Civil War Humor

Civil War Humor

Cameron C. Nickels
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 160
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  • Book Info
    Civil War Humor
    Book Description:

    In Civil War Humor, author Cameron C. Nickels examines the various forms of comedic popular artifacts produced in America from 1861 to 1865, and looks at how wartime humor was created, disseminated, and received by both sides of the conflict. Song lyrics, newspaper columns, sheet music covers, illustrations, political cartoons, fiction, light verse, paper dolls, printed envelopes, and penny dreadfuls--from and for the Union and the Confederacy--are analyzed at length.Nickels argues that the war coincided with the rise of inexpensive mass printing in the United States and thus subsequently with the rise of the country's widely distributed popular culture. As such, the war was as much a "paper war"--involving the use of publications to disseminate propaganda and ideas about the Union and the Confederacy's positions--as one taking place on battlefields. Humor was a key element on both sides in deflating pretensions and establishing political stances (and ways of critiquing them). Civil War Humor explores how the combatants portrayed Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln, life on the home front, battles, and African Americans.Civil War Humor reproduces over sixty illustrations and texts created during the war and provides close readings of these materials. At the same time, it places this corpus of comedy in the context of wartime history, economies, and tactics. This comprehensive overview examines humor's role in shaping and reflecting the cultural imagination of the nation during its most tumultuous period.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-748-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-v)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vi-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-2)
  5. Introduction: CIVIL WAR HUMOR, A PAPER WAR
    (pp. 3-16)

    The war from 1861 to 1865 coincided and had much to do with furthering the modernization of an inexpensive print mass medium, a phenomenon of popular culture that would not be equaled for a century, when another war would do the same for the video medium. In each case, the medium responded to the interest in the war at the same time that it mediated that interest and co-modified it. In the North telegraphy meant that the latest news could be made available for eager and anxious consumers, while railroads delivered illustrations from the battle front. Of the war fever...

    (pp. 17-52)

    The most fundamental purpose of humor in any war is to define the enemy, to put him in his comic, satiric place and thus make him and the cause he stands for laughable. With this war, that had to be done rather quickly because despite a long history of differences, real and even more strongly felt, the fall of Fort Sumter in April 1861 abruptly and dramatically altered the way they would be dealt with: even felt differences had to be made more real. Bluntly put, the ultimate purpose of the rhetoric of any war generally is to justify killing...

    (pp. 53-82)

    The effects of war on the home front North and South were vastly different. When the war began, the Union had superior industry, transportation, and communications; and as the war continued, those differences became magnified for the Confederacy, the consequence of many interrelated factors: the Union blockade, the disruption of transportation, a labor force depleted by an ever-broadening military draft, and the government’s failure to deal with them all, given incompetent management, sectional differences, and the priority of supplying the military effort. Worse still, despite any advantages of fighting a defensive war, it meant that the Confederate home front was...

  8. Chapter Three CIVIL WAR, WAR HUMOR
    (pp. 83-114)

    “War is at best barbarism. Its glory is all moonshine,” retired Union General William Tecumseh Sherman told the graduating class at the Michigan Military Academy in 1879, and he concluded with what has become the most famous judgment of armed conflict: “War is hell.” So very succinct, and a truth invoked since by both those who oppose war and those who, however reluctantly, accept its necessity. Even if we have not been in battle, we “know” it is true in the same way we know that humor is a way of coping with something so horrific. In doing so in...

    (pp. 115-150)

    Before the Civil War, in both the North and South, blackface minstrelsy—and not only theater performances but also the playbills, songsters, sheet music, and broadsides that they generated—had fixed in the popular imagination the conventions for how the African American (almost exclusively male) would be delineated in humor by and for whites during the war itself. Physically, he looked comically grotesque, with large lips and teeth, woolly hair, a wide nose, and big feet with an elongated heel. The most clearly identifying aspect of the caricature, on stage and in print, was a way of speaking that included...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 151-154)
  11. References
    (pp. 155-156)
  12. Index
    (pp. 157-162)