Civil War Ambulances

Recently, we took some time to rehab the ambulance on our diorama of Gen. Meade’s headquarters at Gettysburg. We made it at least thirteen years ago, and it has weathered the time and kids quite well, considering that it is mere cardboard and wire, but it certainly needed some attention and tender loving care. Now, after an afternoon well-spent with a glue bottle, it is back on display, looking all spruced up and much more…upright than it was! So, today we are Mewsing on ambulances.

When we think of a Civil War ambulance, we probably picture the four-wheeled variety, such as the one on the diorama. But there was also a two-wheeled version. While numerous, it was less popular with the wounded. The four-wheeled type was steadier and therefore more comfortable, relatively speaking.

Looking inside, you can see the seats for the wounded. The seats could unfold and convert into a second level. This way, wounded men who could not sit up could be put above and below, maximizing the space.

On the outside, you can see rolled up stretchers stored on the sides of the wagon bed.

By the time of Gettysburg, wounded soldiers would be treated initially at the regimental aid station, which was set up a safe distance behind the firing line. They might have a tourniquet put on a limb or be given some whiskey or opium for the pain, and then an ambulance would take them to the field hospital a few miles to the rear. There they would await their turn with a surgeon.

Ambulances served in other capacities as well. On the march into Pennsylvania, Confederate Gen. Richard Garnett needed to travel in an ambulance since he had been kicked in the lower leg or ankle by a horse and could not ride or even sit up for long periods of time. On July 1, Union staff officers transported the body of Gen. John Reynolds from Gettysburg in an ambulance. When Gen. George Meade learned that Reynolds was either badly wounded or killed, he sent Gen. Winfield S. Hancock ahead to take control of whatever situation he found on the field. Hancock started off in an ambulance so that he could spend the travel time in reviewing maps in order to get the best possible grasp of the situation and arrive prepared. But, Hancock’s chief of staff Lt. Col. Charles Morgan recalled, the ambulance could “not keep pace with the General’s anxiety,” and so finally they switched to their horses so they could travel faster.

Our ambulance portrays one mentioned by newspaper correspondent Sam Wilkeson. In describing the cannonade which preceded Pickett’s Charge, he wrote:

Through the midst of the storm of screaming and exploding shells, an ambulance, driven by its frenzied conductor at full speed, presented to all of us the marvelous spectacle of a horse going rapidly on three legs.  A hinder one had been shot off at the hock. 

Ship in a Bottle – Part 2

Today we continue our Mewsing on scratch-building USS Cumberland in a bottle. (You can find Part 1 here.)

With Cumberland rigged and painted, it was time for Rebecca to put it in the bottle. First, she dabbed blobs of Duco Cement inside where Cumberland would rest. Then she had to get the ship in place before the glue dried. How much time did she have? She had no idea. Meanwhile, Ruth had the presence of mind to take a video of the ship going into the bottle. It took six minutes to finagle the hull and masts in, but Cumberland made it, with all rigging, sails, and spars intact. And the glue hadn’t dried yet, so the hull nestled into place just fine.

Once Cumberland was securely fixed down, Rebecca inserted the sides of the hull and raised the masts. Then followed several evenings of gluing rigging into place. With a kit, the shrouds and stays are attached to the sides of the ship before it goes into the bottle. Here, Rebecca had approximately 30 strings to glue, after the insertion. And she could only do three at a time before going bonkers! After finishing the ship, she added waves made from Liquitex Gloss Super Heavy Gel, the medium we use for the water effects on our dioramas. On May 16, 2022, Cumberland was done!

The tools of the trade:

In the foreground is our “grabber-thingy,” a contraption with a button on one end that you push to extend four claws out the other end. It’s awesome for navigating inside a bottle! Rebecca was even able to align the claws precisely enough that they could grab a single thread and pull it tight.

In the middle is a piece of model railroad rail. It has a cross-section like an I-beam, and that shape allowed it to hold down threads, pull them away, etc.

In front of the bottle is a piece of coat hanger. Rebecca twisted some wire around one end into a little hook, and it was helpful in manipulating rigging. The plain end could hold threads against the hull until the glue set.

