25 Years: Meet the Cats!


In our first 25th Anniversary post, we mewsed about the origins of our Civil War cats. Today, we would like to introduce you to a few of “our guys”!

For the first couple of years, “our guys” were allies in a fight against our other toys, enormous horses, tigers, and lions led by the big black Hound of the Baskervilles (from A. Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novel). We even wrote a trilogy chronicling their adventures. While the writing is probably atrocious, the stories are useful in reminding us of the names that we gave to some of our clay cats!

Quite a few of our cats have names. Most are cavalrycats, probably because they are more individual than infantry, which tend to be stuck together in batches of ten (to make counting them easier). Since cavalrycats are paired up, if one cat gets a name, his partner often does too.

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Bangs (left) & Harry (right)


The most memorable Union cat for us is the little cavalrycat Bangs. True to his name, he does in fact have bangs, making him recognizable. His big brother is Harry, recognizable by his big Appaloosa horse and the scar on his face. Since both cats have always had the same horses, and since both are store-bought standing horses, neither cat is in “Come On, You Wolverines!” They have been retired and are waiting to be in a special display of our cats’ history.


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Ray L. Fence

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Noah Fence

The most memorable Confederate cats are another set of brothers. The first one made was a skinny cat. For some reason, the “in” phrase for kids back when we made him was “no offense.” Well, somehow, while joking around while making him, his name became Noah Fence. Later on, when we made another skinny Reb cat, he was clearly Noah’s little brother. What is his name? Ray L. Fence, of course! Noah is in “Come On, You Wolverines.” He’s hard to find, but a white belt buckle confirms who he is. Ray, meanwhile, has been retired—although we can’t remember why he didn’t make the cut to join his brother on the diorama! He’s identifiable by his blue belt buckle.

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Alongside Bangs, Harry, and Ray in retirement is Confederate cavalrycat Nate, riding his 3-legged Paso Fino. His partner is Josh, the color-bearer in “Come On, You Wolverines!” Josh still wears his Vandyke beard (which makes him look rather like a Scotty dog) and proudly grips his brand-new flag.

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Bucktooth on Bucky

Another cat who is becoming well-known in the museum, although not by name, is Bucktooth. Probably eight times out of ten, his horse, Bucky, is the first store-bought horse found by visitors trying to identify the 20 store-bought horses on “Come On, You Wolverines!”

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A few more old friends!

Happy Birthday!

This coming Thursday, June 25th, our original clay Civil War cats, Generals Lee and Grant, will turn 25 years old! Help them celebrate all weekend—come in on Thursday, Friday, or Saturday (June 25-27, 2020) and mention “Birthday” and we’ll give you 15% off admission AND 10% off all merchandise!

1995 booksThis week in 1995, Rebecca was reading The Story of Robert E. Lee by Iris Vinton and The Story of Ulysses S. Grant by Jeannette C. Nolan. After finishing the biographies, she made two cats out of clay. One wore the beard and blue uniform of Gen. Grant, and the other the beard and gray uniform of Gen. Lee. They needed men to command, so she made ten Union cats and ten Confederate cats. Little did we know, she was starting us on a road to 8,747 cats and a museum in Gettysburg!

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Rebecca (left) and Ruth (right) in 1996

The Civil War bug bit us hard. While Rebecca was the first to become interested in the war, Ruth followed suit and began making cats too. Since Rebecca liked Generals Lee and Stonewall Jackson, she claimed the Confederate cats. We’ve always joked that Ruth “got stuck making the Yankees ’cuz someone’s gotta do it!” In reality, we have always done things together, and so it was natural for us to share cat-making and to split up the task along army lines. But the split has never been exclusive. For example, one Christmas, Rebecca made a horde of Union cats and Gen. Lew Wallace as a gift for Ruth.

Reopening! … And 25 Years!

2020-06-05 artyAfter a quiet, 2.5 month, stay-at-home “vacation,” the cats at Civil War Tails are dusting themselves off and getting ready for the summer season! That’s right, we are opening on Friday, June 12!

