The Irishman Who Saved the Union

Today, on St. Patrick’s Day, we’re taking a look at Patrick Henry O’Rorke, an Irishman-turned-American who was warm and endearing—and unflappable and courageous.

Born in 1836 in Ireland, “Paddy” O’Rorke was of medium size, with black hair and freckles. His family settled in Rochester, New York, and as a young man, Patrick apprenticed as a marble cutter. However, a local congressman offered him an appointment to the Military Academy at West Point, knowing of the young man’s academic prowess. There, he studied alongside Alonzo Cushing, Charlie Hazlett, George Custer, John Pelham, James Dearing, Tom Rosser, and Hugh Kilpatrick—all of whom would, like O’Rorke, find their place in history in the Civil War.

One story from his West Point days shows a glimpse of O’Rorke’s character and personality. During artillery drill one day, the gun fired prematurely while O’Rorke still held the rammer. He was thrown to the ground, but fortunately his arms were not torn off by the accident. His instructor rushed over, asking if he was all right.

O’Rorke stood up and said, “I’ve lost my glove, sir.”

“Bother your glove!” the panicked instructor retorted. “Your arm, man? Is your arm all right?”

“Oh, yes sir,” O’Rorke replied. “There’s nothing wrong with my arm.”

When war came, O’Rorke served as a staff officer and an engineer, but in the summer of 1862, while he was in New York on leave (and getting married!), he learned that a local regiment was forming—the 140th New York. He requested a commission, and in September he received the colonelcy of the regiment. Serving in the brigade of Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren, the 140th New York had their first taste of battle in the terrible Union disaster at Fredericksburg that December. A few months later in May, Col. O’Rorke was placed in temporary command of the brigade when Warren was made acting chief topographical engineer of the Army of the Potomac.

On the afternoon of July 2, 1863, the 140th New York sat resting about half a mile from Little Round Top. Orders came for the brigade, under the command of Gen. Stephen Weed, to move to the aid of Sickles’ III Corps. But, as they passed the little rocky hill, who should gallop up to O’Rorke but their old commander, Gen. Warren!

“Paddy,” he called, “give me a regiment!” When O’Rorke asked where to go, Warren replied, “Take your command and secure the hill before the enemy reaches it; that position must not be lost.”

Sometimes in battle, an “acoustic shadow” would occur, which is an atmospheric condition that dampens sound. Strangely enough, it is possible to be unaware of serious fighting nearby, even just on the other side of the hill! On July 2, such a shadow seems to have occurred at Little Round Top. Warren seems unaware of Col. Vincent’s brigade on the hill, and as O’Rorke and the 140th climbed the slope, they did not load their rifles, unaware that the fighting was so close. As they reached the crest however, they could see the Confederates a mere forty feet away! There was no time to form into a traditional line of battle.

IMG_0353 cropDismounting and drawing his sword, O’Rorke shouted, “Down this way, boys!” and dashed down the slope. Companies A and G followed him, loading their rifles and forming a ragged line among the boulders on the right of the beleaguered 16th Michigan of Vincent’s brigade.

O’Rorke called out, “Here they are, men, commence firing!” His men fired and the Confederates replied with a withering volley. Col. O’Rorke fell with a bullet in his neck. He bled to death within minutes.

O’Rorke fell just as his men were entering the fray, but his regiment held their ground, saving Vincent’s right flank just as the 20th Maine on the left flank began their bayonet charge. O’Rorke could have refused Warren’s pleas, or sought approval of the change in plans from Weed or Sykes, the corps commander. He could have taken a few minutes to form his regiment in a proper line, to avoid the confusion of tumbling into line first-come-first-served fashion. But he knew what was needed and when. If he had delayed even a minute, Little Round Top would have been lost. What good would the 20th Maine’s charge have been, if the Confederates had overlapped and flanked the 16th Michigan, opening an easy route to the crest of the hill?

This weekend, as you enjoy the green beer, corned beef, and shamrocks, take a moment to raise a glass to Col. “Paddy” O’Rorke, an Irishman who helped save Little Round Top, the Union Army of the Potomac…and the nation!


