Scavenger Hunt!

3rd anniversary - shadow

This Labor Day, Civil War Tails is celebrating its 3rd Anniversary!  As is our tradition, we will be offering discounted admission and having a scavenger hunt (with prizes) on Friday the 31st, Saturday the 1st, and Labor Day Monday the 3rd.

This year, the scavenger hunt will have an “Escape” theme.  Unlike traditional escape rooms, we will not be locking you in the museum!  But all of our questions will be somehow related to escapes, rescues, or adventures.  Come and discover stories of escape from predicaments, capture, death, and disaster—all found on our dioramas.

How would you escape when you’re backed up to the edge of a cliff, or fighting three enemy soldiers alone and disarmed, or held in a POW camp?  What do you do when your carriage breaks down and the enemy’s closing in?

Find the answers—and the people who really lived through these events—on our scavenger hunt!  Meet Capt. Spessard, Col. Williams, Pvt. Grine, Gen. Wheeler, and many more!  Our samurai cat will even make an appearance!

Saving Captain Bigelow

img_0093.jpgIn our February 2017 Mewsing, we talked about the 9th Massachusetts Battery at Gettysburg. Here is the rest of the story—the courage and determination of Bugler Charles Reed to save his captain’s life.

As the Union line near the Wheatfield crumbled on July 2, 1863, Capt. John Bigelow’s 9th Massachusetts Light Artillery withdrew to the Trostle farmyard. The battery had had their first taste of battle that afternoon and now hoped to reach safety before the Confederate infantry overtook them. Just then, Lt. Col. Freeman McGilvery galloped up. “Captain Bigelow,” he shouted, “there is not an infantryman back of you along the whole line…you must remain where you are and hold your position at all hazards, and sacrifice your battery, if need be, until at least I can find some batteries to put in position….The enemy are coming down on you now.”

Bigelow’s six guns took up a position inside the angle of a stone wall. About fifty yards ahead of them, the ground rose, blocking their view. At first, Bigelow’s men ricocheted solid shot off the rise, but since they could not see if they hit any Confederates, they finally loaded the guns with double canister and waited. When infantry appeared over the rise, the guns opened fire and continued firing as quickly as possible.

As the two guns on the left fired, their recoil brought them closer and closer to the wall, until the crews ran out of space. Bigelow ordered them to the rear, while the other four continued to fire. The first gun’s team of horses sped through a gate and wheeled into Trostle’s Lane. But the cannon overturned, blocking the gate. The only way for the second gun to escape was to go over the wall. The artillerymen took away some of the rocks to make a gap, then galloped the horses over.  Bugler Charles Reed recalled the gun “going over with a tilt on one side and then a crash of rocks and wheels”—but it made it over successfully.

Bigelow asked his men to enlarge the gap for the remaining guns. As he watched the men work, Confederates on the battery’s flank fired and wounded him in the side and hand. He fell from the saddle, and his orderly and Bugler Reed rushed to his side. Confederates swarmed over the guns, and the artillerymen fought hand-to-hand even while they still fired the cannons. Seeing that they could delay the Confederates no longer, Bigelow finally ordered his men to retreat.

Earlier in the day, Bigelow had ordered Reed to the rear, since he was unlikely to need a bugler in the thunder of battle.  Reed obeyed…but then had second thoughts. “I…might be of some use after all so I disobeyed orders by turning round [and] going up to the battery again.”  Bigelow and Reed could never have guessed what his decision would mean.

As Bigelow ordered the withdrawal, Reed recalled, he told his orderly and Reed “to leave him and get out as best we could.”  But Reed couldn’t leave his captain.  With the orderly’s help, he lifted Bigelow onto the orderly’s horse, then proceeded to the rear, controlling both horses with his left hand and steadying Bigelow with his right hand.

As they moved at a walk because of Bigelow’s wounds, some Confederates tried to pull them down and capture them.  Reed fought them with his saber and the horses kicked.  As the Confederates were about to shoot them, Reed recalled, their own officers told them “not to murder us in cold blood.”  Reed and Bigelow continued on.