However, not everything will be the same as before. Everyone who does not have fur and a tail will be required to wear a mask (except very young children and people with health issues that exempt them, as per the CDC guidelines). We’ll also be working to keep the museum sanitized, for your safety.

As if reopening were not enough excitement, our Civil War cats are celebrating 25 years! On June 25, our original cats, Generals Lee and Grant, turn 25. They’re hoping for a birthday cake that’s not made from hardtack… We’ll see!

Then on Labor Day weekend, the museum turns 5! So, mark your calendars now to come that Friday, Saturday, or Labor Day Monday for our annual Scavenger Hunt. The kitties tell us it will have lots of fun tidbits about their history for you to find in the museum!

Stay tuned throughout the year for reminiscences as Ruth and Rebecca remember a quarter-century of making clay Civil War cats!

Don’t Forget Your “Cabin Fever Emergency Kit”!

2020-03-14 20190321_104559Schools are closing, workplaces are closing—and you’re ready. You have food and hand sanitizer. You have technology set up to work from home. You have milk, bread, and eggs. But have you thought about…free time? On a typical day off, do you (or your kids) get bored? What will the kids do if school is closed for weeks? Don’t panic. It’s not too late to prepare. We suggest assembling a “Cabin Fever Emergency Kit.” You guessed it—diorama supplies!

Now, we don’t expect you to come out on the other side of coronavirus with an 11-foot-long Little Round Top. But when the kids have mastered every video game level and you’ve scrolled through Facebook a dozen times and watched all of Netflix twice, you might need something else to do. So, here are some tips for the novice and for the more adventurous!

Kids Cabin Fever Emergency Kit (non-craftsy adults can use this, too)2020-03-14 20200314_103749

  • A box
  • Green and blue paper, or plain paper and markers/crayons/colored pencils/paint
  •  Model trees, or reindeer moss and twigs
  • Small stones
  • Toy figures—animals, people, cars, anything
  • White glue (such as Elmers)
  • Scissors
  • Extras:
    • Toothpicks
    • Clay (air-drying, modeling, or polymer [i.e. Sculpey])
    • Wire
    • String
    • Cardboard
    • Anything else around your house that is useful. You’ll be surprised at what you find!

Not all of these items are necessary, of course. It all depends on what you want to do. You can find all of these around your house, at Walmart, or at a craft store like Michaels or Hobby Lobby.

Tip: if you look for animals and figures at a craft store, they usually have small packs near the diorama supplies. But they also have “Toobs” that come in a variety of options—horses, cats, sea life, dragons and knights, cowboys, dogs, farm animals, safari animals… They’re a great way to get a reasonable number of small critters for your diorama(s).

Use the box as the base for your diorama. Green paper becomes grass, and blue paper becomes water. Glue bunches of reindeer moss to a twig to make a tree. Glue stones in place as rocks or boulders. Glue animals down to populate your scene. Voila! You have a diorama!

If you want to get more detailed, you can make fences out of toothpicks. Use clay to make rocks and additional items and creatures. Make buildings out of cardboard and paper. The possibilities are limitless!

Adult Cabin Fever Emergency Kit (this is for the craftsy or really bored adults or older kids)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis kit is the same as the Kids kit with the exception of the green and blue paper. Come on, you didn’t really think you could get away with using green paper for grass, did you? If you have a higher level of skill or boredom, it’s time to bring out the turf! Basic turf comes in containers as loose specks of foam. See our “Making Little Round Top” page for more on how to use it. If you want an easier and less messy option, you can find pre-made sheets of turf at a craft store. You can also buy kits that give you instructions and supplies for making ground cover (using turf), water effects, rocks, etc. They are very useful!

