Gettysburg Civil War Tails At the Homestead Diorama Museum Is A
Must-See For Feline Fanatics, History Buffs & Lovers Of All Things Unusual
According to an online search, there are more than 35,000 museums in the United States. But there is only one that features historically accurate Civil War battle dioramas with soldiers that are… well, cats.
To add to the unusual experience, the Gettysburg Civil War Tails museum is located on the edge of the battlefield, in what was once the girls dormitory of a home for war widows and orphans. (Yes, there’s a ghost story in there).
It’s hard to say who likes the museum more—the cat people who visit for the feline theme, the Civil War buffs who come for the history, or the kids who enjoy the mixture of the two.
But one thing’s for sure. It’s one of the museums in Gettysburg you have to see to believe. Come along as I take you on a quick tour of the Gettysburg Civil War Tails diorama.
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Gettysburg Civil War Tails History
The Gettysburg Civil War Tails Museum was created by twin sisters Rebecca and Ruth Brown, but came about quite by accident.
At the age of 11, Rebecca was reading about Civil War generals Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant and decided to make little clay versions of them as cats. Ruth then joined in the new hobby and they began making Yankee and Confederate soldier-cats to go with the generals.
Well, because they were 11. And because the sisters discovered that tiny cats were easier to make than humans.
As the homeschooled twins grew older, they began to teach lessons on the Civil War to other homeschooled students. As time went on, their dioramas got larger and more involved, so they used them as visual aids.
They then began hauling their Civil War dioramas to the local retirement community, where they worked while in high school. One resident kept encouraging them to take them into schools, and that suggestion led them to the idea of having a museum.
Fast-forward to 2015 when they settled in the historic Homestead building in Gettysburg, where people would come to see their Civil War cats instead of them having to haul the creations around.
The Civil War Dioramas
Although, I admit I thought the idea for Gettysburg Civil War Tails was a gimmick at first, it didn’t take long to understand the painstaking care the sisters take in making the dioramas historically accurate and to see their sincerity in wanting to share their love of history.
“It doesn’t matter that the soldiers have tails.
The goal is to get people interested in history.”
Rebecca Brown, Gettysburg Civil War Tails Diorama Museum
The Brown sisters even go as far as to research where certain historical figures were during the battle and make clay cats to recreate these famous people.
In all of their dioramas, they match up historical accounts with period photographs, and bring it all to life in 3-D.
In addition to the massive 11-foot-long Little Round Top diorama, there is also a large diorama of Pickett’s Charge that was started when the girls were in high school.
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The Little Round Top diorama is still in progress, with the twins in an unofficial race with the Gettysburg National Park Service to finish it by the end of January 2024, the same time as an 18-month rehabilitation of the actual landmark is set to be completed.
Their latest addition to the exhibit is the installation of the 8 companies of the 140th New York that formed on the crest before advancing to join the first two companies.
After they’re installed, they’ll work on the fine details such as identifying specific officers and men, aid stations and ground cover details.
The Little Round Top diorama is already amazing in its historical accuracy. Rebecca used photos from the 1860s and 1880s, aerial shots from online sources, and photos that they took on-site just to get the contours and the landscaping completely correct.
They have 2,600 rocks and countless trees in addition to the historically accurate placement of “troops” that they are still working on.
Adding It All Up
At this time, the museum has a number of large dioramas and several smaller ones, featuring more than 9,000 feline figurines. This count continues to grow as the sisters add new “soldiers” to the scenes.
According to the latest “Cat Census” for Gettysburg Civil War Tails, the grand total is 9,431 cats. There are 4,548 Union and 4,875 Confederate, with 756 horses. (And 8 Samurai).
Breakdown By Diorama
Pickett’s Charge Diorama: 3,000 (900 Union, 2,100 Confederate)
Little Round Top Diorama: 2,255 (1287 Union, 968 Confederate)
Installed on Little Round Top: 2,184 (1218 Union, 966 Confederate)
Total on display at Civil War Tails: 7,602 (3,448 Union; 4,146 Confederate; 8 Samurai). This count doesn’t include the ones that were sold, given away or….squashed.
Other Dioramas At Civil War Tails
The passion for history is obvious at this Gettysburg museum and the attention to detail is remarkable.
But key landmarks of the Battle of Gettysburg are not the only dioramas on display. There are others that feature significant battles and events of interest in the Civil War, including Fort Sumter.
Visitors can also view photographs of Civil War scenes as well as old photographs of the building it’s housed in. The former National Soldiers Orphans Homestead next door was built to care for the widows and orphans of the battles.
The museum building was added in 1869 as a dormitory to the Orphans’ home that was built in 1866.
Earlier this year, the twins brought out a spruced up “Great Locomotive Chase” to add to their numerous displays. (Pictured above).
Civil War Tails Museum Is Unique & Educational
What’s so interesting about this Civil War diorama (besides the fact that the soldiers are cats) is that each handmade miniature soldier provides a 3-D snap-shot of a battle during the American Civil War.
