Where To Start?

One of the most rewarding aspects of running our museum is when we hear how a child has been inspired to make dioramas after seeing ours. But sometimes this inspiration can be scary—for the parent! Make a diorama? Where do we start? What do we use? I’m not craftsy! Don’t panic—keep calm and read today’s Mewsing!

Making your first diorama is really as simple as you want to make it. In my opinion, there are two rules to making dioramas:

  1. If you like it, it’s perfect. When it comes to your diorama, the only opinion that matters is yours.
  2. If you feel yourself going crazy, back off on the detail.

With these two rules in mind, let’s venture into some concrete tips for making your first diorama. This is not an exhaustive list, but it should help to calm fears and inspire confidence by giving you ideas to start the creative juices going.

  • Use a box for a base. Actually, a box isn’t necessary—our original version of “First Bull Run” had our cats and trees set up on a shelf. However, if you want a base, there’s nothing easier than a box. It’s sturdy, you can glue materials onto it, and you can poke holes in it for toothpick fence posts or if you need to wire something down. On our modified “First Bull Run,” we wired down the trees and cats.

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  • Use colored paper. Whether you have colored paper or use paint, marker, or colored pencil, paper is the easiest ground cover ever. Green paper for grass, brown paper for dirt, blue paper for water, and done!
  • Use anything you have lying around. If you want to do a Civil War scene, it’s okay if you don’t have Union and Confederate soldiers, horses, and cannons. You can use any toys you have. Star Wars figures? Designate one as Gen. Lee or Col. Chamberlain. No horses? Use toy zebras or dogs or giraffes. A diorama tells a story, and it can still tell the story of, say, Chamberlain’s bayonet charge down Little Round Top, even if the colonel looks like Luke Skywalker and his troops are marshmallow Peeps. After all, our soldiers all have tails!
  • 2021-10-09 20211008_200452Keep your eyes open. Look for things you can use on your diorama. Do you have a yard? Find twigs or sticks for trees or logs. Is there gravel on your driveway? Pick up some stones for rocks on your scene. We have even used dried snippets of mums for saplings on Devil’s Den and the Angle.
  • Draw a backdrop instead of making a big scene. Many of our early dioramas had backdrops. The Confederate Camp had a night sky made of black construction paper with glitter for stars. The little scene of Gen. Robert E. Rodes getting shot has a simple backdrop of a galloping artillery team, hinting at what was happening around him without our needing to make a team of horses. Sometimes, we drew more complicated backdrops. “The Burning of Darien” involves several houses engulfed in flames. The backdrop of “Burnside’s Bridge” continues the bridge across the creek and shows the far bank.

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  • Use cardboard. Cardboard is a wonderful thing. Do you want a house or barn on your diorama? You don’t have to buy a plastic one. Just get a piece of cardboard (a cereal box is great) and draw the front of your house on it. Cut it out. Draw a side. Cut it out. Keep going until you have all four sides, then tape them together. A couple of rectangles for the sides of the roof, and you have a house! Later on, you can get more complicated, but don’t worry about that now. (Someday, we’ll Mews about how we made the Leister house for our diorama of Gen. Meade’s headquarters.) We also used cardboard to make the walls of the room where Gen. Lee surrendered to Gen. Grant, folding it to the right size and shape, and drawing the windows, curtains, and other features on it.
  • Copy a picture. If you’re having trouble envisioning what you want to do, find a picture and then arrange your figures to match it. A couple of our old dioramas are based off of paintings by one of our favorite Civil War artists. When we were kids, we learned how to draw animals by copying pictures in books. It’s a good way to learn as you start out, and then as you improve, you will venture out on your own and let your imagination take over.

Making a diorama is not as hard as it sounds, so long as you do not try to do too much. Start small. In 1995, Rebecca made two clay cats as toys. We never imagined those cats would explode into a 26-year-long hobby and a museum of thousands of cat-soldiers teaching history!

Burnside’s Bridge at Antietam

Yesterday was the anniversary of the battle of Antietam, in Maryland, on September 17, 1862. In today’s Mewsing, we take a look at the story of the final Union push across Burnside’s Bridge, which inspired one of our older “retired” dioramas.

