wrote:
“When the regiment is engaged in battle, ‘Old Abe’ manifests delight. At such a time he will always be found in his appropriate place at the head of Company C. To be seen in all his glory, he should be seen when the regiment is enveloped in the smoke of battle. Then the Eagle, with spread pinions, jumps up and down on his perch, uttering such wild, fearful screams as an eagle alone can utter. The fiercer and louder the storm of battle, the fiercer, wilder, and louder the screams.
“What a grand history he will have—what a grand Eagle he will be a hundred years hence! Pilgrims will come from all parts of the world to see the Eagle that was borne through this, our second war for Independence.”
Col. J. W. Jefferson, who led the valiant Eighth in the Red River expedition, thus happily describes the Eagle on parade and in battle:
“ ‘Old Abe’ was with the command in nearly every action, (about twenty-two,) and in thirty skirmished. He enjoyed the excitement; and I am convinced, from his peculiar manner, he was well informed in regard to army movements—dress parade, and preparations for the march and batrle. Upon parade—after he had been a year in the service—he always gave heed to ‘attention!’ With his head obliquely to the front, his right eye directly turned upon the parade commander, he would listen and obey orders, noting time accurately. After parade had been dismissed, and the ranks were being closed by the sergeants, he would lay aside his soldierly manner, flap his wings, and make himself generally at home.
“When there was an order to form for battle, he and the colors were first upon the line. His actions upon those occasions were uneasy, turning his head anxiously from right to left, looking to see when the line was completed. Soon as the regiment got ready, faced and ut in march, he would assume a steady and quiet demeanor. In battle he was almost constantly flapping his wings, having his mouth wide open, and many a time would scream with wild enthusiasm. This was particularly so at the hard fought battle of Corinth, when our regiment repulsed and charged, or, you might say, made a counter-charge on Price’s famous Missouri brigade.”
In March, 1865, when all the Northwest was moving for the last great Sanitary Fair, I was asked to help—to find my own way, and to work as I chose. I had heard of “Old Abe,” the Eagle, and felt sure that his history and picture would interest the children. Acting on this thought, I sat by my own home fireside, and began to write a circular to the boys and girls. As the war Eagle was the hero of the story, my ideas naturally took a military turn. The thoughts marshaled into line in my mind very rapidly, and in half an hour I had completed the organization of The Army of the American Eagle, and offered commissions in the Army to all who should sell a quantity of album pictures of the War Eagle.
The child who sent one dollar was to receive a commission as Corporal; two dollars, a commission as Sergeant; four dollars, as second Lieutenant; six dollars, as first Lieutenant; ten dollars, as Captain; thirty dollars, as Major; fifty dollars, as Lieut. Colon[e]l; one hundred dollars, as
“Old Abe,” the Soldier Bird
Colonel; two hundred dollars, as Brig. General; four hundred dollars, as Major General. Medals were promised to the most successful workers.
After a little energetic advertising, my receipts began to be about two hundred dollars per day. Then, finding the enterprise a success, I applied to the Executive Committee of the Fair, and asked them to give legal sanction to my labors. They did so, and appointed me a committee on all matters pertaining to the Eagle.
Up to this time I had been working entirely on my own account. It was my own and the children’s private work for the soldiers, with which the officers of the Fair had nothing to do, neither in its conception, organization, or prosecution. In fact, to the last, all they had to do with it was to receive the money as I paid it over.
As soon as you, children of America, knew of the call, you came trooping by thousands and tens of thousands to the standard. First a corporal’s squad—then a company, led by a noble little captain—then regiment after regiment—then six regiments a day, marching into line, with a tramp, tramp, tramp, which astonished all the older folks, and even ourselves when we saw it. The children’s crusade to recover the holy sepulchre long ago was not grander or more spontaneous.
I then published my letter to the children in several leading papers, nearly all of them giving it space free of charge. Then our Army began to recruit very rapidly, and my receipts were soon four and five hundred dollars per day, sometimes even over five hundred.
It was glorious to see how the loyal children worked. All over the nation they were at it, from Maine to Oregon, from upper Minnesota and Lake Superior to points far south, which the blue-coated soldier boys had wrested from the rebels. I have more than twelve thousand boys’ and girls’ letters now packed away, and a large book with all these children’s names alphabetically arranged. I can tell, from this book, what commission each boy and girl holds.