You can look down on the Gettysburg Civil War Tails diorama and get a bird’s-eye view of a battle… Or stoop down to eye-level and see what a soldier would have seen, including other soldiers, horses, cannons and landscapes.
Since they are all made with a one-to-one ratio, each model soldier represents one soldier during the real battle, not ten or twenty.
And since the dioramas are made to scale, the hills that look really large and hard to climb under fire, would have appeared that way to the soldiers as well.
As unusual as this idea seems, the twins are truly sincere about teaching history and want visitors to learn the stories behind the dioramas. Each “cat” represents an individual who was fighting for what they believed in.
This museum is meant to honor their memory by keeping it alive.
A Family Connection With The Civil War
Since I write historical fiction about the Civil War and have done a lot of research, I was drawn to the diorama that featured an Andersonville Prison scene.
The intricate details caught my eye, but the story behind this piece in the Gettysburg Civil War Tails museum makes it even more memorable.
The Brown sisters have placed signage around the dioramas, and the placards for Andersonville explain that Private Luke W. Brown was the half-brother of the sisters’ great-great-grandfather, Elmer.
Luke lived with his mother and siblings in Millville, NJ, where he worked as a glass-blower until September of 1861, when he joined the 8th Pennsylvania Cavalry at the age of 17.
Elmer (the Brown sisters’ great-great-grandfather) was then 6 years old. Since the boys’ father had died before the war, Luke had been the man of the house, so it was a life-changing event for little Elmer.
Luke was captured twice during the war and the second time, was taken to Andersonville. According to records, he died on either July 9 or September 9, 1864.
The cause of death was listed as starvation, scurvy, diarrhea and gunshot wound. Since scurvy (caused by a lack of Vitamin C) can cause diarrhea and reopen old wounds as scar tissue breaks down, it was likely the main cause.
Elmer was 9 when his brother died, and never forgot seeing Luke ride away for the last time. When he grew up, he named his son after the brother who never came home.
The family has had a Luke Brown every generation since.
Fort Sumter At Civil War Tails
Another interesting diorama at Gettysburg Civil War Tails is one that depicts a scene at Fort Sumter on the second day of the bombardment.
Visitors may wonder why the flag is at half-staff, but that’s just one of the accurate details. The men in the fort had dipped the colors to signal the fleet just outside the harbor, but as they did, a shot hit the flagstaff so they could not raise the colors again.
You can also see a dismounted cannon, the barrel of which is halfway sticking out of a stair tower.
The history behind this is that the cannons on the top tier of the fort were bigger than those in the lower level, but the top tier was more exposed to enemy fire.
The garrison didn’t have men to waste, so orders were to stay downstairs.
Two sergeants decided they’d had enough of firing the smaller, ineffective guns and snuck upstairs, against orders.
They fired the Columbiad, but couldn’t run it forward again because that would have taken eight men. Instead, they fired it from the recoiled position, which dismounted the gun and took out the howitzer, too!
Plan A Visit To Gettysburg Civil War Tails Museum
What You Need To Know
The Gettysburg Civil War Tails Museum is located at 785 Baltimore Street in the Old Homestead dormitory.
If you’re looking for something to do during the evening in Gettysburg, you’ll find that this Civil War Diorama Museum is one of the few museums that doesn’t close until 8 p.m.
The Gettysburg Civil War Tails Museum is open from April through November with the following hours: Weekdays 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., except for Wednesday when they are CLOSED. They are also closed Sunday and the first Thursday of each month.
Saturday’s they are open 10 am. to 8 p.m.
Winter Hours are December through March, when they are open weekdays 1 p.m. to 7 p.m., except they are closed Wednesday, Sunday and the first Thursday of each month.
They are closed most holidays, but open on Memorial Day and Labor Day from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Saturday, July 29 – Civil War Tails will CLOSE EARLY at 4:30 p.m.
Pro Tip: The museum is closed Black Friday because that is when the sisters start decorating for Christmas, using greens over doorways and mantles just like in the Victorian Days.
On Labor Day the museum hosts an annual scavenger hunt that is very popular.
Adults are $6.50, with $1 discount for Military, Police, Fire, EMT.
Children ages 6-12 are $5.00
Children 5 and under are FREE
Group rates for 10 people or more is $4.50 for adults; $3 for children 6-12.
Please contact them for buses or large groups.
If you can’t make it to Gettysburg or you want a unique gift for a history/cat lover, pick up a copy of Civil War Tails, which tells the story of each diaroma.
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Wrap-Up Of Gettysburg Civil War Tails
Visiting the Gettysburg Civil War Tails Diorama museum is an entertaining and educational experience that takes you on a journey through some pivotal events of the Civil War and gives a great overview in 3-D.
The “cat museum’s” attention to detail is truly remarkable, with intricate figures and authentic settings transporting you back in time.
It’s a great bonus that Civil War Tails is open until 8 p.m., providing the perfect evening activity for history enthusiasts and curious minds alike.
Whether you’re exploring Gettysburg during the day or just looking for something engaging to do in the evening, the Gettysburg Civil War Tails Diorama museum is a must-visit destination that will leave you with a deep appreciation for the past.