Cutting the threads took some ingenuity. Xacto knife blades rubber-banded to a stick or the railroad rail worked pretty well.

“Ghost” seam to right of side seam (top) and suction scar (ring on base) with “feathering”

A little about the bottle itself:

Judging from indications on the bottle, it dates from ~1905 to the early 1920s, but most likely 1911-1917. The suction scar on the base and the “ghost” seam on the side show it was made on a blow-and-blow Owens Automatic Bottle Machine, and the feathering on the suction scar indicates an early Owens machine. The single-letter code “O” on its base suggests it was made by the Owens experimental factory (Factory No. 1) in Toledo, Ohio, before June 1917, when they began using a different style of code. The “O” could also be to differentiate between the Owens Factory No. 1 and the Northwestern Bottle Company (code “N”) which was designated as Factory No. 2 in 1911.

The type of “lightning” stopper suggests it may have held a carbonated beverage (such as beer or soda). Our stopper, in particular, is a porcelain Hutter stopper. On the stopper is printed “E.M. Cook, Market St., Phila.” The only reference we could find online of E.M. Cook of Market St., Philadelphia, was a 1921 advertisement in the Philadelphia Inquirer which mentions them as a dealer for Imperial Cabinet whisky.

Ship in a Bottle – Part 1

This past spring, Rebecca decided to scratch-build USS Cumberland as a ship-in-a-bottle. Since some folks have expressed interest in seeing how she did it, today we embark on a 2-part Mewsing about the process. It all began in the basement of Civil War Tails…

The bottle alongside pictures of Cumberland and basic specifications of the ship.

Some time back, while cleaning up the basement, Rebecca found an old glass bottle, still with its porcelain stopper mechanism. Well, ever since successfully assembling a ship-in-a-bottle kit, any time she sees a big bottle, she immediately envisions putting a ship in it. This one, with its character and age, practically begged for a ship. On April 10, 2022, the time had come. But which ship? Rebecca finally decided on USS Cumberland, which CSS Virginia (Merrimack) rammed and sank on March 8, 1862—the day before the Confederate ironclad faced USS Monitor. Someday we hope to build a diorama of Cumberland being rammed, and this project allowed Rebecca to do the preliminary research and measurement calculations.

First, she had to figure out how big the ship could be. The bottle’s base has a diameter of a little over 4 inches, with thick glass sides, so she decided that ~3.5 inches should work. When the scale calculations were finished, Cumberland’s hull came out to be 3-3/8 inches long, with the height of the masts about the same. But the width of the hull was 3/4 inches, and the opening of the neck is only 5/8 inches in diameter. Because of the masts, dividing the hull down the middle was not an option, so she made it in three pieces: a middle and two sides.

With a kit, the model is completely assembled outside of the bottle. Then the masts fold down, the ship slides into the bottle and is glued down, and then the masts are raised by pulling on the few remaining long strings of rigging. On Cumberland, Rebecca drilled holes in the masts and made hinges out of wire, allowing the masts to fold astern. They folded every-which-way because of how the wire “hinges” were placed, but it turned out that allowed space for all the spars, sails, rigging, fighting tops, and other masts to get out of each other’s way in the narrow neck.

The masts assembled, with spars being added.

The masts are made from a bamboo skewer that was cut and shaved down to the correct sizes and dimensions. It turned out that the scrap pieces were perfect for shaping into spars. An unexpected bonus was that bamboo is somewhat flexible and forgiving, so the spars could bend without breaking as they squeezed into the bottle.

Adding the sails was next. But would all the fabric fit through the neck of the bottle? “We’ll find out!” Since everything needed to be flexible enough to fold this way and that, Rebecca had to choose which rigging to include and which to leave off, as too much would hinder the free movement of the spars. We mentioned earlier that pulling on the rigging raises the masts. In the picture, note the thread running from the top of the mizzen mast (the little mast on the stern) forward to the mainmast, then to the foremast, then to the bowsprit. Each mast has one. But those threads don’t get tied at the bowsprit. A long length is left that will reach outside the bottle. This way, tugging on them will pull on the masts and raise them. Then, a dot of glue on the bowsprit will anchor the thread, and the excess can be cut off. With Cumberland, there were quite a few stays running between masts and on to the bowsprit. That meant a lot of threads to keep track of and run out the neck of the bottle.