Now between the hostile lines, they were approached by an officer from the 6th Maine battery, the next in McGilvery’s line of defense.  He urged them to hurry, since the battery was ready to open fire.  Bigelow explained that they could not move faster than a walk, but to “fire away.”  The battery did so, firing shell from two guns and canister from two guns. The orderly’s horse became frightened, but Reed managed to control the animal. Bigelow remembered, “Bugler Reed did not flinch; but steadily supported me; kept the horses at a walk although between the two fires and guided them, so that we entered the Battery between two of the guns that were firing heavily.” Amazingly, neither Bigelow nor Reed were harmed.

Bigelow credited Reed with saving his life, not only from capture (where the severity of his wounds would lessen his odds of survival as a prisoner of war), but from the 6th Maine’s friendly fire.  In 1895, Bigelow recommended Reed for the Medal of Honor, and Reed received the award later that year.




Campbell, Eric. “We Saved the Line From Being Broken: Freeman McGilvery, John Bigelow, Charles Reed and the Battle of Gettysburg.” Gettysburg Seminar Papers: Unsung Heroes of Gettysburg. Last updated: 17 April 2016. Last accessed: 3 August 2018.

Pfanz, Harry W. Gettysburg—The Second Day. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1987.

The Right to Life

Several times recently, while discussing prisoners of war, a child has asked me, “Why didn’t they just kill them?” One such question came while talking about prisoner exchange and Andersonville, the prisoner of war camp in Georgia. The basis for the question came from the child’s experience with a video game where, apparently, wounded enemy fighters keep coming at you until you kill them, teaching the player to always kill the enemy no matter what.

013 GrineThe second incident came while talking about Pvt. Philip Grine of the 83rd Pennsylvania. During the fighting on Little Round Top, he ventured out between the fighting lines twice to retrieve wounded Confederates. He was killed while trying to get a third. A child asked me why he did what he did. “To get their stuff?” No, to get them to the aid station for medical treatment. “Why? They’ll just start fighting him again. I would have killed them.”

Can the ideas of treating POWs humanely and of showing compassion to injured men really be so foreign to a child? As our children grow and learn what to believe and think, we need to make sure they know what is right. If we lay the right foundation, they will be able to evaluate outside ideas (from games, books, movies, etc.) and keep them in the right context.

Let me suggest that the most basic foundation for a good worldview is a respect for life. The Declaration of Independence points out that all humans have “certain unalienable rights”—rights that we have had since the beginning of time and creation, and that are not dependent on what a king or president says. The most important one is the right to life.

If humans have the right to life, then preserving that life is the right thing to do. There are times when war is necessary, but war is not a carte blanche for going out and killing all the enemy to the last man (which is why we have the Geneva Conventions). If an enemy has given up fighting, the honorable thing to do is to preserve their life and treat them as a human being again, even if five minutes ago you had “dehumanized” them to justify shooting them in battle. Yes, war is paradoxical. In his memoirs of WWII, Audie Murphy wrote about the strange paradox of gunning down attacking Germans and then, after capturing them, treating their wounds.

Without the basic respect for life—if we do not see a defeated enemy soldier as a human being—we open the door to war crimes and atrocities:

At Fort Pillow during the Civil War, African-American soldiers were massacred after they had surrendered.

During WWII, German SS troops (not to be confused with the Wehrmacht, the German army) rounded up 80 prisoners who had surrendered, herded them into a barn, and then tossed in grenades and strafed them with machine gun and rifle fire. As if that weren’t enough, they brought out some of the POWs and executed them by firing squad. Somehow, 15 prisoners in the barn survived. This was not the only time the SS killed POWs in cold blood.

In bushido, the code of the Japanese samurai, to lose is to lose your honor (respect). This is why defeated samurai would commit seppuku (ritual suicide) to die with honor. This view meant that Japanese soldiers in WWII had no respect for defeated enemy soldiers, since the latter had lost their honor. As a result, POWs were murdered, brutally mistreated, and tortured. During the Bataan Death March, Allied POWs were made to march over 80 miles, in extreme heat, without food, with little to no water, and in constant fear of random beatings or death by bullet or bayonet. Any who fell by the roadside were shot or bayoneted, but prisoners were not permitted to help their weaker buddies (prompting prisoners to come up with alternatives, like speaking encouragement). Any attempts by local Filipinos to give food or water resulted in beatings of prisoners and locals alike.

