Chapter 33: wit and humor of the war.
If it be true that Sir Philip Sidney, burning with fever of his death-wound, reproved the soldier who brought him water in his helmet, that “he wasted a casque-full on a dying man,” then humor borrowed largely of heroism. Many a ragged rebel-worn with hunger and anxiety for the cause, or for those absent loved ones who suffered for it — was as gallant as Sidney in the fray; many a one bore his bitter trial with the same gay heart. We have seen that the southron, war-worn, starving, could pour out his soul in noble song. Equally plain is it, that he rose in defiant glee over his own sufferings; striving to drown the sigh in a peal of resonant laughter. For humorous poetry abounds among all southern war-collections; some of it polished and keen in its satire; most of it striking hard and “straight-from-the-shoulder” blows at some detected error, or some crying abuse. One very odd and typical specimen of this was the “Confederate mother Goose;” only catch verses of which appeared in the “Southern literary Messenger,” when under editorial charge of rare George Bagby. It was born of accident; several officers sitting over their pipes, around Bagby's editorial pine, scribbled in turn doggerel on some war subject. So good were a few of these hits that they astonished their unambitious authors, by appearance in the next issue of the magazine. As a record of war-humor, a few of them may be of interest at this late day. This one shows the great terror struck to the hearts of his enemies by the war-gong of General Pope:
Little Be-Pope, he came at a lope,“Jackson's commissary” was a favorite butt for the shafts of rebel humor. Another “Mother Goose” thus pictures him: 
“Jackson, the Rebel,” to find him.
He found him at last, then ran very fast,
With his gallant invaders behind him!
John Pope came down to our townThis verse on McClellan does not go to prove that the South respected any less the humane warfare, or the tactical ability of him his greatest opponents declared “the North's best general.”
And thought him wondrous wise;
He jumped into a ‘skeeter swamp
And started writing lies.
But when he found his lies were out-
With all his might and main
He changed his base to another place,
And began to lie again!
Little McClellan sat eating a melon,Or this, embalming the military cant of the day:
The Chickahominy by,
He stuck in his spade, then a long while delayed,
And cried “ What a brave general am I! ”
Henceforth, when a fellow is kicked out of doors,Perhaps no pen, or no brush, in all the South limned with bolder stroke the follies, or the foibles, of his own, than did that of Innes Randolph, of Stuart's Engineer staff; later to win national fame by his “Good old Rebel” song. Squib, picture and poem filled Randolph's letters, as brilliant flashes did his conversation. On Mr. Davis proclaiming Thanksgiving Day, after the unfortunate Tennessee campaign, Randolph versified the proclamation, section by section, as sample:
He need never resent the disgrace;
But exclaim, ‘ My dear sir, I'm eternally yours,
For assisting in changing my base!’
For Bragg did well. Ah! who could tellRound many a smoky camp-fire were sung clever songs, whose humor died with their gallant singers, for want of recording memories in those busy days. Latham, Caskie and Page McCarty sent out some of the best of the skits; a few verses of one by the latter's floating to mind, from the snowbound camp on the Potomac, stamped by his vein of rollicking satire-with-a-tear in it: 
What merely human mind could augur,
That they would run from Lookout Mount,
Who fought so well at Chickamauga!
Manassas' field ran red with gore,Naturally enough, with a people whose nerves were kept at abnormal tension, reaction carried the humor of the South largely into travesty. Where the reality was ever somber, creation of the unreal found popular and acceptable form in satiric verse. Major Caskie--who ever went into battle with a smile on his lips-found time, between fights, for broad pasquinade on folly about him, with pen and pencil. His very clever parody of a touching and wellknown poem of the time, found its way to many a camp-fire and became a classic about the Richmond “hells.” It began:
With blood the Bull Run ran;
The freeman struck for hearth and home,
Or any other man!
And Longstreet with his fierce brigade
Stood in the red redan;
He waved his saber o'er his head,
Or any other man!
Ah! few shall part where many meet,
In battle's bloody van;
The snow shall be their winding-sheet,
Or any other man!