After finishing the rigging and sails, Rebecca did a dry run of fitting the hull into the bottle. The collapsed ship reminded her of a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis. During the process, one corner of a sail pulled off the spar below, a thread of rigging nearly shredded apart under the strain, and one bit of rigging that tied the mainmast to the mizzen prevented the two masts from collapsing properly. The issues were simple to fix, and it was time to move on to the final touches.

The final details: painting the hull, making the flag, and making the anchors. (Not until after completing the ship did Rebecca realize she had not painted the hull correctly. But she wasn’t about to try and reach a paintbrush into the bottle to fix it!)

Finally, the big moment had come. But would the ship successfully make it into the bottle? Would Rebecca be able to navigate inside the bottle to finish it? Stay tuned for Part 2 to find out!

Cat 9000

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.

Cat 9000 – Col. Strong Vincent

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.

Around Civil War Tails: Sunlight and Shadow

There’s nothing quite like walking through a sleeping museum on a sunny morning. Most of the dioramas are in shadow, but here and there, a shaft of light blazes across, highlighting a small portion of a scene. A camera hardly does it justice, but we try anyway! Enjoy today’s collection of a few “sunlight and shadow” mornings at Civil War Tails.

Stories

In 1995, Rebecca read biographies on Generals Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee. Then, she made our first clay Civil War cats—Grant and Lee. People sometimes ask why we didn’t do one army as cats and the other as dogs. It’s a logical question, and even when we would play Robin Hood as kids, we would be cats which meant the imaginary Sheriff of Nottingham and other “bad guys” would be dogs. So, why didn’t one general come out as a dog?

The simple answer is Rebecca liked both generals, so they were both “good guys” and therefore cats. This is probably counterintuitive to the polarized opinions today. But history is complex, not cut-and-dried, and we have always enjoyed reading the stories of people. It never mattered to us which side they fought on, or what color their skin. There were cool guys (and gals) throughout the thirty-four states of the Union (yes, that includes the eleven that seceded). So, enjoy a few of the snippets of human life and glimpses of real people that have “stuck” with us through years of being Civil War buffs.

One of the stories that first caught Rebecca’s interest (and, since it involves a horse, probably cemented Grant as a “cool guy”) was told in that first biography she read. While at West Point, Grant was average in his studies, but extremely skilled at riding. When on a horse, he seemed part of the animal. One horse at West Point, named Big York, was notoriously hard to handle and no one could ride him. Grant not only succeeded in riding the sorrel, but jumped him over a 6-foot-high rail!

Often, emotion draws us to a story. Sometimes it is the pathos, as with Gen. Richard Garnett, who led his brigade in Pickett’s Charge on horseback, because he could not walk after being kicked by a horse. He could have sat it out, instead of making himself a target on Red Eye. But he rode because, in 1862, “Stonewall” Jackson had accused him of cowardice, and even though anyone who knew Garnett knew he was no coward, he still felt he must regain his honor. That day he was killed, and his body was never found.

Sometimes, you wish a story could have a different ending each time you read it, like that of Gen. Stephen Ramseur, a Confederate brigade commander at Cedar Creek. Only 27 years old, he wore his best uniform with a flower in a buttonhole, celebrating the birth of his first child. He hoped for a victory so he could secure a furlough and return home to see his wife and baby. Instead, he was shot through the lungs and mortally wounded. He never even knew if the newborn was a boy or a girl (she was a girl).

Humor often makes a story or individual memorable. Any time I think of Prof. Thaddeus Lowe’s observation balloons, I think of the story of Gen. David Porter ascending in one, only to have the guide lines snap. As the balloon began to drift away, men on the ground shouted up to the general to pull the release valve. He did so and the balloon promptly dropped—and landed smack on top of a tent full of officers eating breakfast! Despite the chaos that must have resulted, Gen. Porter nonchalantly climbed down from the balloon and walked away as if nothing had happened.

Sometimes it’s just a tidbit we find amusing. Col. Wladimir Krzyzanowski served in the Union XI Corps. He caught our fancy when we were in high-school, but not because of anything he did—so why does he stick in our minds? Partly because he was good-looking, but also because of the trouble people had in pronouncing his Polish name. His division commander Gen. Carl Schurz maintained that this was the reason Congress did not confirm Krzyzanowski’s promotion to brigadier general. In the army, fellow officers avoided the difficulty by dubbing him “Kriz.” If you’re also puzzled about the pronunciation, a Park Ranger at Gettysburg once mentioned that he had asked some Polish tourists, and they suggested it might have been “shevs-now-ski” or thereabouts. No wonder they nicknamed him!

We all find stories interesting, whether fiction or non-fiction, social media or family emails, gossip or news. But sometimes it’s just nice to set aside the drama of everyday life, sit back, and read a good story. With history, the added bonus is that the characters really existed!

Kelly’s First Christmas

’Twas the night before Christmas, and all through Civil War Tails, not a creature was stirring, not even the “kittens” (or squirrels, or whatever it was on the third floor). The humans had gone to the Christmas Eve service at their church, and Kelly the Museum Dog sat downstairs, staring up at the big tree. Three other trees and a lot of plastic greenery filled the rest of the museum. Kelly knew better than to eat any of it, although she had tried a few Styrofoam berries off a “pick.”

“I have to be honest,” the dog sighed to the thousands of clay cat-soldiers around her. “I don’t understand this ‘Christmas’ thing at all. A lot of bustle and plastic branches walking everywhere, different music, and blinking lights. It’s weird, and I don’t understand it. The humans talk like I should be excited about tomorrow, but I don’t know why!”

Lieutenant Frank Haskell trotted over to the edge of the Pickett’s Charge diorama and offered, “The humans are excited and happy, and they want you to share that. You will get some turkey—”

“Like at Thanksgiving?” Kelly perked up and licked her chops. She had already begun to drool.

“Yes. Almost exactly like Thanksgiving. And they probably have gifts for you, like they do for each other.”

“Like when they go shopping?” Kelly thumped her tail. “Only this time, I’ll be allowed into the plastic bags?”

“I remember one year when they wrapped cat treats for Kitty,” Lieut. Haskell said. “She was the Museum Cat before you came.”

“Yes, I hear them talk about her,” Kelly replied respectfully, but she still was not sure about cats as pets. She shook herself and said, “So that’s what Christmas is? Turkey and presents? That sounds like a good day.”

“For some, that’s all Christmas is,” General Stephen Ramseur said from where he had been admiring the white tree in the next room. “Glitter, lights, feel-good songs, family and traditions.

“But that is not all of it. For some of us, Christmas is a painful time. I was killed in October 1864, before I met my newborn child. I did not see her first Christmas, and she never had her father present at Christmastime. But even someone mourning a loved one can experience the joy of Christmas.”

“How can you be happy when you can’t have your family with you?” Kelly shuddered. She had been alone long enough and did not want to think about losing her new family.

Real joy is much deeper than a happy feeling,” Gen. Ramseur explained. “Just like real love is much more than a warm, cozy feeling towards another person.”

“What makes real joy?” Kelly asked.

“Knowing that God loves you no matter who you are and no matter what happens, and that you will spend forever with him. This world’s troubles pale in comparison to that love.

“How do people know that God loves them? Christmas. Christmas is about God coming to Earth as a human baby. Then he died for humans’ sins. People are not inherently good like so many think. They are prone to rebel against God, and only he can fix that. Jesus, who is God the Son, came to take the punishment for man’s sin so that his own perfect obedience and righteousness could be applied to people who believe in him. To do that, he had to be God and Man, and Christmas is about his becoming man.

“Because of what Jesus did, God forgives the sins of those who believe in him; Jesus already paid for their sins. When people recognize what he did for them, they have joy that is more than just happiness.”

“This is too much for me to understand,” Kelly sighed.

Chaplain Luther French from the 20th Maine chimed in, “Do you remember when you came here, in February and March, how you were pulling on the leash and jumping on museum visitors, and the humans would tell you not to?”

Kelly hung her head. “Yes,” she whispered.

