“Old Abe,” a bald eagle, was the mascot of Company C, Eighth Wisconsin, who carried the bird into 37 Civil War battles and skirmishes. Abe was a natural battle mascot, screeching encouragement to the soldiers. After the War, the eagle was given to the state of Wisconsin, and he had special quarters in the basement of the state capitol. Old Abe died in 1881; his stuffed body was displayed in the capitol building. Several replicas of the eagle were made; the original was lost when the capitol burned in 1904. One of the replicas has kept watch over the state Assembly Chambers since 1915.

In March 1865, Alfred Sewell, founder of The Little Corporal, seized on the eagle as a way to make money for the Northwestern Sanitary Fair, by founding the Army of the American Eagle. (A copy of the “second lieutenant’s commission” is reproduced on page 184 of James Marten’s The Children’s Civil War.) Abe eventually made his way to the first cover of the magazine, as the Corporal’s mascot. “The Army of the American Eagle” explains how Sewell formed the Army and announces a new direction for subscribers’ charitable impulses.

“The Army of the American Eagle” (from The Little Corporal, July 1865; p. 3)

A few months before the opening of the Northwestern Sanitary Fair, I first saw a picture of the Wisconsin war Eagle. I had Mr. Baker of Chicago engrave it on wood—not because of an expectation of making any great noise about it, or any great amount of money, but because I loved the old bird and was interested in his history. A little while afterwards the officers of the Fair informed me that I was chosen as chairman of a Committee to aid in their work, and as I desired to give the cause all the help possible, I tried to think of some plan which would bring in funds to the treasury. It occurred to me that a great many Americans would feel the same interest in, and love for our Soldier Bird that I did, and that, properly advertised, his picture would sell rapidly and probably yield a large sum for the Fair.

I advertised the pictures in a small way, and had a few orders for them, but only received a few dollars.

I was not satisfied. The children had not seen the advertisement, I thought, and if they can be interested it will go, for Young America can beat the world. So I contrived the Army of the American Eagle, and offered commissions in the Army to all who should sell a quantity of the pictures of the War Eagle.

The child who sends

One Dollar receives a Commission as Corporal.

Two Dollars [receives a Commission as] Sergeant.

Four Dollars [receives a Commission as] 2d Lieutenant.

Six Dollars [receives a Commission as] 1st Lieutenant.

Ten Dollars [receives a Commission as] Captain.

Thirty Dollars [receives a Commission as] Major.

Fifty Dollars [receives a Commission as] Lieut. Colonel.

One Hundred Dollars [receives a Commission as] Colonel.

Two Hundred Dollars [receives a Commission as] Brig. General.

Four Hundred Dollars [receives a Commission as] Major General.

Dr. Eddy, Editor of the Northwestern Christian Advocate, kindly offer[e]d me all the space I desired in his children’s column. His paper having a very large circulation gave the Eagle Army its start, and from advertising in this one paper 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.

I then published my letter to the children in the Christian Times, New Covenant, N. Y. Independent, and several other 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.

I now write during the progress of the Fair. On the day before the Fair opened I paid in to the Treasurer a sum which completed fifteen thousand dollars, as net profits from our Eagle Army, received from children in every State in the Union where the rebellion has not cut off mail facilities.

You will see by the Supplement, sent out with this number of our paper, that we now propose a New Campaign for our gallant children’s army. You have worked bravely for the soldiers; we propose now to work for the soldiers’ orphans, and the children of the poor. We propose that all children who are able shall subscribe for the Little Corporal; and then, we propose that through our plan all who are not able to pay shall receive the paper as a gratuity. We hope in this way to carry the paper, with its refining and elevating influences, to ten thousand homes which would not otherwise be blessed with the refinement that must spring from the monthly visits of what we are determined shall be the best children’s paper on the Continent.

Copyright 1999-2024, Pat Pflieger
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