The Battle of Shiloh

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Gen. P. G. T. Beauregard

Today is the anniversary of the beginning of the battle of Shiloh, which raged over two days near Pittsburg Landing in Tennessee. Ordinarily, we think of battles being fought by two armies. Shiloh involved four. On the Confederate side, Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston and Gen. Pierre G.T. Beauregard had joined their armies in the hopes of defeating the Union forces together. On the Union side, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s army lay encamped at Pittsburg Landing on the Tennessee River, and Gen. Don Carlos Buell’s army was en route to join Grant.

On the night of April 5, 1862, the Confederates lay ready to launch a surprise attack on Grant’s army. That evening, a Union captain saw campfires and heard bugles and drums. He told the officer of the day, Lt. Col. Graves, who went to Gen. Benjamin Prentiss, the division commander. Prentiss said it was just an enemy patrol. Frustrated, Graves and the captain went to see Col. Everett Peabody, who commanded a brigade under Prentiss. Peabody believed them. Taking full responsibility, he sent a patrol to investigate.

The patrol marched out of camp at 3:00 a.m. on Sunday morning, April 6. At 4:55 a.m., firing erupted as the patrol ran into Confederates. The battle of Shiloh had begun. The patrol held their ground for about an hour and a half, then a battle line of Confederates appeared and the Union soldiers retreated.

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Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman

Around 7:00 a.m., other Confederates launched a furious attack on Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman’s men. After heavy fighting, Sherman ordered a retreat, and his men reformed in a road about 500 yards to the rear. Suddenly a battery came galloping up. The infantry were unable to get out of the artillery’s way because of the brush on either side of the road. To add to the confusion, more retreating troops came running up. Everyone was in a jumbled mess when the Confederates arrived and fired a volley. They charged, and all but one brigade ran.

Meanwhile, Col. Peabody heard heavy firing off in the woods and ordered a drummer to sound the “long roll,” to assemble the men for battle. Suddenly, Gen. Prentiss appeared. Furious, he asked if Peabody had started the fight. Before the colonel could explain, Prentiss shouted, “Colonel Peabody, I will hold you personally responsible for bringing on this engagement!”

Peabody responded that he was always personally responsible for his actions, and the general rode off in a huff. Peabody advanced with his brigade into the woods. They stopped the Confederate advance for a time, but then two brigades charged, screaming the Rebel Yell. They sent Peabody’s men reeling back.

Peabody, already wounded four times, galloped among his retreating men, begging them to rally and fight. Before the battle he had had a premonition he would be killed and had said goodbye to his officers. Now the 31-year-old colonel fell with a bullet through his head. By 8:45 a.m., Peabody’s camps were in the hands of the Confederates.

Gen. Prentiss’ other brigade had formed by then, and the Confederates concentrated on it. The Union soldiers retreated. One regiment of the brigade, the 15th Michigan, had just arrived at Pittsburg Landing and hurried into battle. When they formed into a battle line, facing several Confederate brigades, they realized they did not have ammunition. They hurriedly withdrew. By now, Prentiss’ division was a wreck. Only a few regiments remained organized; most of the artillery had been captured.

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Gen. U. S. Grant

About this time, Gen. Grant arrived at Pittsburg Landing from Savannah, a town downriver. Realizing that a battle was being fought, he quickly sent word to Gen. Lew Wallace, whose division was farther down the river.

On the Union left, a lone brigade held the flank. The commander was nervous because he did not know from which direction the Confederates would come. As a result, his men marched here and there and everywhere. The Confederates saw the movement and were convinced they faced at least a division. As a result, Gen. Johnston sent reinforcements, weakening the rest of the Confederate line, most of which would soon be engaged at the “Hornet’s Nest.”