Do we want our children to have such a mindset?

But, you say, my child doesn’t think that! But the only difference between “Why didn’t they just kill the enemy soldiers (POWs)” and the SS just killing the enemy soldiers (POWs) is a matter of degree. What our children fill their minds with will shape who they become. If they cannot see the “other side” as anything but an enemy that must be destroyed, then they are at risk of losing a heart for their fellow man. And how will they know to separate the enemy on the screen from the “enemy” in their real life? How will they respond when faced with a bully, an annoying co-worker or boss, family troubles, or people with different opinions and beliefs?

027 USwA worldview of respecting your fellow man is not a view that ignores the realities of the world we live in; it is a view that works to make the real world better. Let us foster a respect for life in our children—even for the “enemy.”


Patrick, the Only Dog at Civil War Tails

PatrickCivil War Tails is a museum of cats—almost 9,000 of them! But we do have one dog. He’s not a soldier; as Rebecca says, he’s a “dog-dog.” A little black mutt with maybe a bit of bull terrier in him, he’s the regimental mascot of a group of cat-soldiers who are having their photo taken. Many regiments had dogs as mascots, some of which were bull terriers (now known as pit bulls), including Jack, perhaps the most famous dog mascot, and Sallie, who can be seen on the 11th Pennsylvania Infantry monument here at Gettysburg.

Since his arrival, our little canine has enjoyed the prestige of being the only dog in the museum, but he never had a name! He represents all the dog mascots and officers’ pets of the war, rather than portraying a specific dog, and so the little fellow has remained a generic dog. Until now.

Patrick crop2Yesterday, we welcomed “Loyalty of Dogs” to our museum, and in honor of the visit, we’ve named our only dog “Patrick” after a beloved pet who looked a bit like our little guy. It was great meeting the wonderful lady behind “Loyalty of Dogs,” and it’s an honor to name our cats’ mascot after one of her furry family members!

So, give your pup a bone and your kitty a treat, and help us celebrate our only dog finding his name! Welcome, Patrick!

The Battle of Aldie

Today we’re spotlighting one of our older mini-dioramas. On June 17, 1863, Union cavalry clashed with Jeb Stuart’s Confederates near Aldie, Virginia. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton’s troopers were trying to locate the Confederate army, and Gen. Stuart’s men formed a screen to mask the army’s movements northward into Pennsylvania. Over the next week, the two sides clashed several times, but the Union cavalry failed to break through and find the main army.

The Battle of Aldie 2 This mini-diorama focuses on an individual encounter during the fighting at Aldie. Gen. Hugh Kilpatrick’s brigade attacked the Confederate line piecemeal and was unable to dislodge them from their position on a ridge. Kilpatrick sent the 1st Massachusetts around the Confederate flank, but the regiment was ambushed and lost nearly half its men. During the fighting, Col. Thomas Rosser of the 5th Virginia slashed Maj. Henry Lee Higginson of the 1st Massachusetts on the right side of his face. Despite also being shot and left for dead, the major survived. He and Tom Rosser would meet again, but not on the battlefield—this time they met in peace after the war.


luke-brown-photo.jpgOn Memorial Day, we take the time to remember the men and women who have paid the ultimate price to keep our great nation safe and free. And so, this weekend, Ruth and I are remembering Pvt. Luke W. Brown, 8th Pennsylvania Cavalry, who died 154 years ago while serving to preserve the Union.

Luke was the half-brother of our great-great-grandfather Elmer. He lived in Millville, N.J. with his mother and siblings, and after his father’s death in 1859, he was the man of the house. He stood 5’7” tall, with brown hair, blue eyes, and a fair complexion. He worked as a glassblower.

In September 1861, at the age of 17, Luke traveled to Philadelphia and enlisted in the 8th Pennsylvania Cavalry. A year and a half later, in January 1863, he wrote home in a letter that our family still has. The regiment was on the Rappahannock River, on picket duty. Since armies settled down for the winter, soldiers would build log buildings instead of living in their usual tents. In his letter, Luke mentions that his log shanty is about the size of the chicken coop at home. He also mentions the soldiers who shared it with him, Privates Pierson Westcott and Albert Murphy. Of particular interest to us, he also mentions Elmer, who would have been 8 years old and was crippled and attending school.

