This year, we’re sharing a two-part tale we wrote about a harrowing Christmas here at Civil War Tails. It’s pure fun with a dash of historical detail. Enjoy!
Saving Christmas – Part I, by Ruth
Colonel Joshua Chamberlain sat on a large rock on the very crest of Little Round Top and gazed at the great Christmas tree across the room. At three-quarters of an inch tall, he could only see the entire tree if he left his regiment and climbed to the highest rock on the hill. The tree was especially big and bright tonight.
Chamberlain enjoyed this time of year. He liked listening to the Christmas music and watching the humans decorate in lights and sparkly greens. This year, they had even put greens on top of the pictures on the walls, reminiscent of the style of the 1860s, which made him feel quite at home, like a kitten again.
Tom trudged up the hill and plopped down on the rock next to his brother.
“Uhhhhh,” Tom groaned. “Another day at the museum over. I’m exhausted. My jaw is killing me from grinning at visitors.”
“We only had two, today,” Chamberlain noted with surprise. “It’s Christmas Eve.”
“What about the ones who just poked their heads in?”
“You don’t have to smile every time the door opens,” Chamberlain reminded him. “We’re hidden from view behind that big cavalry guidon, until they come into this room.”
Tom cocked his kepi back to peer up at his brother. “I know. I’m sending good vibes.”
Sergeant Andrew Tozier appeared, toiling up the hill. Tucked in the crook of his elbow was the national flag that he always clutched, even when off museum-duty. “There’s a message for you from the Signal Corps, Colonel.”
Chamberlain rubbed his shoulder and right paw, which had begun to hurt now that Tom had reminded him how tiring it was to be on-duty in the museum. “I keep telling you, Sergeant, the humans haven’t made the Signal Corps, yet.”
“Not ours, Sir. It’s the boys from the storage trunk. My signal code’s a bit rusty, but I think they’re saying it’s from General Garnett.”
“He’s a Confederate.”
“Best I could gather, Sir, it says, ‘Message for Col. Chamberlain from Gen. Garnett, CSA. No, really. Keep listening’—It really says that, Sir—‘Our position overrun by mice. 72nd Penna. hard-pressed. Request assistance.’”
“Did you say ‘mice’?”
“Yes, sir. It could be ‘rice,’ but I’m pretty sure it’s ‘mice.’”
Tom had popped to his feet and now stared through his field glasses. “Lawrence, take a look at this! It looks like a mouse, bro. With a crown!”
Chamberlain pulled out his own field glasses and followed the direction Tom pointed. In front of the Christmas tree stretched a writhing mass of cavalry and mice. In the middle, a crazed gray mouse in a gold crown drove a wild-eyed pair of horses around the melee, bowling over cavalry horses with his wagon and laughing.
Under the tree, the mice had the two giant nutcrackers tied up and were beginning to gnaw at their wooden toes. The poor fellows were too stiff to even try to thrash and save themselves.
Chamberlain recognized Confederate Colonel Tom Rosser on his big gray horse, fighting alongside Major Henry Lee Higginson of the 1st Massachusetts, whom he had sabered in a former life. The beefy Rosser decapitated one of the resident housecat’s toy mice as the critter crawled up his horse. Stuffing puffed everywhere.
Even more green and orange and blue stuffed mice swarmed over the Angle. General Richard Garnett, his uniform bloodstained from his day job, spurred Red Eye along a tattered line of Confederates while Lieutenant Frank Haskell rallied the 72nd Pennsylvania for another advance. The remnants of the 69th Pennsylvania held their ground in the Copse while Confederate General Lewis Armistead and his men cobbled together the splinters of Cushing’s battery into a semblance of artillery support. Smoke puffed from the lone gun of Cowan’s battery, and then Chamberlain heard the distant pum. The lone gun from Arnold’s battery joined in from the far side of the diorama.
Chamberlain threw dignity to the wind and ran down the hillside, barking, “Tom, take a flag of truce down to the 15th Alabama. We’ll pick them up as we go down!”
Tom saluted and peeled off into the trees, frantically waving his handkerchief and hollering.
Chamberlain drew his saber as he reached his regiment. He drew in a lungful of air and bellowed, “Fix—bayone-e-ets!”