Gen. Prentiss’ men had reformed in a sunken road. To their left was Gen. Hurlbut’s division and to their right was Gen. W. H. L. Wallace’s division (not to be confused with Lew Wallace, whose division had been delayed by taking a longer route than expected). Around 11:00 a.m., the Confederates attacked. But the attack was made by only one brigade and failed miserably. Gen. Braxton Bragg ordered Col. Randall Lee Gibson’s brigade to charge next. They were met by a terrible fire from the Union line and forced to retreat. Bragg thought they retreated too soon and ordered them to charge again. Col. Gibson protested, but there was nothing he could do, so he led his men forward once more. When they were only twenty yards from the Union line, the Union soldiers rose and fired a volley. Again, Gibson retreated. His men said the bullets sounded like angry bees, and they dubbed the Union line the “Hornet’s Nest.” Bragg sent them forward a third time, and a fourth time. The decimated brigade was forced back a fourth and final time. Amazingly, Col. Gibson would be accused of cowardice, even though he had led his men in four hopeless charges.

2019-04-06 Johnston, Albert Sidney

Gen. A. S. Johnston

On the Union left, the lone brigade was doing a good job of holding off the enemy. Finally, the Confederates, led by Gen. Johnston himself, pushed the Union left back. They now had a clear way to Pittsburg Landing and complete victory.

Around that time, a bullet struck Johnston behind his right knee, severing a major artery. The blood flowed into his boot, hiding the presence of the wound until he slumped in the saddle. His staff pulled him down from his big bay, Fire-Eater, and searched for a wound. By the time they found it, it was too late and Johnston died. It was 2:30 p.m. and a lull descended on the battlefield.

If the Confederates had pushed around the Union left and reached Pittsburg Landing, they could have surrounded the Union army. Instead, the Confederate commanders led their men to the sounds of firing at the ‘Hornet’s Nest.’ The Confederates struck the left of Hurlbut’s line, forcing him to retreat. Then Confederate artillery opened fire. There were 62 cannons in line, the largest gathering of artillery in North America up to that time. After the artillery blasted the Union line, the infantry advanced and forced W.H.L. Wallace to retreat. Only Prentiss remained and before long, he surrendered.

The Union army tried to reform on some bluffs near Pittsburg Landing. Just as the Confederates were about to launch a final attack, Gen. Buell’s army arrived, adding fresh troops to the Union line. Darkness put an end to the fighting.

The night was miserable for everyone. It began raining around midnight and continued until after 3:00 a.m. As if the rain were not enough to keep the tired soldiers awake, around 9:00 p.m. the Union gunboat Tyler began firing its huge guns every ten minutes. At 1:00 in the morning, USS Lexington took over.

On the morning of April 7th, Buell’s army attacked the Confederates. By 3:30 in the afternoon, after furious fighting, Beauregard ordered a retreat. The battle of Shiloh was over. It was the bloodiest battle in America’s history up to that time.

Not So Long Ago

“Give me liberty, or give me death!” Nearly two hundred and fifty years ago, in 1775, Patrick Henry spoke these words in a speech to the Second Virginia Convention in Richmond. His speech helped galvanize the colony and commit Virginians to the course of independence.

While we were pondering the anniversary of Henry’s speech today, we started thinking about the connections between the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. We don’t mean connections of events or politics or ideologies, but of people. Sometimes, it is easy to forget that the Revolution was no farther away in time to the people of the Civil War than the Great Depression is to us—only a few generations, in fact. And how much history occurred during those few generations! The War of 1812, the Mexican War… Korea, Vietnam. Just as we remember our grandfather who fought in the Battle of the Bulge during WWII, so a Civil War soldier might remember his grandfather who fought alongside George Washington. Just as we meet Vietnam veterans today, so people of the Civil War would know uncles or fathers who fought in 1812.

In today’s Mewsing we are taking a look at some of the soldiers involved in Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg. It is a small example, but they are representative of the armies on the whole, and of the nation.

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Gen. Lewis A. Armistead (lying wounded)

On the Confederate side, Gen. Lewis Armistead commanded one of the brigades in Gen. Pickett’s division. His uncle, Maj. George Armistead, had defended Ft. McHenry against the British in the War of 1812. Maj. Armistead’s defense inspired Francis Scott Key to pen “The Star-Spangled Banner.”


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Pvt. Robert Tyler Jones (lying wounded)

In Armistead’s brigade, Pvt. Robert Tyler Jones was the grandson of President John Tyler. Commanding the 53rd Virginia Infantry, Col. William Aylett was the grandson of none other than Patrick Henry.

On the Union side, the colonel of the 20th Massachusetts, Paul Revere, was a descendent of the Paul Revere of the American Revolution. Col. Revere fell mortally wounded in the bombardment before Pickett’s Charge.