2021-09-18 Burnside's Bridge

Around 10:00 a.m., Gen. Ambrose Burnside received orders to attack across Antietam Creek. In response, one division attempted to cross at a ford downstream while a brigade crossed the bridge. Unfortunately, the ford was unusable, so those troops had to search for another. At the bridge, the 11th Connecticut, acting as skirmishers, attempted to cross the bridge and creek. Heavy fire cut down a third of the regiment in less than a quarter of an hour. Meanwhile, the brigade itself got lost and never reached the bridge. Another attempt was ordered, but that brigade faltered under fire from sharpshooters before reaching the bridge.

By now, Gen. George McClellan was getting antsy. He ordered Burnside to “push forward… without a moment’s delay.” In response, the frustrated and offended Burnside ordered Col. Edward Ferrero’s brigade to make the next attempt.

Ferrero formed two of his regiments, the 51st New York and the 51st Pennsylvania, into line. “It is General Burnside’s special request that the two 51sts take that bridge,” he told them. “Will you do it?”

At first no one said anything. Not only did the troops not particularly respect their brigade commander, but the Pennsylvanians were especially upset with Ferrero after he had denied them their daily shot of whiskey. Finally, Corporal Lewis Patterson called out, “Will you give us our whiskey, Colonel, if we take it?”

“Yes,” the colonel thundered in his “stentorian” voice, “You shall have as much as you want!”

Satisfied, the regiments advanced. The plan was to cross the bridge in two columns, four abreast, then the New Yorkers would turn to the left and the Pennsylvanians turn to the right, and they would form a battle line. But the Confederates poured a heavy fire on them as they advanced down the hill to the bridge. The columns broke up; the New Yorkers scurried to the left and hid behind a rail fence, and the Pennsylvanians scurried right and hid behind piles of rails and a stone wall. They fired across the creek at the Confederates from the slight protection of those positions.

The Pennsylvanians’ colonel, John Hartranft, yelled himself hoarse trying to urge his men on. Finally he rasped, “Come on boys, for I can’t halloo anymore.”

After about an hour, the Confederate fire slackened and Capt. William Allebaugh of the 51st Pennsylvania dashed onto the bridge, followed by the color-bearers, his first sergeant, and the color guard. The rest of the regiment swarmed after them, joined by the New Yorkers.

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Across the creek, the Confederates were low on ammunition and aware that the Union division downstream had finally found a ford. Not wishing to be flanked, the Confederates withdrew.

A few days after the battle, Col. Ferrero was promoted to brigadier general. But he hadn’t held up his end of the bargain with the 51st Pennsylvania. So, as the regiments stood in their ranks at the promotion ceremony, Cpl. Patterson commented in a loud mutter, “How about that whiskey?” Ferrero got the hint, and the Pennsylvanians finally got their whiskey.

Reference: Bailey, Ronald H. The Civil War: The Bloodiest Day—The Battle of Antietam. Alexandria: Time-Life Books, 1984.

Around Civil War Tails: Installing Gun #3’s Limber

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Today on our trip around Civil War Tails, we visit the newly-installed limber on “The Boys Are Still There” (Little Round Top). It’s surprising how much one new addition can refresh the diorama-under-construction and inspire us to do more!

Gun #3 is the only cannon of Lt. Hazlett’s battery to make it up the slope of Little Round Top under horse power instead of by hand. Wheel pair driver Pvt. Quinlan Sullivan is credited with the success.

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Pvt. Quinlan Sullivan

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Rebecca has had the horses and limber made for quite a while, but she finally got around to assembling them. Gluing thread to Sculpey horses as harness traces reminds us of accounts of artillery teams when under fire. While some horses stood quietly and ignored the exploding shells, others understandably panicked and ended up in tangled messes as horses turned completely around and traces ended up crossed and jumbled. Adding to the chaos, wounded horses would be thrashing as well, endangering the drivers as they worked to cut the harnesses off the dead and wounded and untangle the living, and all without being kicked by an iron-shod hoof.

2021-08-21 06 20210820_090302Before installing the limber on the diorama, Rebecca had to measure out the location. A photo from the early 20th Century shows a memorial gun tube near a particular boulder along the path to the castle-like New York monument, indicating the placement of one of Hazlett’s guns. The cannon in the background of this photo is located at that rock. Artillery pieces were typically placed 14 yards apart, so Rebecca measured the distance for a 1:96 scale (3/4” tall cat) from that cannon and boulder. Then, it was just a matter of placing the limber and gun #3 (the latter is not installed yet) where the rocks would allow for wheels and horses.