Go crazy with your diorama! Find a historic photograph that you like and recreate it. Stray from the typical grassy diorama and make an ocean scene. Build a mountain or a canyon. Allow broken toys to inspire you, or use the construction toys you already have to build features. Pick just one particular object to build from scratch, such as a favorite car or a ship. Maybe you’ll even want to try your hand at a Civil War cat!!

Just remember, above all else, when making a diorama, the only person who has to be happy with how it turns out is you. Other people can give their opinions, but that’s all they are: opinions. Your diorama does not have to be perfect or spectacular. So long as you are happy with it, that’s all that matters!

Stay well, and have fun trying something new!

Oh, and if you don’t end up trapped at home and bored out of your mind? Save the supplies for later. After all, summer vacation is coming…

CSS Virginia (Merrimack)–Day One

Today we’re taking a closer look at our model of CSS Virginia. The diorama shows a specific point in time on the morning of March 9, 1862, but Virginia was involved in heavy fighting with the Union flotilla on March 8—and we had to make sure we included the evidence!

As we researched the fight between CSS Virginia and USS Monitor, we had to remember that Virginia had already seen action the day before. This meant we had to pay careful attention to details about damage she sustained, so we could include it on our model of the ship.

The most obvious damage is to the smokestack. During her fight with USS Cumberland, Virginia’s smokestack became riddled with shot. The next day, as the Confederate ironclad faced Monitor, the damaged smokestack, which her surgeon asserted “would have permitted a flock of crows to fly through it without inconvenience,” could not draw enough fresh air to feed the engines properly.

2020-02-29 Mer 1.1 smokestack before & after

The least obvious damage is that caused when Virginia’s ram twisted off from her bow. When Virginia rammed Cumberland, her ram became stuck as the wooden ship sank. The tide turned the ironclad nearly parallel to her victim, and the ram, improperly secured to the hull due to a damaged casting, twisted off. We portrayed the absence of the ram on our model of Virginia. Unfortunately, the ram was situated below the waterline, so this detail is hidden from sight on our diorama.


What other damage was done to Virginia on the first day?

The barrels of two of Virginia’s guns were torn off by shots from Cumberland. The crews continued to work the damaged guns on Virginia, but they had to beat out flames in the casemate’s wooden backing after each shot.

The damaged barrel of one gun, on Virginia’s port (left) side.

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In the background of this photo is the breech of the other damaged gun, with the wooden backing blackened to portray damage from the flames.

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Shots also swept away the ironclad’s boats. We show remnants of the boats’ supports and davits to indicate their former presence.

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On the bow, Virginia carried two anchors. One was shot away on March 8, and the anchor chain whipped backward into the casemate, injuring men and causing damage.

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Even Virginia’s flagstaff suffered damage, and her crew used a spar to hold the flag.

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Hancock – The Man for the Job

2020-02-15 Hancock 20200215_164718It was shortly after 12:30 p.m., July 1, 1863, in Taneytown, MD. Gen. George Meade, in command of the Army of the Potomac for only a few days, knew that two of his seven corps, the I and XI, were engaged at Gettysburg, thirteen miles away. Now he learned that Gen. John Reynolds—one of the best generals in the army—had been either killed or badly wounded. Not knowing the full situation, he needed someone to replace Reynolds and take charge. He immediately rode over to the II Corps headquarters and Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock. Leave the corps behind, he told Hancock, and ride immediately for Gettysburg. If indeed Reynolds is incapacitated, take command of the field.

It was a bold decision. Hancock had been in command of a corps for only three weeks. Now, Meade sent him to take charge of two corps fully engaged with Confederates. The other odd thing about Meade’s order was that a senior officer was already on the field—Gen. O. O. Howard of the XI Corps. Sending the junior Hancock to supersede him was highly unusual. So, who was this Hancock, that Meade would entrust him with acting as Meade’s own representative? What about him gave Meade the confidence that this new corps commander could correctly assess the situation—whatever it might be—and then competently take the reins of two corps?