Gen. Alexander Webb

Gen. Alexander Webb commanded the Philadelphia Brigade at the Angle, where Pickett’s Division would strike the Union line. His grandfather, Samuel B. Webb, was a minuteman at Lexington in 1775, where the American Revolution began with “the shot heard round the world.”

Making the Ironclads

On March 9, 1862, CSS Virginia (Merrimack) and USS Monitor met as the first ironclads to fight ironclads. Today, we take a look at the process of making our diorama of the two ships, “The Horrid Creation of a Nightmare vs. the Little Pygmy.” We hope you enjoy our trip down Memory Lane 2012!


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACSS Virginia in dry-dock. Ordinarily, we would have built the ships entirely of cardboard, but since Rebecca had just “inherited” some light wood from a fellow model-builder, she decided to experiment with making the hulls out of wood. Virginia’s bow and stern are made of wood that was shaped to the bulkheads, while the middle section is cardboard. The casemate (the “barn-roof” part) is all cardboard. Note the missing section of the casemate—this is so that part is removable to allow you to see inside. Removing the entire side is impractical since the curve of the ends of the casemate require them to be securely anchored to the side panels.


“The Foundry” — painting Virginia‘s gun carriages, gun barrels, and propeller


The bow pivot gun in place. Due to the design, we had to install the pivot guns and their crews before enclosing the ends of the casemate.


The hatches and the iron on the casemate have been painted, and the propeller is installed. The aft pivot gun is visible as well. The removable panel of the casemate has been made and set in place.


The photos above were taken just before the ends of the casemate were glued into place, and are the only record of what these cat crews look like—aside from the tops of their heads as seen through the grating above them!



Virginia is nearly finished. Only six inches of the “eaves” of the armored casemate extended below the surface of the water. Otherwise, under the water, Virginia was the unarmored, wooden, copper-plated hull of USS Merrimack.


Gun crews are installed—Virginia is finished!


On to USS Monitor!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere, a few of the future crew are inspecting the work on the upside-down hull. (You can also see that Civil War cats drive Ford Mustangs!)


Peeking out of a gun port on the turret

The process of making the turret. Since the real turret has been raised from the ocean floor, one can find photos online of the turret and its structure. We were thrilled to be able to build our model so accurately!

2019-03-09 Mon turret process

The inside of the turret is finished—port lids, supports, turning mechanism, lanterns, cannonballs, guns, and gun crew are installed.

Monitor’s only gun crew was inside the turret. If one of Virginia’s shells entered an open gun port, it could destroy the crew and leave Monitor with no one to work her guns. Fortunately for Monitor, this did not happen.

Since they have also salvaged at least one lantern from Monitor‘s wreck, we just had to include the lanterns in the turret. These are about 3/16 inch tall!




The roof is installed, finishing the turret. We made it removable, and the ladder (made of black thread) that leads up the side of the turret serves as a hinge.



Left: Monitor‘s steering wheel, installed before the pilothouse. Right: a view into the pilothouse.

Lt. Worden is at the top of the picture, the helmsman in the middle, and the pilot at the bottom. You can just barely see the steering wheel in front of the cats. Given the dimensions of the real pilothouse, it’s amazing three men fit inside! Fitting three (chunky) cats is even more interesting—don’t ask how they don’t fall down the hatch! But then, they are cats…



Monitor‘s rudder and unique 4-bladed propeller


Monitor‘s anchor with windlass

John Ericsson designed a new way to raise and lower an anchor underwater, just one of Monitor’s unique features. You may ask to see the anchor if you come into the museum. Since raising the deck of Monitor is risky for the anchor, which can catch itself on the anchor well, we rarely show it—but we would be happy to, if you ask!



Some of Monitor‘s crew–painted and ready…or, almost ready. (Lt. John Lorimer Worden, commanding Monitor, is on the left of the bottom row)



To be finished, both ship’s crews needed to be “blackened by powder.” We have a teabag of an unknown type of tea which is very black–and perfect for smudging cats to get them dirty.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMonitor finished! Note the gap between her black upper deck and her red hull. This is for the plexiglass “water,” since the ship is made in two parts. The hull glues to the underside of the plexiglass, and then the deck rests on top and remains removable. In designing the ship, we had to make sure to remember to factor in the thickness of the plexiglass and the gap, so Monitor did not end up an extra 1/8 inch thick.