 

Gluing down the limber took more time than we expected. To avoid mayhem as horses with wet glue fell and flopped left and right, and the limber bounced all over, Rebecca first glued the limber itself—held down by a ruler—and the wheel pair of horses. Once their glue was dry, she moved on to the swing pair, and then finally the lead pair. When all were securely fastened down, she glued the reins to the drivers’ paws, and the limber team was finished!

Battlefield Fun

Looking for a fun, educational, easy way to enjoy the Gettysburg battlefield? Check out Civil War Tails Diorama Museum’s new “Battlefield Fun” Scavenger Hunt!

4.034.01The hunt stems from one that Rebecca made the other day for a young visitor to the museum. We began talking about corps badges, which you can see on our Little Round Top diorama’s Union cats. But did you know they are on the monuments around the battlefield? Ever wonder why one monument has a star, another a crescent moon, another a diamond? Those are all corps badges, which were a source of great pride for each unit of the Union Army of the Potomac. See how many corps you can identify! You do not need to know about the battle to do it. But if you are a buff, you can still have fun with it! We also invite you to find each of the most common types of artillery on the battlefield. Think all cannons look alike? Think again!

20210417_102302Once you have completed the scavenger hunt, you will be able to go home and tell your friends or school teacher, “I learned the difference between a Napoleon smoothbore cannon and a Parrott rifled gun” or “Hey, that star makes me think of the XII Corps’ badge.” Maybe your friends won’t be impressed, but your teacher will be!

You can find a .pdf of the Civil War Tails “Battlefield Fun” Scavenger Hunt here. If you’re at home planning a trip to Gettysburg, go ahead and print out copies for the whole family. If you’re already in Gettysburg, stop by Civil War Tails and pick them up in person!

Another Black Dog on Culp’s Hill

The other day, Kelly the Museum Dog of Civil War Tails got to cross paths with a dog of history—although she didn’t know it. While out on our morning walk, we took a new route and headed down Confederate Avenue behind Culp’s Hill. I’m not sure that I have ever been back there, in all my trips around the battlefield over the years. Kelly is good at discovering new roads, though. Every alley or path might be an adventure, and we’ve taken to exploring one now and then. On this particular adventure, it meant our walk ended up being about three times its usual length!

As we tromped along, we passed the markers for the brigades of Confederate Gen. Edward Johnson’s division, including the old “Stonewall Brigade” made famous by, of course, Stonewall Jackson. A little farther on, we reached the marker for Gen. George “Maryland” Steuart’s brigade. Wait a minute! They’re the one with the black dog! So, while Kelly gazed down a path through the woods and wondered what exciting critters might be down there, I told her about a fellow black dog on Culp’s Hill.

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Gen. George “Maryland” Steuart’s brigade’s marker

On the morning of July 3, 1863, the fighting that had raged until well after dark the night before started up again. After fruitless assaults on the entrenched Union line, the Confederates of Johnson’s division tried one last time. On the right of Steuart’s brigade were the 1st Maryland Battalion and the 3rd North Carolina. The latter had been chewed to bits, and officers present recalled that only eighteen men were left in the ranks. The 1st Maryland had approximately 300 in its ranks—and also a furry canine mascot. In a painting of the fighting on the hill, artist Peter Rothermel depicts the dog as an average-sized black dog. According to the internet, the dog’s name was Grace or Gracie and she was listed on the muster rolls, but we have not been able to confirm that information.

The men of Johnson’s division were not looking forward to the attack. On the right, the Stonewall Brigade faced a heavily wooded, boulder-strewn slope, with the Union troops well entrenched behind log breastworks on the crest. Steuart’s brigade, on the left, would have to cross an open field. Major William Goldsborough, commanding the 1st Maryland, said the order to charge “was nothing less than murder.”

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Monument for the 1st Maryland Battalion, C.S.A. (bearing their later designation of “2nd Maryland” to avoid confusion)

With bayonets fixed and Gen. Steuart advancing with them, the 1st Maryland started off. The regiment was split, with five companies on the left of a stone wall, and two companies on the right with the 3rd North Carolina. As soon as the five companies left the trees, the Union infantry and artillery opened fire. Maj. Goldsborough was wounded, and the battalion was shattered. The Virginia regiments to their left retreated, and Goldsborough watched the remnants of his battalion do the same, seeking cover from the “merciless storm of bullets.”