Winfield Scott Hancock was a career army officer. He had distinguished himself in the Mexican War, but more recently he had shown his character in the earlier fighting of the Civil War. In May of 1862, at Williamsburg, VA, Hancock demonstrated his unwillingness to back down when he was in the right. Faced with the opportunity to flank the Confederate position, he resisted the order to withdraw. Fortunately for him, the Confederates attacked before he had to either disobey orders or obey against his better judgment. The situation ended well—his men sent the Confederates reeling back and he earned the nickname “Hancock the Superb.”

Antietam, in September of 1862, gave a foretaste of the Hancock of Gettysburg. He was commanding a brigade in the IV Corps when he received orders to take a division of the II Corps. He had never commanded a division, and these men, being of another corps, were new to him. Nevertheless, he took charge, and by his confident bearing, the men knew at once he was their commander.

But July 1, 1863 was different than Antietam. Hancock was heading into a situation of which even Meade did not know the full details. He would take charge of all the Union forces on the field, a demi-army of men who had never experienced his personal command. How did Meade know that Hancock, personally, was the best choice?

From a military standpoint, Hancock’s observation skills would be extremely useful. He had an eye for terrain, probably thanks to his skills at drawing. Just as artists carefully observe their subject, so Hancock applied that observation to the ground around him. Even as he rode to Gettysburg, he noted features of the terrain that would be useful as defensive positions, should the I and XI Corps need to retreat to the “Pipe Creek Line” that Meade had already planned out before Confederate contact was made.

Hancock also put his observation skills to work after his arrival—placing troops on Culp’s Hill to protect his right flank, putting artillery on the little knoll between Culp’s and East Cemetery Hill to cover the steep eastern slope of Cemetery Hill, and even sending a division down to the area of Little Round Top. At two miles away, the hill was not part of the battlefield. But Hancock saw that it formed part of a strong defensive position that centered on his current location on Cemetery Hill. He was, in fact, first to see the “fishhook,” the line that ran along high ground and featured a tight, compact position with short interior lines to facilitate reinforcing any area that needed help.

From a personal standpoint, Hancock had the presence and charisma to take charge. Lt. Frank Haskell, a staff officer in the II Corps, wrote, “I think if he were in citizens clothes, and should give commands in the army to those who did not know him, he would be likely to be obeyed at once.” When fellow soldiers described him, common descriptors included “magnificent,” “splendid,” and of course “superb.” They even described him as Mars, the god of war.

But it was not just his stalwart, imperturbable, soldierly bearing. Warm and friendly off the field, in battle his blue eyes “became intensely cold and had immense power on those around him,” according to Gen. “Baldy” Smith, his superior at the beginning of the war. Gen. Carl Schurz of the XI Corps, writing about Hancock on July 1, recalled, “His mere presence was a reinforcement, and everyone on the field felt stronger for his being there.”

Lest you think the effect was felt only by the generals around Hancock, the average soldier felt the same way. Lt. Edward Whittier of the 5th Maine Battery had participated in the retreat of the I Corps through town on the afternoon of July 1. When he saw Hancock, he wrote later, “I shall never forget…the inspiration of his commanding, controlling presence, and the fresh courage he imparted.”

Lt. Sidney Cooke was part of the 147th New York, one of the first infantry regiments to reach the field. The day had been long and hard for them, and they formed part of the flood of Union soldiers retreating through town—disorganized, but not routed. Cooke’s recollections give a glimpse into the mind of an average soldier in the two shattered corps that evening: “Every man knew how hopeless resistance would be, but Hancock sat his horse, superb and calm as on review; imperturbable, self-reliant, as if the fate of the battle and of the nation were not his to decide. It almost led us to doubt whether there had been cause for retreat at all.”

Any officer whose mere arrival can cause battered, bloodied soldiers who are being chased through the crowded narrow streets of a strange town to think that they are all right now and there was no need for alarm or retreat after all—that man is the one for the job.