Installed and waiting for waves!


2019-03-09 Mer port bow before-after

2019-03-09 Mer bow before-after



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Snow Day Fun

Sometimes it’s hard to remember that Civil War soldiers were no different than teenagers and college students today. But many were in their teens or twenties, so it should not surprise us to learn that soldiers liked to play practical jokes on each other, particularly in the boredom of winter, when campaigning was put on hold and armies settled into winter quarters.

Of course, snowball fights were a favorite pastime. See our previous post “Snowball Fight!!” here. But simple pranks were just as much fun—for both the giver and the receiver!

In February of 1863, the 3rd South Carolina Infantry was in winter quarters near Fredericksburg, Va. On the 27th, Cpl. Taliaferro “Tally” Simpson wrote home of the fun he and his friends had after ten inches of snow fell.

2019-02-23 20190221_132539They decided to play a joke on their colonel and some of the other officers.  They went to the colonel’s quarters armed with eight or ten snowballs each, and put a blanket over the chimney.  Capt. Langston had been told about the joke ahead of time, so as soon as he realized the blanket was in place, he added more logs to the fire and went out to join the pranksters.

The tent filled with smoke, and one of the officers went out to see what was wrong with the chimney.  He was immediately bombarded with a dozen snowballs and forced back inside. Tally wrote, “then they began to smell a rat.  They laughed, halloed, and begged us strenuously to have mercy on them. But twas no go.”

They managed to pull the blanket off, but Capt. Langston fetched a saddle blanket which Tally held on top of the chimney again. By then the rolling smoke was so thick that Maj. Maffett poked his nose through a hole he cut in the canvas, and Lt. Johnson put his head under the door for air.

“They begged, threatened, and told us they would pay us back some day, all to no go. Finally they could bear it no longer, and they rushed out amid a storm of snow balls and lit in to fighting us like good fellows. But our party was too strong, and they had to knuck under. They enjoyed it as much as we did, and we all laughed heartily over it.”

May you enjoy some fun in the snow this winter, until, as Tally ended his story, “The snow is gone, and the fun is up.”




In honor of Groundhog’s Day last weekend and the squirrel inside our parents’ house this week, we’re taking a look at critter mascots and pets today.

While many regiments had dogs as mascots, some regiments had roosters, one regiment had a raccoon, one had an owl named “Minerva,” and one had a black bear. One regiment had a 30-year old goose who waddled in time with the band’s music. A Union cavalry regiment kept a lamb as a mascot for a while. A Confederate regiment in the western theater even had a camel named “Douglas.” One of “Stonewall” Jackson’s units had a pig named Susan Jane. Originally they were going to fatten her up to eat, but then the men ended up liking her and kept her.

Perhaps the most famous non-canine was “Old Abe,” the 8th Wisconsin’s bald eagle. He traveled with the regiment throughout the war, and would circle above the fighting during battle, always returning to his specially-made perch afterwards. He even learned commands and would stand at attention or “lie down” along with the men. He survived the war and became the highlight of veterans’ reunions. He lived until 1881, when smoke inhalation from a fire killed him.

Gen. Robert E. Lee even had a pet—a hen who travelled with him on campaign. Despite his own unusual pet, he nevertheless did as any good father would and constantly teased his youngest daughter, Mildred, about her own pet—a squirrel. She named the squirrel Custis Morgan—“Custis” after her oldest brother and “Morgan” after the daring Confederate cavalryman, John Hunt Morgan. In his letters to Mildred, Gen. Lee wrote, “If you would immerse his head under the water for five minutes in one of his daily baths, it would relieve him & you of infinite trouble.” He also suggested the family have “Squirrel soup thickened with peanuts,” adding that “Custis Morgan in such an exit from the stage would cover himself with glory.”

As we wait for the early spring that Punxsutawney Phil decreed when looking for his shadow last Saturday, may you enjoy watching the critters around you, inside the house and out.