A Glimpse into Cavalrycat Rehab, Part 2: Making the Plans

Last fall, our Mewsings took a look at the cavalry rehab for our new diorama and saw what it takes to get the cats ready.  But while the cavalrycats polish their saddles and buttons, Rebecca has been busy planning out the diorama.

Early versions of our cavalry battle portrayed Brandy Station, the largest cavalry fight of the Civil War, which occurred only a month before Gettysburg.  About ten years ago, we changed our diorama to portray East Cavalry Field, the fighting that took place east of Gettysburg during Pickett’s Charge.

IMG_0261Now, we are giving the diorama a new, larger base and reevaluating what was portrayed.  Rebecca started by reading books on the fighting at East Cavalry Field to pinpoint the action we wanted to depict.  Then she visited the field itself (part of the Gettysburg National Military Park) to map out where that action occurred.

After locating the entire action on maps and fields, Rebecca determined the scope of the diorama.  The cats and horses are a larger scale (1:36) and the depicted action occurred in a farm’s open field, so this diorama does not need the usual trees or fences.  If we had used a smaller scale (1:72 or 1:96), we could have fit more of the field within the confines of our base, and may have needed to show natural features, fences, and topographical contours.  As it is, “Come On, You Wolverines!” will offer a close-up of the action, rather than the sprawling feel of a large diorama with a smaller scale, such as “The Fate of Gettysburg,” which shows the entire area of the Angle.

Even if overall features will be simple, Rebecca still had to pay attention to details and make a lot of calculations such as the frontage of a regiment charging in columns of squadrons, the distance between ranks, and the locations of Generals Custer and Hampton (i.e. who would be on our diorama and who would not).  After finishing those calculations, Rebecca came up with a total count for the cats and horses we will need on the diorama—over 300!  This means we will need to make over 200 new horses and cavalrycats, and when all is finished, about half of the horses recorded on our “census” will be on this diorama.

Stay tuned as the cats receive their marching orders then finally mount up and move out!

True Love


Valentine’s Day is coming up, and we’re all thinking about love and chocolate!  But before we curl up with the Hallmark channel and our heart-shaped candies for a dose of True Love chick-flicks, let’s take a glance at two stories from the Civil War.  Yes, real-life True Love stories.

Our first love story is that of George and Elizabeth Custer.  In November 1862, George Armstrong Custer fell head-over-heels in love with Elizabeth Bacon.  Unfortunately for them, he was only a captain; socially, it was quite impossible for him to marry a judge’s daughter.  But Custer was not one to avoid a challenge, be it getting a general’s commission (“You may laugh, boys…but I will be a general yet…You see if I don’t”) or facing an enemy onslaught (“Come on, you Wolverines!”).  So, it’s no surprise that he did not give up on winning Libbie’s hand.

Just before the Gettysburg campaign, Custer suddenly became general of the Michigan Brigade.  The next couple of months were busy with fighting, but in September, he finally received twenty days of leave.  Now he was a general.  Now he could court Libbie!  And that is just what he did.  By the end of his leave, they were engaged, albeit secretly—he still had to convince her father, which would take another couple of months.

Finally, on February 9, 1864, Autie Custer and Libbie Bacon were married—and she would never leave his side.  As she put it, “I begged so hard not to be left behind that I finally prevailed.”  She followed the army, staying in houses near the camp.  She only stayed behind when the army was on campaign.  After the war, Libbie headed out west with Custer, and after his death at the Little Big Horn she never remarried, remaining faithful to him and defending his memory until her own death decades later.

Our second love story is that of John and Rebecca Gordon.  John Brown Gordon met Rebecca Haralson in 1854—it was love at first sight and they were married that September.  Fanny Gordon accompanied her husband throughout the Civil War, and, as with Libbie Custer, it was Fanny’s decision.

Sticking close to the Army of Northern Virginia through thick and thin meant that Fanny experienced her own share of close calls.  In the spring of 1862, the train on which she and John were travelling collided head-on with another train.  She set about tending the wounded while he managed recovery efforts.  In the fall of 1864, the tongue of her carriage broke off the axle, stranding her in the middle of a stream with Union cavalry close behind.  Confederate infantry managed to reattach her horses, and sent her on her way.

