One Tank Trip: Civil War Tails at the Homestead

 

July 1, 1863. The start of the battle of Gettysburg and a turning point in the Civil War. It was a bloody battle that lasted three long days, and in the end, 51,000 were dead.

On the battlefields emerged stories of the men, some unknown, some whose names are familiar, like Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee.

The stories caught the attention of then-11-year-old twin sisters, Rebecca and Ruth Brown. So much so, Rebecca molded them out of clay.

"I made the two generals, but they came out rather automatically as two cats with beards in uniforms," she said.

Two cats instead of two men.

"We started being asked why are they cats? I don't know," she said. We were 11 years old. Who knows what we were thinking?"

The girls, who were home-schooled, liked cats, and so the more they read about the Civil War, the more cats they made. They made dioramas to depict the battle scenes, and then in high school, they started showing them to other students, teaching lessons with their dioramas about the war to other home-schooled students.

"I did try making a couple Revolutionary War cats, but the uniforms are more complicated with all the cross belts, so that didn't work out," she said. "Nowadays, we could do that, but back then, you're not doing that much detail."

They had no idea that what started as a childhood hobby would turn into this: Civil War Tails at the Homestead Diorama Museum in Gettysburg.

There's a one-soldier-to-one-cat ratio -- 8,500 cats, 500 horses and one dog.

"We'll do them to scale, so that for this one, they are 3/4 of an inch tall, so an 1/8 of an inch is a cat foot," Rebecca said. "Makes the math easy for those of us who are English majors."

Rebecca said the cats tend to be a little chunkier than humans, so the numbers may not be exact, but it's all relative.

And they have a relative depicted here. You'll find the twins' great-great-grandfather's brother, Private Luke Brown with the Union Army. He was a prisoner of war at Andersonville.

It's the real-life stories, beyond the cats, the sisters hope you'll take an interest in.

Rebecca knows some of the solders by name. What happens when you know the names is that you begin to see the person beyond the battlefield, even if they are shaped like a cat.

"I keep saying it's a good thing we had cats as pets and not like armadillos or something, because no one would come to see dioramas with armadillos, and the first time I said that, the lady's like, 'I would,'" she said. "I'm like, 'OK. Well, you might be the only person.'"

Maybe that's for the next museum.