You’ve heard the War Eagle legend that involves a Confederate soldier—left for dead—bringing home an also wounded eaglet from the battlefield, ultimately bringing it home to Auburn, and eventually to Auburn’s first football game.
According to Jeremy Henderson, who wrote a story on the origins of Auburn’s battle cry for Auburn Magazine, the Plainsman story below is the first telling—even the genesis—of that story.
Here’s the legend, as it appeared in the March 27, 1959 edition of The Auburn Plainsman.
The main distinctions of this legend against the one best known are:
Firstly, there’s more backstory on the Confederate soldier, and much more detail regarding the fateful battle.
And secondly, in this version the eagle doesn’t even fly! That’s significant, given that—you know—we now have an eagle flight prior to each game.
So, whoever altered the story—and likely this change was made very early—to have the eagle take flight really changed the tenor of the whole ethos.
Henderson reports that Phillips did not intend the story to be taken seriously. The opening paragraph reflects that, as does the undignified demise—shrieking and dropping dead.
But, putting the eagle in the sky, soaring majestically above Auburn’s first football game, Auburn’s first football victory—over our oldest rival. That’s a different story.
So whoever introduced that element deserves considerable credit for the legend taking on etiological status, as does whoever placed the first cries of “War Eagle” in the stands.
The watery-eyed declaration of the captain, making War Eagle the team’s official “battle cry,” rings obviously apocryphal. In the better known story, the cry rises organically: Look, it’s the eagle from the war, the war eagle!
Those two developments both survive in the version I heard from a student tour group leader, but we can only wonder what changes the next generation might introduce, assuming no one recreates the Plainsman story as a bronze tablet and displays it beneath the eagle statue at the softball stadium.
By the way, did you know that statue is now there to commemorate the time Tiger (War Eagle VI) deviated from the pre-game flight path and landed on the pitcher’s mound at Jane B. Moore Field? 😉