previous next

72. the eagle of the Eighth Wisconsin.

Poised in the azure depths of air,
     In his home so near the sun,
Like one, just brought in being there,
     And whose flight had not begun--
And he knew not whether his home to seek
     In that dazzling world of light,
Or glide far down to some snowy peak
     Of bleak Nevadian height--

An eagle's slowly moving wing
     Lingered between the sun
And a boy, whose right arm clasped a maid,
     While his left one held his gun;
And the proud bird's shadow nerved.his heart,
     Though he knew not whence the power;
But he felt there came the strength to part,
     And the courage for the hour.

The roll of the stirring drum came clear,
     The bugle's blast came shrill,
The eagles shone on his dark blue coat,
     And the eagle shadowed him still;
And proudly his bayonet flashed that day
     On the scenes of his early joys,
As he grasped his gun and marched away
     With the Eighth Wisconsin boys.

And proudly the regiment trod tile street,
     As it swept from town to town,
And still on its waving standard sheet
     A shadow unnoticed came down;
Now its ranks are filled, and it moves along
     On the swift and crowded train--
Now pauses amid the hurryilg throug,
     Or speeds o'er the sounding plain.

No longer the eagle in eyrie rests,
     But his straining flight doth keep,
As he follows the train o'er the sounding plain,
     Or the keel through the foaming deep--
Till when, 'mid the wilds of the rude frontier,
     The Eighth are guarding the line,
They observe his wheeling circuits near
     The top of a distant pine.

“Come, now for a shot at him. Who's afraid
     To bring down the eagle?” said one.
But the boy on whose right had leaned the maid
     While his left arm held his gun,
Cried: “Hold! would st thou fight in a holy war,
     And its creed hast thou not heard,
And would'st take the life we are fighting for,
     For the sake of a poor dead bird?”

The eagle's circuits, in slow descent,
     Came nearer, day by day,
Till one morn he sat on the ridge of the tent,
     Where a wounded soldier lay--
No more, whose right arm clasped a maid,
     No more, whose left a gun,
And no more the eagle's shadow played
     Between him and the sun.

He folded his heavy wings, and slept
     On the ridge of the sick boy's tent,
Or with flashing eye his vigils kept
     On all that came and went.
Do you wonder that soon as the soldier stirred
     Forth for the air and the sun,
On his shoulder perched the fierce, grim bird,
     Ere its strength could bear his gun?

And when, once more, he proudly marched
     To a soldier's pains and joys,
The eagle sat on his shoulder perched,
     'Mid the Eighth Wisconsin boys;
And now where the wave of battle flows,
     And its deathly flashes gleam,
And on their ranks the foemen close,
     Till their blood and their banners stream

In mass confused and mingled flow,
     And shell or shrapnel sings
Its terrible whistling song of woe,
     The eagle flaps his wings,1
And the flash of his fierce, majestic eye
     Outshines the bayonet's gleam;
And over the soldiers' battle-cry,
     And the hiss of the shells that scream,

And the roar of the fierce artillery,
     Rises the eagle's cry,
As if the Genius of the Free
     Inspired his voice and eye.
The brave Wisconsins hear that cry
     And answer with shout and cheer,
“'Tis the voice of the Genius of Liberty,”
     And they fight on without fear.

Thus from the banks of far Osage,
     To Chickamauga's shore--
'Mid Donelson's relentless rage,
     And Vicksburgh's thundering roar--
On many a conquered battle-field,
     Unshadowed by defeat--
As State by State the foemen yield,
     From field and fort retreat--

The Eighth Wisconsin marches on,
     By danger undeterred, [60]
And one of them bears on his right a gun,
     On his left the noble bird.
And his dream by night is a vision sweet,
     Of a far Wisconsin glade,
Where he meets with his first and last retreat,
     Outflanked, right and left, by a maid.

1 A correspondent of the Iroqua (Wis.) Times gives the following, among other particulars, relative to the eagle of the Eighth Wisconsin regiment, which the soldiers have named “Old Abe:”

When the regiment is engaged in battle, Old Abe manifests the fiercest delight. At such a time he will always be found in his appropriate place, at the head of company D. 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 clown on his perch, uttering such wild, fearful screams as an eagle alone can utter. The fiercer, wilder, and louder the storm of battle, the fiercer, wilder, and louder the scream of the eagle. Twice Old Abe has been hit by secession bullets; one shot carried away a third part of his tail-feathers. lie is a universal favorite, and has been carried with the regiment through seven States. Thousands flock to see him, and he is fast becoming famous.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: