About the Size of It

Black and white Civil War political cartoon with two cats fighting.Harper's Weekly


Two cats — one, black and scrawny, representing the Confederacy; the other, white, stout, and with an enormous tail, the United States — are ready to fight in this cartoon titled “About the Size of It,” published in Harper’s Weekly on June 25, 1864. The white cat’s tail bears most of a line (circulated widely by the northern press) written by Ulysses S. Grant on May 11 in response to a request by Washington for an update on his campaign against Robert E. Lee:

“I propose to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer.”

A confident Grant stands next to the cats, ready to observe the anticipated fight and commenting, “Well, and what if it should come to a Kilkenny fight? I guess Our Cat has got the longest tail!” The reference is to the Irish limerick “There Once Were Two Cats of Kilkenny,” which describes a cruel contest in which the tails of two cats were tied together before they were released to fight to the death. Unknown to the readers of Harper’s Weekly, Grant’s Overland Campaign had ended the previous day; while the result was a strategic victory, Union forces had suffered more than 50,000 casualties.

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