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Kitty, Museum Cat of Civil War Tails

This Year’s Resolution

New Year’s Day is a time when many of us make resolutions. Often, they are resolutions to improve our health or lifestyles, but what about our character? Have you ever made a resolution that will improve who you are, not on the outside, but on the inside, and not for your own comfort but for the improvement of those around you?

In the past month, we have been reminded of how quickly our plans and intentions can be changed. When life hits the fan, our true character becomes apparent. When life ends, it will be our character that shapes how people remember us. In today’s Mewsing, we take a look at several men of the Civil War and how their friends and acquaintances remembered them.


Lt. Charles Hazlett: On July 2, 1863, Lt. Hazlett determined to bring the guns of his Battery D, 5th U.S. Artillery, onto Little Round Top. He knew his artillery could not aim low enough to fire at the Confederates climbing the hill’s slopes, but he knew “the sound of my guns will be encouraging to our troops and disheartening to the others, and my battery’s of no use if this hill is lost.” He would be mortally wounded on the hill, but his concern for the infantry was not misplaced. A captain in the 44th New York, just down the slope from Hazlett’s guns, recalled that when the artillery opened fire, “No military music ever sounded sweeter and no aid was ever better appreciated.”

Afterwards, Gen. Gouverneur Warren recalled the young lieutenant as he brought his battery onto the crest:

There he sat on his horse on the summit of the hill, with whole-souled animation encouraging our men, and pointing with his sword toward the enemy amidst a storm of bullets – a figure of intense admiration to me… No nobler man fought or fell that day than he.

May we all have such a concern for others that we are willing to move mountains (almost literally in Hazlett’s case!) in order to help them, even if only emotionally.

1st Lt. Henry Ropes: On July 3, 1863, when Pickett’s division struck the Angle and the Copse of Trees, the 20th Massachusetts Regiment was one of the regiments that rushed to reinforce the Philadelphia Brigade at the Copse. Lt. Ropes was among those killed in the regiment. Accounts differ as to whether he was killed earlier in the day or during the fighting with Pickett’s Confederates, but those details seem secondary to the grief felt by all who knew him, even Lt. Frank Haskell, who was part of the division commander’s staff and not part of the regiment itself. Haskell recalled that Ropes was “a most estimable gentleman, and officer, intelligent, educated, refined, one of the noble souls that came to the country’s defense.”

Capt. Henry Abbott, who led the regiment into the Copse, wrote of Ropes in his report:

Never before has this regiment, in the death of any officer received one-half so heavy a blow…. Lieutenant Ropes’ behavior in this battle was more conspicuous for coolness and absolute disregard of personal danger than I have ever witnessed in any other man. He entered the service [and] remained in it until his death from the purest patriotism; not a single ambitious or selfish motive mingled with it. He would have made the noblest sacrifice where he knew that no man would even hear it as readily as if the eyes of the whole world were fixed upon him. Such perfect purity of sentiment deserves this distinguished mention; which Lieutenant Ropes himself would have been the last to expect.

May we all have the humility of Lt. Ropes, who would do the right thing, whether or not anyone was there to see him act.

Gen. Stephen Dodson Ramseur: On October 19, 1864, the Confederate army in the Shenandoah Valley, under Gen. Jubal Early, attacked Gen. Phil Sheridan’s army at Cedar Creek, near Winchester, Va. They succeeded in routing the Union army—until Gen. Sheridan arrived from Winchester (he was en route from a meeting in Washington, D.C.) and rallied his troops. The Union counterattack drove the Confederates from the field in a stunning reversal.

Among the Confederate brigadier generals was Stephen Ramseur. Only 27 years old, Ramseur had been married for less than a year and had just learned of the arrival of his first child. During the battle, he wore a flower in the lapel of his best uniform in honor of his new baby, and he hoped for a victory, so he could request a furlough to visit his family. Instead, as he tried to rally his troops, he was shot through the lungs and captured. He died the next morning, without even knowing that his baby was a little girl. His aide, Maj. Hutchinson, wrote a simple but heartfelt tribute in a letter to Ramseur’s wife, “He told me to tell you that he had a firm hope in Christ and trusted to meet you hereafter. He died as became a Confederate soldier and a firm believer.”