Meanwhile, the right two companies and the North Carolinians kept steadily advancing, still under cover. The Union troops waited until they were about fifty yards away, then opened fire. Still they advanced, but when they were forty paces from the Union line, an order came to retreat. Capt. William Murray, now in command after the major was wounded, also fell wounded. Some men rushed the Union works, and some retreated for cover.

Perhaps at this point in the fighting, the 1st Maryland’s mascot dashed forward and “came in among the Boys in Blue,” the Union brigade commander, Gen. Thomas Kane, recalled, “as if he supposed they were…merely the men of another noisy [fire] hose or engine company.” Some of his men recalled that the dog barked “in valorous glee.” Gen. Kane’s personal memory, however, was of seeing the dog limping on three legs, wandering through the fallen of both blue and gray, “as though looking for a dead master, or seeking on which side he might find an explanation of the Tragedy he witnessed, intelligible to his canine apprehension.”

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Small marker at the farthest point reached by the 1st Maryland on July 3. The regiment’s mascot was probably mortally wounded nearby.

By the end of the fighting, the dog had been riddled with bullets, but in true loving, forgiving canine fashion, she licked the hand of one of her Union captors before she died. Gen. Kane ordered her honorably buried “as the only Christian minded being on either side” of the murderous fighting on the hill.

Gen. Steuart made it through the fighting safely, but the devastation to his men—the 1st Maryland alone lost half its number—reduced him to tears. As he watched them fall back, he cried, “My poor boys! My poor boys!”

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Kelly, gazing in the direction from which the 1st Maryland’s black dog would have come. She appears to be pondering the connection of two black dogs across 158 years, but, well, she’s probably looking at a chipmunk in the bushes.

While Kelly has no idea that she was treading the same ground as another black dog 158 years ago, it was poignant for me to stand with her by the three markers related to the 1st Maryland. We reached the marker for Steuart’s brigade first, on Confederate Avenue and then, as we headed back up along the Union line, we found the monument for the 1st Maryland Battalion. It is the only one on the battlefield raised by a Confederate veterans’ association and bears their 1864 designation of 2nd Maryland—a witness to the fact that they were facing fellow Marylanders, the Union 1st Maryland, Eastern Shore. The monument stands near the location where their commander, Lt. Col. James Herbert, was mortally wounded on the night of July 2nd.

Following the curve of the road a little farther, we came upon a small marker about 100 yards inside the Union lines. The wording is nearly eroded away, but it reads, “Point reached by 1st MD Battalion C.S.A. July 3rd, 1863.” This then, would be approximately where the regiment’s final surge broke into the Union lines and probably near where Gen. Kane saw the wounded black dog. One wonders if, as the veterans dedicated the main monument and the small marker, any of them thought of their furry companion who also fell on that deadly slope.

 

Sources:

Hawthorne, Frederick W. Gettysburg: Stories of Men and Monuments as Told By Battlefield Guides. Gettysburg: The Association of Licensed Battlefield Guides, 1988.

Pfanz, Harry W. Gettysburg: Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1993.

Who Is That?

Today is the anniversary of the final day of the battle of Gettysburg. In this Mewsing, we take the opportunity to spotlight a few of our cat-soldiers who portray specific officers and men on our Gettysburg dioramas.

If you have been to Civil War Tails Diorama Museum or browsed our website, you know that we have nearly 9,000 cats and some of them portray actual historical figures. We call the latter “identified” cats. What you might not realize, however, is that we have hundreds of identified figures. Even Rebecca, our Cat Census guru, doesn’t know how many (although writing this Mewsing has made her want to count them up and see!). On “The Fate of Gettysburg” alone, we have 57 specific officers and men. Some are familiar names, such as Generals Richard B. Garnett and Lewis A. Armistead, two of Gen. Pickett’s brigade commanders. Others are probably unknown to any but those who enjoy reading a lot about Pickett’s Charge, such as Pvt. Erasmus Williams and Cpl. Jordan Webb. Our Little Round Top diorama, “The Boys Are Still There,” will have over 50 identified officers and men as well, when it is finished.

Today we focus on four pairs. In each case, the regimental colors passed from one man to the other. Since color-bearers were prime targets, regiments tended to go through several in a fight—sometimes as many as a dozen color-bearers fell. But on our dioramas, it is not always the case that we have several of those men specifically portrayed.