You can never win them back,Everything tending to bathos-whether for the cause, or against it --caught its quick rebuke, at the hands of some glib funmaker. Once an enthusiastic admirer of the hero of Charleston indited a glowing ode, of which the refrain ran:
And you'd better leave the track
Thoa you “ cut” and “ deal the pack”
And “copper ” every Jack,
You'll lose “ stack ” after “ stack ” --
Beau sabreur, beau canon,Promptly came another, and most distorted version; its peculiar refrain enfolding:
Beau Brummel, Beau Fielding,As it is not of record that the commander of the Army of  Northern Virginia ever discovered the junior laureate, the writer will not essay to do so. Colonel Tom August, of the First Virginia, was the Charles Lamb of Confederate war-wits; genial, quick and ever gay. Early in secession days, a bombastic friend approached Colonel Tom, with the query: “Well, sir, I presume your voice is still for war?” To which the wit replied promptly: “Oh, yes, devilish still!” Later, when the skies looked darkest and rumors of abandoning Richmond were wildly flying, Colonel August was limping up the street. A quidnunc hailed him:
Well! The city is to be given up. They're moving the medical stores.“Glad of it!” called back Colonel Tom-“We'll get rid of all this blue mass!” From the various army camps floated out stories, epigrams and anecdotes unnumbered; most of them wholly forgotten, with only a few remembered from local color, or peculiar point. General Zeb Vance's apostrophe to the buck-rabbit, flying by him from heavy rifle fire: “Go it,--cotton-tail! If I hadn't a reputation, I'd be with you!” --was a favorite theme for variations. Similarly modified to fit, was the protest of the western recruit, ordered on picket at Munson's Hill:
Go yander ter keep ‘un off! Wy, we'uns kem hyah ter fight th' Yanks; an‘ ef you'uns skeer ‘un off, how'n thunder ez thar goan ter be a scrimmidge, no how?A different story-showing quick resource, wnere resources were lacking — is told of gallant Theodore O'Hara, who left the noblest poem of almost any war, “The bivouac of the dead.” While he was adjutant-general, a country couple sidled shyly up to headquarters of his division, one day; the lady blushingly stating their business. It was the most important one of life: they wanted to marry. So, a council of war was held, no chaplain being available; and the general insisted on O'Hara tying the knot. Finally, he consented to try;, the couple stood before him; the responses as to obedience and endowment were made; and there O'Hara stuck fast! “ Go on!” prompted the general-“The benediction.” The A. A. G. paused, stammered; then, raising his hand grandly, shouted in stentorian tones:  “ In the name and by the authority of the Confederate States of North America, I proclaim you man and wife!” A grim joke is handed down from the winter camps before Atlanta, when rations were not only worst but least. A knot round a messfire examined ruefully the tiny bits of moldy bacon, stuck on their bayonet-grills, when one hard old veteran remarked:
Say, boys! Didn't them fellers wot died las' spring jest git th‘ commissary, though!Another, not very nice, still points equally the dire straits of the men, from unchanged clothing, and their grim humor under even that trial. Generals Lee and Ewell-riding through a quiet road in deep consultation, followed by members of their staff-came suddenly upon a North Carolinian at the roadside. Nude to the waist, and careless of the august presences near, the soldier paid attention only to the dingy shirt he held over the smoke of some smoldering brush. The generals past, an aide spurred up to the toilet-making vet, and queried sharply:
Didn't you see the generals, sir? What in thunder are you doing?“Skirmishin‘!” drawled the unmoved warrior-“Ana I ent takina no pris'ners, nuther!” After this lapse of time-when retrospect shows but the gloom and sorrow which shadowed the dark “days of storm and stress,” while none of the excitement and tension in them remains — it may seem incomprehensible that the South could laugh in song, while she suffered and fought and starved. Stranger still must it be to know that many a merry peal rang through the barred windows of the fortressprisons of the North. Yet, many a one of the exchanged captives brought back a rollicking “prison glee;” and some sing, even to-day, the legend of “Fort Delaware, del.” The “Prison Wails” of Thomas F. Roche, a Marylander long captive, is a close and clever parody on General Lytell's “I am dying, Egypt,” which came through the lines and won warm admirers South. It describes prison discipline, diet and dirt, with keen point and broad grin. From its opening lines:
I am busted, mother-busted.!to the human, piteous plaint that ends it: 
Gone th' last unhappy check;
And th' infernal sutlers' prices
Make my pocket-book a wreck!--
Ah! Once more, among the lucky,the original is closely followed and equally distorted. But strangest, amid all strange humors of the war, was that which echoed laughter over the leaguered walls of scarred, starving, desperate Vicksburg! No siege in all history tells of greater peril and suffering, borne with wondrous endurance and heroism, by men and women. It is a story of privation unparalleled, met by fortitude and calm acceptance which recall the early martyrdoms for faith! And, indeed, love of country grew to be a religion, especially with the women of the South, though happily none proved it by stress so dire as those of her heroic city; and they cherished it in the darkest midnight of their cause, with constancy and hope that nerved the strong and shamed the laggard. That history is one long series of perils and privations — of absolute isolation-sufficient to have worn down the strongest and to have quenched even
Let thy hopeful buy and swell;
Bankers and rich brokers aid thee!