Gen. Meade could not have known that the two corps would be shattered by the time Hancock arrived on the field, but he knew that whatever situation the general might find, Winfield Scott Hancock was equal to the task.



Resource: Bretzger, Paul E. Observing Hancock at Gettysburg: The General’s Leadership through Eyewitness Accounts. Jefferson: McFarland & Co., 2016.

A Tale of Two Horses: The Inspiration of “A Very Hell of Fire”

How can a broken toy horse inspire a diorama? Strange as it sounds, such is the case for our diorama of Gen. Meade’s headquarters at Gettysburg. It all started with a gift.

“Saddlebred” is one of the first four Funrise “International Show Horse Collection” horses ever given to Rebecca. (You might think that we should add “and Ruth,” but this Saddlebred is Rebecca’s. You might ask how we keep track, when we have scores of Show Horses, but we know our favorites!) We’re not sure when it happened, but in playing with him as children, we broke off his right hind leg.

Then, in 1995, Rebecca made our first Civil War cats, Generals Lee and Grant, and our interest in the Civil War began. Saddlebred, of course, joined the cavalry along with all of his friends. For a few years, he got along just fine in the Confederate cavalry—sometimes with his broken leg taped on, and sometimes not. And then…destiny knocked on his door.

2020-01-18 20200111_163250In our reading, we came across an account from New York Times correspondent Samuel Wilkeson, written shortly after the battle of Gettysburg. While it was probably difficult for any correspondent to write newspaper articles about the battles they had witnessed, this time was particularly difficult for Wilkeson, as he mourned the death of his son in the first day’s fighting. Nevertheless, he persevered. In his account, he described the massive artillery bombardment that preceded Pickett’s Charge. As Wilkeson described what he saw in the yard and vicinity of the Leister House, where Gen. Meade had his headquarters, we read these words:

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

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Wait, shot off at the hock? We had two toy horses matching that description! Saddlebred, missing his right, and another horse, missing his left. The quote did not specify which leg it was, so we looked at the poses of the two horses and decided that Saddlebred looked more like he was galloping. Having the perfect horse, we decided we just had to make a diorama of the scene that Wilkeson had described.

2020-01-18 P1220575 ambulanceBecause Saddlebred would portray the ambulance horse, he (obviously) dictated that the scale be 2-inch-tall cats, rather than the 1-inch size that we were likely using at the time. Because the description of the ambulance horse is flanked by a description of the horses in the yard and an account of damage to the house, the ambulance was clearly galloping past the headquarters. So, we built the house and yard. Ruth likes making buildings and vehicles, so she made the Leister house and the ambulance, while Rebecca made the picket fence and garden. We based the features off of period photographs as well as current photos of the house, which still stands on Taneytown Road behind the Angle. Thanks to photos taken shortly after the battle, we were able to portray specific damage to the house, and we even found sticks that matched the shape of the trees in its yard!

Today, on an average day in Civil War Tails, Saddlebred himself might go unnoticed, but the diorama he started always presents visitors with different aspects of the battle than they might notice in our other dioramas. With few cats in sight, the focus lands on the injured horses in the yard and the damage to the house, drawing attention to the plight of the animals during the battle and the civilians who were left to pick up the pieces of their lives after the armies moved on. When a young child looks at the diorama, we like to point out the ambulance. They know what today’s ambulances look like, so this helps them relate to and understand what they are seeing. Sometimes, we even tell Saddlebred’s story—how a broken toy horse inspired the diorama and found his purpose sharing history. Not bad for a ~30-year-old model horse!

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Who Has Changed You?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt is New Year’s week, so it’s time for the annual self-reflection and analysis that often leads to yet another New Year’s Resolution that may or may not…survive the month. Today, we consider a slightly different type of reflection and analysis.

Last year, we mewsed about how character is what people will remember of us. We looked at several individuals from the Civil War and how their friends remembered them, and then we encouraged you to think about yourself, and what you would need to change to become who you want to be. It’s easy to focus on superficial changes, such as weight loss, when perhaps we should consider the inner person and whether there are changes to make there.