One such pair is on “The Boys Are Still There.” As the 20th Maine Infantry fought to hold the left flank of Col. Vincent’s brigade secure on Little Round Top, Sgt. Andrew Tozier stolidly held the regiment’s national colors at the apex of the line. Amazingly, he was not hit, but the color guard around him—sergeants, corporals, and one private tasked with guarding the flag—was decimated. One of them, Cpl. Charlie Reed, was wounded in the wrist. He could have headed immediately to the aid station, but he chose to stay and continue doing his duty. Unable to use his rifle, however, he traded Tozier for the flag. Eventually, as he lost blood, he finally had to return the flag to Tozier and make his way to the rear to have his wound tended. Tozier settled the flagstaff in the crook of his elbow and continued firing Reed’s rifle. Col. Chamberlain and Maj. Spear both witnessed this. Chamberlain recommended Tozier for the Medal of Honor for his defense of the flag, and Spear noted that Tozier was calmly chewing on a piece of cartridge paper. When the regiment launched their famous bayonet charge, Sgt. Tozier advanced with them, still carrying the colors, unscathed.

Our other pairs are found on “The Fate of Gettysburg.” As Gen. Garnett’s brigade neared the stone wall during Pickett’s Charge, the 28th Virginia Infantry lost several color-bearers in succession. Their colonel, Robert C. Allen, then took up the flag. Leading his regiment forward, he fell severely wounded near the stone wall. He passed the flag on to Lt. John A. J. Lee. The Union troops giving way, Allen’s Virginians took that section of wall. The wounded colonel asked a nearby man about the flag and then, probably having been told that it had successfully crossed the wall, he placed his hat on his head and died.

Meanwhile, Lt. Lee had indeed crossed the wall; he is said to have been the first of the division to do so. He jumped on the wall and waved the flag, and a bullet struck the staff. Later, as the Union counterattack surged forward, Lee fell wounded. A Union soldier demanded his surrender, but a fellow Confederate from his regiment bayoneted the soldier. Lee did end up being captured, and the flag was left resting against one of Lt. Cushing’s guns where it was captured by a soldier from the 1st Minnesota Infantry.

When Gen. Armistead’s brigade struck the Union line, Cpl. Robert Tyler Jones leaped onto the wall and waved the flag of the 53rd Virginia Infantry. He received a severe wound and fell forward over the wall. Lt. Hutchings Carter then took up the flag and continued on. Jones remained by the wall, holding a pistol and making sure none of his fellow Confederates were inclined to retreat.

On the Union side, as regiments poured into the Copse of Trees to plug the gap and stop the Confederates, one of the units was the 1st Minnesota, sadly depleted from their gallant, desperate charge the day before. Carrying the flag was Cpl. John Dehn, the last of the color guard. During the moments that the fight hung in the balance as both sides pounded at each other, a bullet struck the flagstaff, splintering it in half and wounding Cpl. Dehn in the hand. Cpl. Henry O’Brien took the flag and sprang forward. The regiment followed him, starting a counterattack in the Copse. In the short, fierce melee that followed, O’Brien was wounded twice. He would survive, and like Sgt. Tozier, he received the Medal of Honor for his actions.

FAQ #1: How Do You Start a Diorama?

Today we are starting a new series in Mewsings, answering questions that visitors to our museum have asked. Eventually, we will make a tab for FAQs on our website. If you have a question that we haven’t covered, email us at info@civilwartails.com and we will consider adding it to the list!

The FAQ for this Mewsing is how do we start a diorama?

Our first step in making a diorama is picking a story. Generally speaking, as we read a book on an aspect of the Civil War, we will come across a story and think, “That would make a cool diorama,” or “Wow, we should totally make a diorama of that.” Stories that catch our interest usually involve bravery, heroism, or desperation. Sometimes a story is humorous, or sometimes we want to show a particular item of interest, such as Prof. Thaddeus Lowe’s observation balloon Intrepid (that scene is currently in storage, especially since a mouse chewed up the basket on the balloon!).

Once we have decided to make a diorama of a particular event, we look at maps in books on the subject to see exactly what the area involves. How much space does the regiment cover? Is the enemy close enough for us to include them on the diorama? What buildings or topographical features are involved (hills, woods, streams, fences, walls)?

2019-06-22 20190620_151231The next consideration is scale. For a small scene, such as “Desperation at Skull Camp Bridge,” we could use a larger scale because the scene would not involve a lot of figures. A scale of 2-inch-tall cats is okay if there are only sixty soldiers involved. But it would be impossible to use cats of that size for a to-scale diorama with 3,000 soldiers, such as “The Fate of Gettysburg,” unless you have a warehouse to fit it in!

