This past July 2nd, we made Cat 9000 as Col. Strong Vincent on Little Round Top. He is the newest of our K-Cats. But what is a K-Cat?
Ever since late 1999, we have kept a census of our Civil War cats and, specifically, have noted which cat marks another thousand on the census at the time of his making. We don’t know who Cats 1000 and 2000 are, but we have kept track from Cat 3000 on. Since in our notes we abbreviate to “Cat 3K” or the like, these specific thousand-marker cats have become known as “K-Cats.”
Sometimes, a K-Cat is an ordinary private who just happened to mark a thousand. We still make them distinctive to remember who they are. Cat 3000 is a black cat with a white cat-mustache and tail tip. We installed him on Battery Wagner at midnight, January 1, 2000. Cat 4000 is wearing a plaid shirt, and 8000 is an artillerycat wearing a vest.
Lately, we’ve chosen to make K-Cats someone identified and significant. Cat 5000 is Gen. Will T. Martin, one of only two identified officers on “Desperation at Skull Camp Bridge.” We installed him on our 10-year anniversary, on June 25, 2005. Cats 6000 and 7000 are Col. Joshua Chamberlain, commanding the 20th Maine, and Capt. Ellis Spear, commanding its left wing, respectively.
Now, Cat 9000 is Col. Vincent. On July 2, 1863, Vincent took the responsibility to lead his brigade onto the empty hill of Little Round Top, on the left flank of the Union army at Gettysburg. By doing so, he ensured the Confederates would not take the hill and send enfilading fire down the length of the Union line.
After about an hour of fighting, the third Confederate charge threatened to overlap the right flank of Vincent’s brigade, specifically the 16th Michigan. Misunderstanding an order to pull their right back to face the threat, half the regiment—including their commander and flag—retreated. Col. Vincent tried to rally the crumbling regiment, but as he did so, he fell mortally wounded. Eventually, before the Confederates could take advantage of the weakened 16th, Col. Patrick O’Rorke and the 140th New York arrived and saved the right flank.
But Col. Vincent didn’t know the outcome of the fight for Little Round Top. The last he knew, the 16th Michigan had broken. The next day, his orderly Pvt. Oliver Norton visited the wounded colonel. Vincent was in such pain that he could not speak, but Norton could read the question in his eyes: What happened? Did my men hold the hill?
Norton told him, “The boys are still there.”
The simple reply brought Vincent the relief he needed. He would die four days later on July 7, knowing his men had held the left flank of the Union army secure.
When we first read Norton’s words, we knew we had the name for our diorama. His words say it all. The boys are still there. So, it’s also fitting that Cat 9000 is Col. Vincent, who gave his life to help save the Union army on July 2, 1863.