The following received gold medals, and rank as “Colonels" in the “Army": Mary Belle Kier, Pittsburgh; Edward R. Pope, New Bedford, Mass.; Minnie Monroe, Toledo, Ohio. The following were presented with silver medals: Lizzie Ayres, Indianapolis; Josephine Gordon (colored), St. Louis; Annie F. Ferguson, St. Joseph, Mo.; Elizabeth A. Shephard, Central City, C. T.; Wm. Clark, Van Wert, Ohio; Geo. W. Sheldon, Sherman,
N. Y.; Alice M. Wilson, Lockport, Ill.; Clara Swayze, Pekin, Ill.; Helen M. Tompkins (deaf mute), Racine, Wis.; Mary A. Williams, Chicago; Carrie Reynolds, Evanston, Ill.; Marta L. Davis, Portland, Mich.; Roderick S. Own, Black Hawk, C. T.; Willie M. Throop, New Bedford, Mass. The following received bronze medals: Hattie E. Hammond, Jacksonville, Ill.; Clara A. Stephens, Henry, Ill.; Charles W. Stone, Templeton, Mass.; Eddie T. Roe, Bloomington, Ill.; Mary Fought, Peru, Ill.; Fanny Foster, Jacksonville, Ill.; N. D. Carlile Hodges, Salem, Mass.; Bessie Huntington, Blue Island, Ill.; Lida R. Meeker, Shellsburg, Wis.; Cornelia Morton, Chicago; Emma A. Rutledge, Livingston, Ill.; Geo. L. Sopris, Denver City, C. T.; Miss S. A. E. Walton, Bloomington, Ill.; Chas. B. Wells, jr., Geneva, Ill.; Louis Myers, Cincinnati; Lizzie D. Revese, Boston, Mass.; Agnes B. Smith, Alton, Ill.; Allie Finch, Mill Point, Mich.; O. M. Wheelock, Farmington, Mich.; Ellen A. Hunt, Galesburg, Ill.
The net profits of the Children’s Army of the American Eagle footed up sixteen thousand three hundred and eight dollars and ninety-three cents. This was all paid over to the treasurer, and the whole thing cost the Fair not one cent for expenses. This was more than was paid in by any other department, and was nearly one-tenth of the entire profits of the Fair, after all expenses were paid; and all this from children’s work.
With seven clerks, to attend to my hundreds of letters per day, I had work enough to keep me very busy. It was the hardest work of my life, and yet one of the pleasantest a man could do, for the simple, childish enthusiasm of my correspondents afforded a world of pleasure. When the work was nearly done, I conceived the idea of “The Little Corporal.” That was the first and only name I ever thought of for our Soldier Boy, and the motto he carries at his mast head is the only motto I ever thought of for him. This is what I wrote to the children in the first number:
“Your precious letters, your sweet heart-words, and your earnest patriotism, seemed to breathe into my spirit a new life, and I said, ‘O that I had some medium through which I might talk to my gallant children’s army.’ Then the good thought spoke to me again, and said, ‘Here is The Little Corporal, send him as your aid-de-camp. Tell him what to say, and let him take besides a bundle of good things to refresh and amuse your little soldiers by the way.
“Then my idea was only to send him forth to do his whole work at the Great Fair. There was no thought of a future for him. But then, I thought, what will become of my great army when the Fair is over? Shall it dissolve like smoke? Shall it lose itself in the world’s great rush towards the beyond? Must my army hereafter only live in the memories of its gallant deeds? No; I did not like to think of that. I know full well that all of them will be glad to see The Little Corporal’s face month after month, and let him tell them pretty stories, and talk to them of each other, and hold their hearts together, and lead them into good and pleasant ways.
“I love my little soldiers, and I want to cultivate an acquaintance with them all. I am conducting a business in Chicago, but I will forget that for a portion of my time and cultivate my own heart by talking with an ministering to the pleasures and joy of my children; and I will print ‘The Little Corporal’ as a permanent first class Children’s Paper. I will make it the best in America.
“So, my dear children, The Little Corporal comes to you. Love him, for he is your work-fellow, your playfellow, and your fellow-soldier. Take him to your hearts—cherish him for your own sake and for his, and for the good that he may do.”
And that is how The Corporal came to be. The best papers, throughout the East and West, all unite in saying that the promise is made good, and that “The Little Corporal" is the best in America. In another column you will find the testimony of some of the witnesses.
Subscriptions are now coming in very rapidly, and the future looks bright; promising greater success than ever.
The New York Tribune, in a voluntary complimentary notice, a few weeks ago, says of The Little Corporal: “Its subscription list at the end of the first year numbers 35,000, and if it continues to be conducted with the same ability and enterprise which are now devoted to it, there is no reason why the second year should not close with a roll of 70,000 subscribers.” I hope to make the Tribune’s prediction good. I shall make every effort, and put forth all the energy that God has given me, and I want all the boys and girls to do the same.
The next number begins a new volume. Of course the children will not allow many days to pass before they renew their own subscriptions, but I want every one to send at least two new names, and as many more as possible. Read about the premiums in another place.