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Robert F. Lucid is a graduate of the University of Washington who is now working for a doctorate in the field of American literature at the University of Chicago. Civil War Humor: Anecdotes & Recollections ROBERT F. LUCID post-war literary periods in the united states have always produced a body of writing, popular and otherwise, which reflected the national temper with singular clarity. The backwash of a wartime society fills the literary market with more than novels and poems; contemporary histories, military and political memoirs, and commemorative biographies also appear, as our own time testifies, to comment upon the period of national violence. The period following the American Civil War was no exception, but besides the histories, the memoirs and the biographies, it produced another literary phenomenon. In the first decade following the war, and again in the eighties and nineties, there broke out a rash of bound volumes of wartime anecdotes.1 These volumes were often large and handsomely made, and were produced in quantities which indicate that a large market was available for them. They were not collections of only the wit and humor of the war, though the witty or humorous anecdote was well represented. It would be more accurate to compare them to the almanac than to the humorous anthology, for, as in the almanac, many of the sketches are deadly serious, and many more strive for an "interesting " or morally instructive effect. The principle of organization in the collected anecdotes, furthermore, is the same as that of the almanac. The popularity of these works can only be inferred, but the range of the sampling, taken from Harper Library at the University of Chicago, indicates a large market. Of thirteen volumes, five are very large (over six hundred closely printed pages) with gold-leaf trimming and handsome illustrations. Three of these, published immediately after the war, were re-issued in the post-reconstruction period. The rest of the books range from the moderately attractive down to the cheapest pulp-paper editions. Simply the fact that thirteen such volumes exist today in a library which 29 30ROBERTF. LUCID There is neither any causal connection between the stories, nor any general pattern of organization for the whole. The editor of one collection states: "The highest moral integrity, and the lowest human depravity, are blended in their exhibition with the humorous, religious, and heroic; and the compiler deems it no fault, if, in the miscellaneous arrangement of his subjects, the thoughts of his readers trip suddenly 'From grave to gay — from lively to severe.' "^ The popularity of such a highly unsophisticated literary form is, of course, a comment on the sophistication of the post-war reading public. But the peculiar circumstances of the war itself were almost certainly the main reason for the success of such collections. The chances of any given American — soldier or civilian — having had a vivid personal experience of the Civil War were extremely high. Not only had four million men served in the two armies, but millions more had experienced the facts of invasion, occupation, victory or defeat. Such a group constituted a readymade market for a literary product which dealt in personal reminiscences. One of the marked characteristics of the anecdotes is their careful delineation of time and place: dates are always given, battles are named, commanding officers listed, and participating regiments carefully differentihas made no special effort to procure works of this kind would seem to imply that they were widely circulated. These works are: Felix G. De Fontaine, (Editor) Marginalia; or, Gleamings from an Army Notebook (Columbia, S.C.: Steam Power-press of F. G. De Fontaine & Co., 1864). Frank Moore, (Editor) Anecdotes, Poetry and Incidents of the War (New York: Printed for the Subscribers, 1866). Richard Miller Devens (Pseudonym Frazar Kirkland), Anecdotes and Incidents of the War of the Rebellion (Hartford: Hartford Publishing Co., 1867). Edward P. Smith, (Editor) Incidents of the United States Christian Commission (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1869). Theodore Gerrish and John S. Hutchinson, (Editors) The Blue and the Gray (Portland: Hoyt, Fogg & Donham, 1883). Edward D. Townsend, Anecdotes of the Civil War in the United States (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1884). Washington Davis, Camp Fire...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 29-48
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-02
Open Access
No
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