When Gordon was wounded five times—including in the face—at Antietam, Fanny bravely nursed him back to health.  As he recalled, “I was more apprehensive of the effect…upon her nerves than upon mine….I knew she would be greatly shocked.  As she reached the door and looked, I saw at once that I must reassure her.  Summoning all my strength, I said: ‘Here’s your handsome (?) husband; been to an Irish wedding.’  Her answer was a suppressed scream, whether of anguish or relief…I do not know.”

Despite his wife’s bravery and steadfast spirit in battle and the trials of the campaign, Gen. Gordon did have to admit one area where her courage faltered: “she will precipitately fly from a bat, and a big black bug would fill her with panic.”

Their love story would last until Gen. Gordon’s death in 1904.

Happy Valentine’s Day!


Quotes are from:

Urwin, Gregory J. W. Custer Victorious: The Civil War Battles of General George Armstrong Custer.  Edison: Blue & Grey Press, 1983.

Gordon, General John B.  Reminiscences of the Civil War.  Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1993.

Additional information:

MacLean, Maggie. “Fanny Haralson Gordon.”  Civil War Women: Women of the Civil War and Reconstruction Eras 1849-1877.  March 6, 2009.  Accessed: February 9, 2018.

A Closer Look

Glancing through my phone recently, I discovered photos that our brother’s kids had taken of our Little Round Top diorama as part of a game where one takes a photo and the others have to find the cat soldier pictured. Sometimes a hint is allowed to narrow the search down to a single room or diorama. Sometimes not.

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We never know what we’ll notice when we play this game. A lone wounded solider stranded between the lines, perhaps, or a new view of a familiar battle line. Each of us sees something different. Even we who made and placed the figures will see something new to us.

So I thought I would share some of the pictures. On a large diorama like Little Round Top, it may be hard to find a particular soldier, but it is possible. Our cats are unique – like the men they each represent.


2017.08.12 closeup 3

Foolhardy Daredevil or “the Best Cavalry General in the World”?

IMG_0292George Armstrong Custer.  We know him for the Little Big Horn, for his long yellow hair and fancy uniform, and for his flamboyant, devil-may-care actions.  But if you’re like me, that may be all you know.  So, as I research for our diorama of East Cavalry Field at Gettysburg, I’m reading Gregory J. W. Urwin’s Custer Victorious and taking the opportunity to learn what Custer was really like during his Civil War career.

Custer had only been commanding troops for about a week before the fight at East Cavalry Field on July 3, 1863.  He had spent the war so far as a staff officer, but he had shown his character, as he personally saw to the careful placement of videttes (cavalry pickets) and even led forays to take enemy positions.  He was fearless but had common sense, and that was why Gen. Alfred Pleasonton, commanding the Union cavalry, recommended him for promotion straight from captain to brigadier general.

Upon his promotion, Custer had a custom uniform made of black velvet with gold lace—a uniform that prompted one of Gen. Meade’s staff officers to call him “one of the funniest-looking beings you ever saw…a circus rider gone mad!”  But Custer was probably inspired by the flamboyant Gen. Phil Kearny, who had been killed the year before, and at heart, Custer was a romantic and still a boy in his twenties.

The Michigan Brigade didn’t think much of their new “popinjay” general—a boy coming in, promoted over heads, and dressed like a dandy.  For his part, Custer had to establish his authority as brigade commander, and he did it by bringing West Point discipline to his brigade of volunteers, rather than trying to be friends. This only made them dislike him more.

On July 2, near Gettysburg, Custer’s brigade encountered Confederate skirmishers.  Seeing it was only a couple hundred of the enemy, he strung his regiments across the road, then led Company A of the 6th Michigan forward in a charge—only to run smack into Gen. Wade Hampton’s entire brigade!  Custer was unhorsed, the company was cut to pieces, and they only barely managed to scramble back to their lines.  Custer himself would not have escaped had a trooper not pulled him up behind his saddle and high-tailed it to safety.  It was not a promising start as brigadier general.