As the Gettysburg Campaign developed that June, Luke was captured, possibly at the cavalry fight at Aldie, VA. He was paroled in July, reaching Washington, D.C. about a week after the battle of Gettysburg.

That October, the 8th Pennsylvania was involved in a fight near Warrenton, VA. The regiment ran low on ammunition, but their request for more was denied. As Confederate cavalry bore down on them, the Union troopers tossed aside their empty carbines and used their revolvers. The 8th was overwhelmed and many, including Luke and Pierson, were captured.

They were taken to Libby Prison in Richmond, where Pierson died of severe smallpox on February 9. Eventually, Luke was transferred to Camp Sumter at Andersonville, GA. He would never leave. Records say that Luke died at Andersonville on either July 9 or September 9, 1864. The different causes of death—starvation, scurvy, diarrhea, and gunshot wound—probably reflect various aspects of the same root cause: scurvy. Not only can it bring on diarrhea, but scurvy can reopen old wounds since the body is unable to properly maintain scar tissue. Luke is buried in Grave #8286. We are indebted to Union prisoner Pvt. Dorence Atwater, the “clerk of the dead,” who kept his own secret record of the Union dead at Andersonville. Thanks to his records, we were able to visit Luke’s grave in 1999.

Elmer-youngOnly nine years old when his brother died, Elmer never forgot the last time he watched Luke ride away. When he grew up, he named his son after the brother who never came home. Our family has had a Luke Brown ever since, through five generations.

A Glimpse into Cavalrycat Rehab, Part 3: Marching Orders

IMG_0410 1st horse on!

The first horse on the diorama!

Now that Rebecca has finished her research, the cavalrycats have received their marching orders. A couple weeks ago, we began installing horses on “Come On, You Wolverines!” When finished, the diorama will have about 300 horses on it. Nearly every horse will be fastened down, using wire and several pins. Rebecca, our statistician, is attempting to count how many pins we use!


IMG_0447Here are some of the tools Rebecca uses when installing horses: white glue, tape measure, wire cutters, and needle nose pliers. She also uses tweezers with very long, thin tips (you can see them in the photos of wiring the horses together, below). They are not your ordinary tweezers—we bought ours from Micromark, which has a great variety of supplies for model and diorama builders.



Measuring the distance between ranks

When in close column of squadrons, the cavalry ranks should be 27 feet apart, which is 9 inches on the diorama. The rank itself takes up another 9 feet nose-to-tail (3 inches on the diorama). Rebecca double-checks the spacing frequently, to make sure the ranks don’t curve or drift (like handwriting on a blank piece of paper!).


Each hoof that touches the ground is being wired down. After Rebecca places the horse, she marks where his hooves are with pins, then carefully removes the horse (without bumping the pins) so she can press the pins down into the surface of the diorama.

Rebecca is using green wire for the black legs, and silver wire for the white legs. (Check your local Walmart’s craft area for green wire for floral decorating and silver wire for jewelry or bead crafts.)  Rebecca has to be careful not to over-tighten the wire or she risks breaking the horse’s fetlock.

Now it’s time to wire the horse down. Rebecca uses needle nose pliers to twist the wire around the pin.

Once the horse is secure, Rebecca squeezes white glue under the hoof and around the pin. Using the pliers, she presses the pin all the way into the base of the diorama, which anchors the horse well. Then she nudges some of the moss “grass” over the glue to hide the head of the pin.

When possible, Rebecca is wiring the horses to each other as well, using the rings on their saddle girths. First, she marks where the next horse will go, then she puts the wire on his legs. Then she sends silver wire through his girth ring and the ring on the finished horse.

Once the second horse’s hooves are wired down, she twists the wire connecting their girth rings to secure them together. It’s not always a snug connection, but it will help steady them and ease some of the stress on their legs if the diorama gets tipped.

And that’s it!  Repeat the process a few hundred times, and the diorama will be done!