Today, we encourage you to take some time to ponder the people who have impacted your life. We probably have many people (in real life or in books) who we would say inspire us. But we rarely take the time to ponder why they do.

Pick a person, whether a relative or a person from history, who has been a big part of your life. Then, look at why that person has affected you. How has he impacted your life? How has she inspired you? What is the root behind that person’s actions or words that you remember so well? Finding the root of an action is how we find the character trait—one facet of the inner person that they were.

Sometimes, the connection is obvious. Perhaps you remember the ready smile that was always on a dear relative’s face, showing his or her inner joy and love. But sometimes it is more obscure. Perhaps someone gave you a second chance, and it is only now, years later, that you look back and realize that that one action showed how much that person valued you and cared about you.

Reading a biography and seeing the influences in someone else’s life can help you to look for influences in your own life story. Did he or she have a motto to live by? Who inspired it or taught it to them? Who taught them their work ethic or passion? Who enabled them to pursue the education or career or interest that shaped their future? Who instilled them with a love of country (or family or helping others or…)?

We don’t become who we are in a vacuum. Little nudges from people in our lives (whether in person or in print) shape us. Finding those special people and analyzing why they had an impact on you will make you grateful to them—and inspire you to be like them as you impact others’ lives!

The Battle of Fredericksburg

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After the battle of Antietam in September of 1862, President Lincoln replaced Gen. George McClellan with Gen. Ambrose Burnside. Burnside marched the Army of the Potomac south to the Rappahannock River opposite the town of Fredericksburg. He hoped to use pontoons to cross the river before the Confederates caught up, so he could advance on Richmond. But a delay of the pontoons forced the army to halt and wait.

Meanwhile, the Confederates reached Fredericksburg, across the river. Gen. James Longstreet’s corps took position behind a stone wall on Marye’s Heights, a ridge near the town. Gen. “Stonewall” Jackson’s corps formed on Longstreet’s right.

2019-12-14 20191214_130804 cropBurnside determined to break through the Confederate line, then turn and smash the two sections, destroying the Confederate army. Several of his generals disagreed, arguing that such an attack would fail because the Confederates had a strong position with open fields in front of them, leaving the Union attackers unprotected from enemy fire as they advanced. Burnside remained unmoved. After the meeting where he outlined his plan, he asked Col. Rush Hawkins, a brigade commander, what he thought. Hawkins replied, “If you make the attack as contemplated it will be the greatest slaughter of the war; there isn’t infantry enough in our whole army to carry those heights if they are well defended.”

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Two days later, on December 13, Burnside attacked anyway. The Union lines advanced across the fields into a hail of Confederate bullets and shells coming from troops solidly entrenched behind the stone wall. One single shell killed or wounded 18 men in the Irish Brigade. Several times, the Union troops stopped under this withering fire to tear down fences that blocked their way. They continued to within 25 yards of the Confederates before the overwhelming fusillade stopped them. Units became intermingled as more and more men fell. Again and again the Union soldiers threw themselves against the Confederate line. Fourteen charges were made, and each one failed.

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In an attempt to escape the Confederate fire, many soldiers hid in small ravines or lay down behind dead horses. Many did not even try to fire at the Confederates. One bullet would cause the whole Confederate line to return fire. Some men loaded their rifles, then jumped up, fired, and fell as quickly as they could to avoid being shot. But soon the Confederates learned to watch for them in order to shoot them as soon as they rose.

On the Union left, several regiments managed to break the Confederate line. They held their positions for about an hour, until lack of ammunition forced them to retreat.

Finally, night fell, but it did not bring an end to the death and suffering. Some men tried to escape across the pontoon bridges in the darkness, but many could not leave the field. As the night dragged on, many men died from their wounds or froze to death. In all, the Union army lost over 12,500 killed, wounded, or missing at Fredericksburg. The Confederates lost a little over 5,000.