Custer learned from the fiasco, and throughout the remainder of the war, he would be the one to send forward dismounted skirmishers to check out the situation so he would be informed before leading his men, personally, in a full-out cavalry charge.  Ironically, while pursuing Lee’s army after Gettysburg, it was Custer (who history calls rash) who was about to send dismounted men to check out a Confederate position, when Gen. Hugh Kilpatrick, the division commander, rode up and ordered the squadron to make a mounted saber charge instead—they did, and ran into a brigade of entrenched Confederate infantry.  Only the Confederates’ disbelief that it could really be an enemy attack with such a tiny force allowed them to make it to the trenches, and only Custer’s arrival with the rest of the brigade enabled any to survive the foolhardy attack.

On July 3, Custer’s first real test came.  After a day of fighting, the Confederates launched a massive cavalry charge—two brigades in columns of squadrons, thundering down on the weakened Union line.  Gen. David Gregg had only one regiment to send out against them: Custer’s 1st Michigan Cavalry.  As the regiment received their orders, one officer exclaimed, “Great heavens!  We will all be swallowed up!”  And then Custer rode up.  As brigade commander, he did not need to lead the charge, but he did, galloping far ahead of his men and shouting, “Come on, you Wolverines!”  The two charging columns struck with such force that horses were bowled over, end-for-end.  The little regiment stopped the Confederates in their tracks.  Thanks to Union canister and dismounted troopers peppering the flanks, the Confederate column finally broke and retreated, ending any chance that Gen. Jeb Stuart’s horsemen had of harassing the Union army’s rear.

From that moment on, the Wolverines no longer considered their general a “dandy” with “girl’s hair.”  A captain of the 6th Michigan wrote, “The command perfectly idolized Custer.” The entire brigade adopted the crimson neckIMG_0288 closeuptie, to match their general.  One trooper wrote, “Our boy-general never says, ‘Go in, men!’  HE says, with that whoop and yell of his, ‘Come on, boys!’ and in we go, you bet.” And with affection like that in the ranks behind him, what could Custer not accomplish?  Even a quick survey of the remaining years of the war shows Custer’s men accomplishing the impossible, time and time again.

Take October 11, 1863 for example.  The Union cavalry was surrounded, and even Gen. Pleasonton was worried.  Custer’s solution?  Cut a way through the Confederates!  Taking two of his regiments, he scanned the enemy lines with his field glasses to find a weak spot, tossed aside his cap to reveal his yellow hair, and shouted to his men, “Boys of Michigan, there are some people between us and home; I’m going home, who else goes?  All we have to do is to open a way with our sabers.”  Three cheers answered him, the brigade band struck up “Yankee Doodle” (the brigade’s favorite tune, which they played for every charge), and off they went, following Custer’s yellow ringlets and personal guidon. They broke through, and the Union cavalry escaped the trap.

The following May, Gen. Phil Sheridan led his Cavalry Corps on a raid to Richmond, to draw out Jeb Stuart and whip him.  During the fighting at Yellow Tavern, just outside of Richmond, Custer’s men sat under fire from a Confederate battery.  After sitting under this for some time and receiving a close shave from a shell fragment, Lt. Asa Isham of the 7th Michigan began to grow demoralized and decided “the relations of myself and the battery should be changed in some manner.”  Moments later, Custer led the 1st Michigan out in front of the 7th and prepared to charge.  Seeing the beautiful sight of the newly-replenished 1st, one thousand strong, Lt. Isham “began to feel a contempt for the Rebel cannon…I sat straight up in my saddle and cheered in admiration of the 1st Michigan Cavalry, and in derision of the artillery.”  The band struck up “Yankee Doodle” and off they went with Custer.  It was not a hell-for-leather charge because of fences and a ditch in the way, but the 1st behaved coolly and calmly, and when they finally cleared the obstacles and charged, they took the cannons.

