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Rail Splinters

Fun Discovery: Old Abe CDV showing HIS allegiances!

November 19, 2019

Every once in awhile, when all the stars align and auction prayers are (or not) answered, bidders on eBay have no competition and sellers make an offer that stalls. Both are flabbergasted. Recently a bizarre carte de visite with an eagle perched on a tree branch was posted for sale with such a result. Held in its beak is a small memorial image of Abraham Lincoln and an image in the eagle’s right claws of Jefferson Davis, racing frantically to avoid capture while wearing women’s clothing. In his left claws, the eagle has a tight grasp on the dead body, dangling, of John Wilkes Booth

The CDV is peculiar for several reasons. It bears testimony to past and present war, with an eagle threatening future military action against the Confederacy until peacetime is achieved and all assassins captured. The images on the CDV are self-explanatory; below the eagle is an admonition “Traitor’s Doom and the Assassin’s End.” On the bottom hem of the Davis dress is boldly printed “Jeff the TRAITOR” and on the left arm “Booth the Assassin.” The CDV was copyrighted by H.Tilden in 1865 in the Clerk’s Office of the District Court for the District of Massachusetts. There’s no photographer’s credit although a handwritten sentence on the verso states “Deerfield Aug. 22, 1865 from mother.”

The eagle depicted was “Old Abe,” caught while still a nestling. In the spring of 1861, Ahgamahwegezhig, known as “Chief Sky” of the Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe tribe, decided on keeping the eagle as a pet. Later that summer Chief Big Sky traveled down the Flambeau River, and traded the eaglet for a bushel of corn. During this time President Lincoln began recruiting, moving troops, and the eagle was transported to Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Captain John E. Perkins, of the 8th Wisconsin Voluntary Infantry named the eagle “Old Abe” as tribute to President Lincoln. It was also common for soldiers to take pets along as a mascot, including a bear, badger, dogs, squirrels and raccoons. The most popular pet was the “Wisconsin Eagle” and by September 9, 1861, the company had marched to Madison. Juvenile bald eagles mature slowly from dark brown, and their head and tail feathers turn white, along with a yellow beak. These colors begin to appear in three to five years, and only a few photographic images show Old Abe as an adolescent, before his head feathers turned white between the early 1860s to the 1880s.

He traveled with the 8th regiment in the Western Theater from 1861 to 1864, and was never wounded in any of the 37 battles where he was engaged. During combat Old Abe became famous for spreading his six and a half foot wingspan and screeching. Confederate officers ordered soldiers numerous attempts to kill or capture the eagle, without success.
The CDV is rare … only three are known, with one badly damaged. The seller couldn’t recall where this one was bought.