Meet Chris Cagle of Eau Claire, Wis.
An interview with a Color Bearer member
The Trust’s work overlaps with my values of battlefield preservation and history education. Ed Bearss’ passing in September 2020 prompted me to increase and formalize my level of support. Ed’s tireless efforts at preservation and education are legendary and I wanted to do my part to continue his legacy.
Color Bearer Chris Cagle
American Battlefield Trust: What moved you to first give to our organization?
Chris: I grew up in Memphis, TN and frequently visited Shiloh. In August 2020, I was researching online information about Shiloh and came across the Trust’s campaign to preserve land at Shiloh, Raymond, and Vicksburg (a victory noted in June 2021 Color Bearer issue). I was not familiar with the Trust but reviewed its charity ratings and felt comfortable donating money towards this preservation effort. Later that month, I moved my daughter across the country from Wisconsin to Florida, and our trip went through Kentucky. I realized that we would be close to Perryville and I insisted that we make a stop. We took a battlefield tour on the Union left flank and visited the Open Knob. The Trust had recently acquired land adjacent to the Open Knob and had a sign displayed, noting the preservation. This was the first time I had seen the Trust’s work at such an important and hallowed spot. After I returned home, I took a greater interest in the Trust’s mission and began following its work closer.
What do you enjoy most about being a Color Bearer?
To best answer this question, I need to explain why I first became a Color Bearer. The Trust’s work overlaps with my values of battlefield preservation and history education. Ed Bearss’ passing in September 2020 prompted me to increase and formalize my level of support. Ed’s tireless efforts at preservation and education are legendary and I wanted to do my part to continue his legacy. Being a Color Bearer gives me piece of mind to know that my donations are being properly managed and furthering the values that we as Americans hold dear.
What is your favorite battlefield you’ve visited?
There are certainly many battlefields that I have thoroughly enjoyed visiting and plan to visit again (Antietam, Gettysburg, Mansfield, Perryville, Shiloh, Vicksburg, etc.). But currently, Champion Hill tops my list for a variety of reasons: it was the decisive battle of Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign, ultimately leading to Vicksburg’s surrender; the ferocity of the fighting, including by regiments from my home state of Wisconsin (many of these veterans are buried in my local cemeteries); and being able to see such an important battlefield as it is undergoing preservation. Additionally, the preservation of Champion Hill was, and remains, one of Ed Bearss’ key projects. It was inspiring to see the battlefield in March 2021 and to understand why Ed was so passionate about its preservation. (I also encourage everyone to contribute to the Trust’s current Champion Hill campaign!)
What would you like to pass on to future generations?
The opportunity to have an accurate and honest presentation of our nation’s history, including all of its accomplishments and failures. This is bound to ruffle feathers but I believe that these discussions can be both objective and respectful, leaving avenues open for future discussions among those who may disagree. I also believe that the Trust is in a unique position to facilitate this goal.
If you could meet any historical figure, who would you choose and why?
Ulysses S. Grant because of his ability to adapt, remain calm in the face of adversity, all while understanding the big picture. Some general examples include:
- Civilian Antebellum Period: Grant was a failure in civilian life and had dim future prospects. After the Civil War began, however, Grant resumed his military career and 7 years later, he was elected president of the United States.
- Shiloh: On the first day of fighting, Confederate forces overwhelmed Union forces and threatened to defeat Grant. But Grant retained his composure, encouraging his soldiers to hold the Union line. The next day, Grant counterattacked rather than retreat and won a major Union victory.
- Siege of Corinth: After Shiloh (and perhaps as a 40th birthday gift to Grant), Halleck effectively demoted Grant by promoting him to second in command but under Halleck’s withering supervision. Grant contemplated resigning but instead, persevered and was ultimately returned to field command.
- Champion Hill: Grant pushed his advantage against Pemberton, threatening to overwhelm and cut off the Confederates’ escape route to Vicksburg. A Confederate counterattack, however, nearly defeated Grant. But Grant remained composed and his late-arriving reinforcements held the Union line, driving the Confederates back and securing Union victory.
- Final Days: Grant was nearly bankrupt around the time that he was diagnosed with terminal throat cancer. Grant wrote his memoirs and completed them prior to his death, securing his family’s financial well-being.
Anything else you want to share?
My home town of Eau Claire, WI was home to Co. C of the 8th Wisconsin. Company C brought along Old Abe, an eagle who joined the 8th WI in the Western Theater. During a recent trip to Farmington, MS, I was able to visit the vicinity where Old Abe first saw combat. You can also see a sculpture of Old Abe on the WI memorial at Vicksburg. I am also very excited to meet other Color Bearers and members of the Trust in the near future. Becoming a Color Bearer in the midst of the Pandemic has put crimp in those plans. But I am optimistic that I will have future opportunities to meet many of you. Chris is also a member of the Honor Guard.