When Custer set his mind to something, he did it, and “surrender” was not in his vocabulary.  Even the prospect of being cut off in enemy territory while on a diversionary raid in February 1864 prompted him to say, “Well, then, I may have to do one of two things: either strike boldly across Lee’s rear and try to reach Kilpatrick, or else start with all the men I can keep together and try to join Sherman in the southwest.”  (He avoided the decision by not getting trapped in the first place, and made it back to safety after capturing 50-60 Confederates, one flag, and 500 horses, and destroying a bridge, three mills, six caissons, and other supplies.)

Custer infused his own enthusiasm and confidence into his men and, with a whoop and a holler, they would follow him anywhere.  Soldiers don’t follow a dandy; they follow a leader who cares for them and will give them success.  “Every man in his brigade worshipped him, and would follow him through anything,” a captain of the 6th Michigan recalled.  “They never went back on him nor he on the men.  We have been in some as tight places as troops ever were in, but he always got us out.”  He continued, “He always displayed a great deal of bravery, but I don’t think that you could call it rashness.  He never took his men in any place where they couldn’t get out.”

Gen. Sheridan called Custer “the ablest man in the Cavalry Corps.”  One of the young general’s officers wrote, “Custer was a fighting man, through and through, but wary and wily as brave.  There was in him an indescribable something…[that] nearly always impelled him to do the right thing.”  Colonel Alfred Nettleton of the 2nd Ohio wrote of their first engagement under Custer’s command in 1864, “Once under fire, we found that a master hand was at the helm, that beneath the golden curls and broad-brimmed hat was a cool brain and a level head.”

IMG_0281The Little Big Horn will always be a cloud over Custer’s memory, but perhaps the Little Big Horn should be tempered by another image of the man—the “grand and inspiring sight” of him on Sheridan’s Richmond Raid in May of 1864, so typical of the Custer of the Civil War: as four hundred Union prisoners approached the rail station and knew their hopes of rescue were dashed, they heard a shout, “The Yanks are coming!”  The guards scattered, and the prisoners, looking back, saw bursting from the trees a long line of blue cavalry at the full gallop, led by “the very picture of the dare devil fighter”: Custer, with his black velvet, red necktie, and gold lace.  As he flew past the Union prisoners, he brandished his sword with one hand and waved his hat to the prisoners with the other, his reins in his teeth!  One grateful rescued Yankee wrote, “I would like to have a picture of that gallant officer as he appeared on that occasion, and…I shall always remember him.”


Saving Christmas at Civil War Tails

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!

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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.’”

2015.12.02 Nutcracker mice v cavalry

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.

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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.


P1300427 Rosser and Higginson

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.

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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.


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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.

P1300445 Kemper's Advance crop

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.


Snowball Fight!!

We at Civil War Tails have already enjoyed two snowfalls this winter. ‘Tis the season of winter quarters and snowball fights! During the war, the soldiers couldn’t resist a snowball fight now and then, sometimes even at the brigade level. Imagine the sight of thousands of men embroiled in lobbing rock-hard snowballs at each other!

One time, two of Confederate General Patrick Cleburne’s brigades engaged in a huge snowball fight. The general could not resist the temptation to lead one of his brigades. However, his other brigade launched a counter-attack and captured him! After some consideration, they decided to parole him, which means he would be released if he promised not to fight anymore.

P1160319 Snowball battle (crop)

Gen. Cleburne on the verge of capture…

That was fine for a while, but then the tide of battle turned against Cleburne’s brigade. He once again entered the fray – but was captured a second time.

This raised the question for his men who had captured him: what to do with their general, who had broken his parole? They discussed options for a suitable punishment. One veteran recalled:  “Some called for a drumhead court martial; others demanded a sound ducking in the nearby creek.  Still others, mindful of Cleburne’s reputation as a stern disciplinarian, insisted that the general be meted out his own customary punishment.  The idea caught on, and soon the whole brigade took up the familiar order:  ‘Arrest that soldier and make him carry a fence rail!'” (The general often punished an errant soldier by making him carry a fence rail for a mile.)

Eventually, however, some of Cleburne’s men brought up the fact that it was the first time their general had broken his word, so they granted him parole again.