Ramseur’s peace transcended the crushing disappointment that he surely felt, knowing that he would not return home to see his child and wife. But it was his confidence in his Lord and Savior that gave him the comfort of knowing that he would see them one day in Heaven, in the presence of God. May we have such peace and certain confidence when our best-laid plans and hopes are suddenly obliterated.

Col. William Pegram: On April 1, 1865, only eight days before the surrender at Appomattox Court House, Union troops launched a sudden attack that surprised the Confederates at Five Forks. During the fighting, Col. Pegram, commanding artillery, was mortally wounded. As he was taken to the rear, his distressed adjutant and friend, Gordon McCabe, exclaimed, “Oh! Willie, I did not know how much I loved you until now.”

Pegram replied, “But I did, Gordon.”

After Pegram’s death, McCabe wrote, “He died as he had lived, without fear or reproach—the truest Christian, the best friend, the most splendid soldier in all the world!”

May we be remembered as Pegram was: faithful in our friendship, exceptional at our work, living above reproach, and with our lives and outlooks shaped and anchored firmly by our beliefs.

In the daily rush of life, it is easy to lose track of what is important and who we are. Are you who you want to be? Is adding an exercise routine all you need to change this year? If the rat race were to disappear, what would remain? What would really matter?

Merry Christmas!

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Every year, we enjoy decorating for Christmas, from lights outside to garlands and trees inside. This year, half of the museum is decorated with a Civil War theme. You might think it was obvious, since our museum is about the Civil War, but this is actually the first year we have followed a Civil War theme. In today’s mewsing, we’ll explore some of the traditions that inspired our decorations at Civil War Tails.

2018-12-15 20181213_172330Christmas trees were just becoming popular, thanks to Queen Victoria adopting the German tradition. They were not the large trees that we are used to; rather, a Christmas tree in the 1860’s would be smaller and stand on a table in the center of the room. Branches would be cut out until the remaining branches formed layers. Presents were placed on the branches, with larger presents on the table. Presents during the Civil War were often handmade, such as hand-carved toys, cotton or flannel animals, hickory nut and flannel dolls, candied fruits in paper cornucopias, gingerbread cakes, needle cases, or slippers. Of course, because of the war, presents were often scarce, particularly in the South. Mothers in the Confederacy would have to come up with excuses as to why Santa wouldn’t make it to their house for Christmas. Imagine if your mother told you that Santa couldn’t get through the Northern blockade or, even worse, had been shot!

Decorations for the tree were also often handmade. Dried fruit, red bows and ribbons, chains of colored paper, strings of popcorn, and even pinecones were used. Candles would also be used, but they would only be lit on Christmas Day—with a bucket of water kept nearby! Sometimes, families were fortunate enough to have glass ornaments.

Greenery was used to decorate the rest of the rooms and was placed on all the horizontal surfaces, including pictures, window frames, doors, and mantels. Candles could be added to the greenery, particularly in the windows.

2018-12-15 20181213_172420Just as it is today, children would hang stockings for Santa to fill. They might even know the story “’Twas the Night Before Christmas,” since it was written in the 1820’s. The family could also enjoy carols, such as “Deck the Halls,” “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” “Silent Night,” “What Child is This,” “Away in the Manger,” “Joy to the World,” and “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem.” Some specifically American carols were “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” “We Three Kings,” and “Up on the Housetop.” However, for all of you who have not sent out Christmas cards yet, it’s okay—cards were popular in Europe but the fad would not take hold in the United States for another decade!

Christmas dinner was as big a deal as it is today, although the war would have caused shortages. Before the war, you might expect to see ham, turkey, oysters, squash, cabbage, potatoes (both white and sweet), carrots, apples, breads, pies, puddings, stuffing, coffee, tea, and of course eggnog—and that’s a partial list!

We had a lot of fun decorating the museum along Civil War-era lines this year, and look forward to doing it again. Perhaps this Mewsing has inspired you to try it next year. It’s not hard. Artificial trees are great at making “layers” of branches. Candles now come with batteries (you just need a bucket of fresh batteries on hand instead of water!). And the kids will enjoy stringing popcorn. Kitty, our Museum Cat, enjoyed finally being allowed to eat popcorn straight out of the big bowl—until she realized it had no butter or salt!

Merry Christmas, everyone!