Once we decide on the scale, we calculate the ideal size and, well, the practical size.

First, we calculate the size we would ideally want the diorama to be. Take “The Boys Are Still There” (Little Round Top), for example. We knew it would be a large diorama, rivaling “The Fate of Gettysburg” in size. But how big? This is a section of the topographical map that we use (similar to the one found here), with our planning marks drawn in pencil (the colored lines are photo-shopped in for the purposes our Mewsing).

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The red lines show initial markings that would allow us to include space for the Confederates advancing up the west slope, the entire 15th Alabama to the south, and perhaps even Company B of the 20th Maine, who ended up separated and on their own, due to a misunderstanding (red circle). Early in our calculations, we realized that this would result in an enormous diorama, so we had to trim the area down. We finally settled on the green box. This worked out to exactly 11 feet long, fitting the Signal Corps station on the north end of the hill, and the 15th Alabama to the south.

We make our dioramas in sections that can fit through doorways, so the next question was if the diorama should be 2-doorways or 3-doorways wide. With two, we could fit the Confederates on the west slope and the left wing of the 20th Maine on the east slope of the spur (the blue lines show the section breaks). Adding another section (the purple lines) would mean we could have the right end of the 15th Alabama (over 2/3 of the regiment was facing the 20th Maine’s left wing; red ovals), but it would mean a lot of blank space on the north end of the diorama, so it wasn’t really worth the extra space. So, our current diorama measures 11’ x 4’8” and fits nearly everything we wanted to portray.

Then, we take into consideration whether we are limited by the size we have available. For “The Fate of Gettysburg,” we were limited by how much floor-space we had in the room where we could set it up. So, given the space available and the scale of the cats (which was as small as we could make them at the time), we had to cut off a portion of the Copse of Trees  in order to fit the Angle of the stone wall onto the opposite side of the diorama (red markings below).

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After we have settled on the size and finalized what we are portraying, the planning phase is done, and it’s time to move on to making the diorama!

An Army Divided – Chancellorsville

In today’s Mewsing, we take a look at the beginning stages of the battle of Chancellorsville, fought this day in 1863. The battle was the epitome of the great working relationship between Robert E. Lee and “Stonewall” Jackson. Its battle plan—splitting an outnumbered army to attack the larger enemy—was a daring one that, even today, flies in the face of common sense. And yet it was a brilliant success. Chancellorsville may very well have been the Army of Northern Virginia’s greatest victory.

During the winter of 1862-63 the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia was encamped near Fredericksburg, Virginia. The Union Army of the Potomac lay facing them across the Rappahannock River. After the failure of the battle of Fredericksburg and the Mud March, President Lincoln replaced Gen. Ambrose Burnside with Gen. Joe “Fighting Joe” Hooker. Hooker was proud and known for criticizing others, but Lincoln hoped that that very pride and fighting spirit would make him a general who won battles.

Starting out on April 27, the Union army moved upriver, crossed, and passed around the Confederate left flank, forging ahead through the dense woods and undergrowth of the Wilderness. When they reached a clearing near Chancellorsville, the Chancellor’s house, they formed a battle line and settled down to await further orders. Hooker bragged that the Confederates would have to either run or fight the Union army on its own ground.

Gen. Lee was unsure where Hooker planned to attack. Some Union troops crossed the river in front of him, but they did not strike. Then Lee learned of Union troops near Chancellorsville. Lee quickly sent Gen. “Stonewall” Jackson’s corps off to find the Union army.

On May 1, the Union army hit the Confederates. But then Hooker told his men to halt and retreat to their original positions near the Chancellor house. The orders shocked and baffled his generals. They were doing well; why should they retreat? Later, Hooker explained, “For once I lost confidence in Hooker.”

20210502_160506On the evening of May 1, Lee met with Jackson. As they talked, Gen. Jeb Stuart rode up and told them the Union army’s right flank was in the air. Lee looked at Jackson. “What do you propose to do?”

On the sketched map provided by Jedediah Hotchkiss of his staff, Jackson pointed at a long road that led around the Union right flank. “Go around here.”

Lee asked what troops he would use.

Jackson calmly replied that he would use his whole corps.

Both generals knew this would leave only two divisions facing the rest of the Union army. But Lee trusted his second-in-command and hardly hesitated before saying, “Well, go on.”