The right half of the line clattered as the cats sprang to their feet and obeyed. Silence from the left. The left flank never heard that order, no matter how loudly he yelled. With a sigh, Chamberlain lifted his saber.
The 20th Maine let out a yell and ran pell-mell down the hillside. The Confederates joined them, and the line swept across the floor, driving the mice before them. As they climbed onto the Angle’s reading panel and over the Plexiglass, Chamberlain heard the pum—pum of Smith’s battery on Devil’s Den. In the distance, the single gun made so far for Hazlett’s battery on Little Round Top opened up. Their shells shrieked overhead and exploded over the mass of mice.
Chamberlain grinned. No military music ever sounded so good.
The 72nd and Garnett’s men swept down on the mice from the front. The tattered cavalry galloped around to the left flank. On the right, Chamberlain heard the Rebel Yell.
“It’s Kemper’s Advance!” Tom whooped, waving his kepi.
The gray line of two-inch-tall cats descended on the right flank of the mice, joining with the 69th Pennsylvania. The clay cats trod relentlessly on, pressing the mice in a vise between themselves and the two-inch-tall cavalry. The shorter cats held their ground in the front and rear of the mice until the Mouse King gave a shriek and plunged his wagon through the cavalry and led a helter-skelter retreat up the stairs to the third floor whence they had come.
The cats around Chamberlain erupted in huzzahs. Ladies streamed down from the balls, waving their lace handkerchiefs. Others flocked around the freed nutcrackers, reviving them with tiny punch glasses of eggnog.
Tom grinned and wiped his brow with his kepi. “Christmas has been saved once again.”
Saving Christmas – Part II, by Reb
Well, you’ve heard the Union side of it. Let me tell you how it was on the ground, in the thick of it. I know, because I was there. I am Col. Thomas Rosser of the Confederate cavalry.
‘Twas the night before Christmas, and “all quiet on the eastern front, tonight.” I was relaxing under the broad boughs of the Christmas tree with my good friend Henry Lee Higginson, after a long day in the museum. Now, I know the fellows on display will tell you it’s tough, smiling for hours on end, but it ain’t so easy for us in storage, either, sitting there, wishing we could hobnob with the kids and licensed battlefield guides. But I digress.
Henry and I were enjoying a quiet cup of eggnog—the ladies make the best, you know—when the grandfather clock began to strike midnight. As its deep tones reverberated through the rooms, the tree’s lights began to glow. Henry and I stared, transfixed, as the 9-foot tree grew taller, stretching higher and higher. I can’t tell you if it went through the ceiling or if the room grew, but I know what I saw.
As the final chime struck and the mantel clock began its chiming, we heard a skittering, over by the steps. We both peered into the darkness outside the tree’s ring of light. A skittering, scuffling, squeaking. And then eyes began to appear, blinking out of the darkness, dozens, scores, hundreds!
Henry swore and vaulted into his saddle, and I followed suit. Our troopers had hardly formed ranks behind us when into the light burst a plunging, rearing team, pulling a wagon driven by the largest, most hideous gray rat I have ever seen. His whiskers gleamed red in the twinkling light, and he wore a great golden crown. Behind him swarmed his minions, green and pink and blue mice, gray ones, and white ones with evil red eyes.
Well, I can tell you it was touch and go after that. Our boys charged in grand style, and all became a “kaleidoscopic whirl,” as Col. Mayo would say. It was all I could do to keep my seat on my horse. On the whole, he’s a steady chap, but that night he was springing and wheeling, bucking and kicking in every direction. Col. Chamberlain says I beheaded a mouse. Maybe I did; I don’t know. I do know I was covered from nose to tail tip in fluff by the end.
All I can say is, when them Yanks came scurrying down the diorama table legs and charged across that open floor into the fray, I felt I’d never been so glad to see that Yankee flag in my life. I knew then that it was just a matter of time. With Garnett and Kemper coming down on the other side, those rats didn’t stand a chance, and they knew it. We sent them tumbling back so fast they was running all over each other, a seething, scurrying rainbow of fur headed for the stairs.
As for the mouse king, I got a few licks in at him, but I don’t know as I can say what became of him. You ask about the Nutcrackers. I know at the outset they were standing guard on the tree, but as to what part they played in the fight, I can’t say. If they did anything to turn the tide, I didn’t see it.