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Professor Anne M. Christie is a member of the English Department in Agnes Scott College, Decatur , Georgia. Her doctoral dissertation at the University of Chicago was a comprehensive study of BUI Arp, from a part of which this article is adapted. Civil War Humor: Bill Arp ANNE M. CHRISTIE the most popular a??. war humorist produced by the South was Charles Henry Smith, a Georgia lawyer who wrote under the pseudonym of Bill Arp. Highly effective as a satirist of the North, he supplied for his section an outlet for pent-up emotions comparable to that furnished the North by David Ross Locke and James Russell Lowell. Through the medium of newspaper letters written before and during his service in the Army of Virginia and as refugee with his family from the enemy when the Northern army captured his home town of Rome, Georgia, he "became the accepted mouthpiece of the Southern people in all questions touching the relations of the antagonists in the Civil War."1 In addition, he pointed the way through humor to the correction or endurance of bad situations at home connected with the running of the Confederate and State governments and the Southern conduct of the war. In return for these services the South accorded him such popularity that William Henry Hayne remarked in 1882, "His letters first appeared in 1861 and were welcomed by a large circle of readers. During the war every soldier in the field knew Bill Arp's last."2 And Henry W. Grady, Smith's friend and colleague on the staff of The Atlanta Constitution, could say in 1878: I doubt if any papers ever produced a more thorough sensation than did the letters written by Major Smith during the war. It is true that they had a certain local pungency that added zest and that a pronounced sectional feeling inflamed their reception into a triumph, but they were funny in themselves and 1 John Morris, in Edwin Anderson Alderman, Joel Chandler Harris, and Charles William Kent, (Editors) The Library of Southern Literature, 16 volumes and supplement (Atlanta: The Martin Hoyt Company, 1907-1924), XI, p. 4886. 2 "The Tale Tellers," Atlanta Constitution, November 12, 1882. 103 104ANNE M. CHRISTIE they will repay perusal now just as richly as when they were fresh struck from the coinage of his brain.3 Among many confirmations of this opinion is that furnished in 1892 by the Gainesville, Georgia, Eagle, which declared: "For more than twentyfive years no man, not excepting Henry Grady, has had the ear of the Southern people as has 'Bill Arp.' "4 I. THE NORTH AND THE WAR Had Smith not been extremely loyal to the South he might never have written at all. As the editor of the Rome (Georgia) Courier remarked on June 30, 1874, "His genius was born of our severest troubles. . . . His mission . . . was to produce the broad grin of humor and smooth the wrinkles of sad misfortunes." Stirred by Lincoln's order of April 15, 1861, for dispersal of rebel troops within thirty days, Smith, then a circuit judge at Rome, wrote an answer to it as though I was a good Union man and law-abiding citizen, and was willing to disperse if I could; but it was almost impossible, for the boys were mighty hot, and the way we made up our military companies was to send a man down the lines with a bucket of water and sprinke the boys, . . . and if a feller sizzed we took him and if he didn't sizz we didn't take him. Smith later described the reception of this "answer" and told how he, on this same occasion, acquired a pen name from one William Earp, typical Georgia cracker resident of his home town of Rome, who had overheard the reading of the letter. He changed the spelling of the name to Arp as a partial disguise. This is his account. I thought the letter was right smart and decently sarcastic, and so I read it to Dr. Miller and Judge Underwood, and they seemed to think it was right smart, too. About that time I looked around and saw Bill Arp standing at...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 103-119
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-02
Open Access
No
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