At 7:00 a.m. on May 2, Jackson’s lead regiments marched past Lee’s headquarters. “Stonewall” rode up and down the lines, telling the men to “Press on! Press on!” They must march rapidly if they were to cover the 14 miles around the Union flank and still have time to attack before dark.

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Later in the day, Union lookouts saw the marching Confederates, and Hooker realized they were trying to flank him. Some of his troops attacked the gray column but were beaten back. Hooker decided the Confederates must be retreating.

At last, the Confederates reached their positions and formed into three lines of battle. At 5:15 p.m., with less than three hours left before dark, Jackson turned to Gen. Robert E. Rodes, commanding the first battle line, and asked if everything was ready. Rodes replied in the affirmative. “You can go forward, then,” Jackson said calmly.

The unsuspecting Union soldiers were preparing dinner when deer, rabbits, squirrels and all sorts of forest animals began scurrying through the camp. The soldiers laughed and joked about the animals but did not wonder at the reason. Suddenly, thousands of Confederates appeared through the trees, screaming the high-pitched Rebel Yell.

20210502_160300The gray lines swarmed over the surprised Union soldiers, some of whom were so scared they couldn’t even fire their guns before being swept away by the gray juggernaut. The Union flank crumbled. By the time darkness halted the attack, two miles of the Union line had been rolled up.

Lee and Jackson’s gamble had paid off. But this was not a time to rest on their laurels; there was more work to be done in the morning—unless a night attack could be made. “Stonewall” Jackson rode out between the opposing lines to reconnoiter and decide…but that is a Mewsing for another time.

Honor Answering Honor

2021-04-10 Honor Answering Honor - Chamberlain 02On the evening of April 9, 1865, Gen. Joshua Chamberlain received word that he would command the Union troops receiving the surrender of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. Gen. Grant had been generous in his terms to Gen. Lee, but he did feel and insist that the Confederates should lay down their arms before Union troops representing the Union army. Chamberlain, feeling “this was to be a crowning incident of history,” asked his corps commander, Gen. Griffin, if he could use his old Third Brigade, who he had served with for two years and commanded after Gettysburg. “I thought these veterans deserved this recognition,” he recalled in his reminiscences. Griffin obliged, transferring Chamberlain to command of the Third instead of the First Brigade.

On the morning of April 12—a chilly, gray day—Chamberlain’s men formed along the side of the road to await the Confederates. Chamberlain, still loathe to forget the other men he had commanded during the war, received permission to have the First and Second Brigades present as well, the former behind the Third, and the latter across the road, facing them.

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From where they stood, they could see the Confederates breaking camp and then forming into column. “On they come,” Chamberlain recalled, “with the old swinging route step and swaying battle-flags.”

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Chamberlain had given thought to the “momentous meaning” of this day, and had already issued orders that would mark it with a fitting honor. Like many of the Union troops, he couldn’t help but respect the thin, worn gray soldiers who approached. “Before us in proud humiliation stood the embodiment of manhood: men whom neither toils and sufferings, nor the fact of death, nor disaster, nor hopelessness could bend from their resolve.”

2021-04-10 Honor Answering Honor - GordonAt the head of the first Confederate division, Gen. John B. Gordon rode, Chamberlain recalled, “with heavy spirit and downcast face.” Suddenly, a bugle rang out and the whole Union line “from right to left, regiment by regiment in succession,” shifted their rifles from “order arms” to “carry arms”—the soldier’s salute. Gordon “catches the sound of shifting arms, looks up, and, taking the meaning, wheels superbly, making with himself and his horse one uplifted figure, with profound salutation as he drops the point of his sword to the boot toe; then facing to his own command, gives word for his successive brigades to pass us with the same position of the manual,—honor answering honor.”

Few eyes were dry as the Confederates passed by, halted facing Chamberlain’s Third Brigade, and dressed their lines. They fixed bayonets and then stacked their rifles, and laid down their cartridge boxes and battle flags. All day long, division after division came. Many units carried bare flagpoles, having torn their flags into pieces, distributing them among the soldiers, or having buried the flags.

Gordon recalled the event in his Reminiscences: “as my men marched in front of them, the veterans in blue gave a soldierly salute to those vanquished heroes—a token of respect from Americans to Americans.” Chamberlain was also aware of the repaired unity of the nation: his men, he mused, were “men of near blood born, made nearer by blood shed. Those facing us—now, thank God! the same.”