“Imagine a dog who followed the rules perfectly every time coming to you and saying you could have the credit for his perfect obedience, and he would take the lectures and correction that you deserved. Imagine that on a much bigger scale and how happy you would be whenever you remembered the day he came—and the day he took your place, which,” he added, “would be the Easter story.”

“I don’t know how I could ever thank a dog like that,” Kelly murmured. “That would be a good day!”

“That is what your family will celebrate tomorrow.”

Kelly lay down, staring up at the bright tree. “The decorations are nice, and the turkey will be amazing, but now I understand that for my humans, the real reason for Christmas is the best part!”

Thanksgiving

As we look back on six years of Civil War Tails and gallop ahead into Year 7, we continue to be thankful for all the blessings that this museum has been to us and to our visitors. 2021 has been a “crazy busy” year for Civil War Tails, breaking all our records. We are thankful to God for blessing our work here, and we are thankful to all of you for telling your friends, co-workers, and social media followers about our museum. We are still amazed at the excitement and love you show us and our cat-soldiers.

This Thanksgiving season is particularly special. After being open for six years—which doesn’t sound like much—we are now meeting children whose love of history was inspired by their first visits to Civil War Tails. One student has come every year since he first saw “The Fate of Gettysburg” (Pickett’s Charge) through our front windows—before we had even opened! We invited him and his family in, and now, years later, he is heading into the Honors History Program in his school. We love hearing stories like his. Kids like him are why we do this. We love inspiring an interest in history in people of all ages, but seeing the next generation become interested is beyond rewarding for us.

We are so thankful to see how our humble dioramas and tiny modeling clay cats are touching children and adults, cat people and historians, alike. To you, they are more than clay—thank you for letting your imagination bring them to life to tell the stories and show you history.

This has been a wild and amazing ride so far, and we look forward to the years to come. Thank you, all, for supporting Civil War Tails, even in the midst of COVID-19, and for enabling us to bring people joy and to instill a love for dioramas and history in the next generation!

Remembrance Day and the David Wills House

Next week, Gettysburg celebrates Remembrance Day, commemorating Pres. Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery. When you’re in town for the event, why not stop by the David Wills House, which will be open for select days and times.

David Wills was an attorney at the time of the battle. During the aftermath, as the townspeople discussed what to do with the thousands of soldiers killed and how to see them properly buried, Wills designed the cemetery that would become the Soldiers’ National Cemetery. His design was carefully planned. Arcs of graves extend from a center monument. The rings are divided into wedges, one for each Union state, giving equal weight to each state, whether big or small. That way, no one state could say their dead were closer to the monument in the center. All were equally important.

When Pres. Lincoln came into Gettysburg on the evening of November 18, 1863, he spent the night at the Wills house. The next day at the dedication of the Cemetery, his gave his speech that we now know as the Gettysburg Address. When you visit the Wills House today, you can see the room where he stayed, restored to its 1863 appearance.

The house will be open 11/18, 11/19, and 11/20 (Thursday, Friday, and Saturday), from 1:00-5:00 p.m.  Please note: due to COVID guidelines, occupancy is limited, so you probably want to call ahead and see if they require reservations. Also, because it is a National Park Service building, masks are required.

It’s been a while since the Wills House was open (pre-COVID), so this coming weekend is a great chance for you to finally visit! While we’re on the topic of historic houses, don’t forget the Shriver House and the reopened Eisenhower Farm!

The Adventures of the Headless Horsecat – 2021!

The Headless Horsecat is on the prowl, haunting Civil War Tails again! Well, maybe he’s just visiting old friends. Now, that pesky COVID, well, we’re never sure what it’s up to, but it’s always lurking somewhere!

2021-10-30 123212 “Back off, meow!”

2021-10-30 123401 “Watch out!”

2021-10-30 123514 Just hangin’ out on Devil’s Den for Halloween. 

“Yikes, neigh! WAY too close for comfort!!!” 2021-10-30 123559

2021-10-30 123716  Can you find COVID?

Happy Halloween, everybody!!

 

Can’t get enough Headless Horsecat? Check out his adventures of 2019 and 2020!