Shell! sweet mother mine, Oh! shell!--
The smile of the South, on the lips and the eyes-Yet, even in Vicksburg-torn by shot and shell, hopeless of relief from without, reduced to direst straits of hunger within — the supreme rebel humor rose above nature; and men toiled and starved, fought their hopeless fight and died — not with the stoicism of the fatalist, but with the cheerfulness of duty well performed! And when Vicksburg fell, a curious proof of this was found; a manuscript bill-of-fare, surmounted by rough sketch of a mule's head crossed by a human hand holding a Bowie-knife. That memorable menu reads:
Of her barefooted boys!
This capture was printed in the Chicago Tribune, with the comment that it was a ghastly and melancholy burlesque. There is really a train of melancholy in the reflection that it was so little of a burlesque; that they who could endure such a siege, on such fare, should have been compelled to bear their trial in vain. But the quick-satisfying reflection must follow of the truth, the heroism — the moral invincibility — of a people who could so endure and----laugh! But it was not only from the soldiers and the camps that the humor of the South took its color. Spite of the strain upon its better part — from anxiety, hope-deferred and actual privation-the society of every city keeps green memories of brilliant things said and written, on the spur of excitement and contact, that. kept the sense of the whole people keenly alert for any point-whether serious or ridiculous. The society of the Capital was marked evidence of this. It preserved many epigrammatic gems; often coming from the better-and brighter-half of its composition. For Richmond women had long  been noted for society ease and aplomb, as well as for quickness of wit; and now the social amalgam held stranger dames and maidens who might have shown in any salon. A friend of the writer — then a gallant staff-officer; now a grave, sedate and semi-bald counsellor — had lately returned from European capitals; and he was, of course, in envied possession of brilliant uniform and equipment. At a certain ball, his glittering blind-spurs became entangled in the flowing train of a dancing belle-one of the most brilliant of the set. She stopped in mid-waltz; touched my friend on the broidered chevron with taper fingers, and sweetly said:
Captain, may I trouble you to dismount?Another noted girl-closely connected with the administrationmade one of a distinguished party invited by Secretary Mallory to inspect a newly-completed iron-clad, lying near the city. It was after many reverses had struck the navy, causing — as heretofore shown-destruction of similar ships. Every detail of this one explained, lunch over and her good fortune drunk, the party were descending the steps to the captain's gig, when this belle stopped short. “Oh! Mr. Secretary!” she smiled innocently-“You forgot to show us one thing!” “Indeed?” was the bland query--“Pray what was it?” To which came the startling rejoinder:
Why your arrangement for blowing them up!There was one handsome and dashing young aide, equally noted --for influence at division-headquarters, which sent him constantly to Richmond; and for persistent devotion, when there, to a sharpwitted belle with a great fortune. One night he appeared at a soiree in brand new uniform, his captain's bars replaced by the major's star on the collar. The belle, leaning on his arm wearily, was pouting; when another passed and said: “I congratulate you, major. And what are your new duties?” The officer hesitated only one instant, but that was fatal; for the lady on his arm softly lisped: “Oh! he is Mrs. General--‘s commissary, with the rank of major!” It is needless to add that the epigram-unjust as it was-had its effect; and the belle was no more besieged. But of all the bright coteries in Richmond society-its very arcanum  of wit, brilliance and culture-rises to memory that wholly unique set, that came somehow to be called “the Mosaic Club.” Organization it was none; only a clique of men and womenmar-ried as well as single — that comprised the best intellects and prettiest accomplishments of the Capital. Many of the ladies were Will Wyatt's “easy goers;” ever tolerant, genial and genuine at the symposia of the Mosaics, as they showed behind their chevaux-de-frise of knitting-needles elsewhere. Some of them have since graced happy and luxurious homes; some have struggled with poverty and sorrow as only true womanhood may struggle; some have fought out the battle of life, sleeping now at rest forever. But one and all then faced their duty-sad, bitter, uncongenial as it might be --with loyalty and tender truth; one and all were strong enough to put by somber things, when meet to do so, and enjoy to the full the better pleasures society might offer. And the men one met wore wreaths upon their collars often; quite as likely chevrons of “the men” upon their sleeves. Cabinet ministers, poets, statesmen, artists, and clergymen even were admitted to the “Mosaics;” the only “Open sesame!” to which its doors fell wide being that patent of nobility stamped by brain and worth alone. Without organization, without officers; grown of itself and meeting as chance, or winter inactivity along army lines dictated — the Mosaic Club had no habitat. Collecting in one hospitable parlor, or another --as good fortune happened to provide better material for the delighting “muffin-match,” or the entrancing “waffle-worry,” as Will Wyatt described those festal procedures — the intimates who chanced in town were bidden; or, hearing of it, came to the feast of waffles and the flow of coffee-real coffee! without bids. They were ever welcome and knew it; and they were likewise sure of something even better than muffins, or coffee, to society-hungry men from the camps. And once gathered, the serious business of “teaing” over, the fun of the evening began. The unwritten rule-indeed, the only rule — was the “forfeit essay,” a game productive of so much that was novel and brilliant, that no later invention of peace-times has equaled it. At each meeting two hats would be handed round, all drawing a question from the one, a word from the other; question and word to be connected in either a song, poem, essay, or tale for the next meeting..  Then, after the drawing for forfeits, came the results of the last lottery of brain; interspersed with music by the best performers and singers of the city; with jest and seriously-brilliant talk, until the wee sma‘ hours, indeed. O! those nights ambrosial, if not of Ambrose's, which dashed the somber picture of war round Richmond, with high-lights boldly put in by master-hands! Of them were quaint George Bagby, Virginia's pet humorist; gallant, cultured Willie Meyers; original Trav Daniel; Washington, artist, poet and musician; Page McCarty, recklessly brilliant in field and frolic alike; Ham Chamberlayne, quaint, cultivated and colossal in originality; Key, Elder and other artists; genial, jovial Jim Pegram; Harry Stanton, Kentucky's soldier poetand a score of others who won fame, even if some of them lost life --on far different fields. There rare “Ran” Tucker-later famed in Congress and law school-told inimitably the story of “The time the stars fell,” or sang the unprecedented ballad of “The noble Skewball,” in his own unprecedented fashion! It was at the Mosaic that Innes Randolph first sang his now famous “Good old Rebel” song; and there his marvelous quickness was Aaron's rod to swallow all the rest. As example, once he drew from one hat the words, “Daddy Longlegs;” from the other, the question, “What sort of shoe was made on the Last of the Mohicans?” Not high wit these, to ordinary seeming; and yet apparent posers for sensible rhyme. But they puzzled Randolph not a whit; and-waiving his “grace” until the subsequent meeting, he rattled off extempore:
Old Daddy Longlegs was a sinner hoaryLaughter and applause were, in mid-roar, cut by Randolph's voice calling: Corollaryfirst: If Daddy Longlegs stole the Indian's shoe to keep his foot warm, that was no excuse for him to steal his house, to keep his wigwam. And again he broke down-only to renew — the chorus with : Corollary second: Because the Indian's shoe did not fit ary Mohawk, was no reason that it wouldn't fit Narragansett! Such, in brief retrospect was the Mosaic Club! Such in part the  fun and fancy and frolic that filled those winter nights in Richmond, when sleet and mud made movements of armies, “Heaven bless us! A thing of naught!” The old colonel — that staff veteran, so often quoted in these pages --was a rare, if unconscious humorist. Gourmet born, connoisseur by instinct and clubman by life habit, the colonel writhed in spirit under discomfort and camp fare, even while he bore both heroically in the flesh; his two hundred and sixty pounds of it! Once, Styles Staple and Will Wyatt met him, inspecting troops in a West Virginia town; and they received a long lecture, à la Brillat Savarin, on enormities of the kitchen. “And these people have fine wines, too,” sadly wound up the colonel. “Marvelous wines, egad! But they don't know how to let you enjoy them!” “ 'Tis a hard case,” sympathized Styles, “I do hear sometimes of a fellow getting a stray tea, but as for a dinner! It's no use, colonel; these people either don't dine themselves, or they imagine we don't.” “Did it ever strike you,” said the colonel, waxing philosophic, “that you can't dine in but two places south of the Potomac? True, sir. Egad! You may stumble upon a country gentleman with a plentiful larder and a passable cook, but then, egad, sir! he's an oasis. The mass of the people South don't live, sir! they vegetate-vegetate and nothing else. You get watery soups. Then they offer you mellow madeira with some hot, beastly joint; and oily old sherry with some confounded stew. Splendid materials-materials that the hand of an artist would make luscious-egad, sir; luscious-utterly ruined in the handling. It's too bad, Styles, too bad!” “It is, indeed,” put in Wyatt, falling into the colonel's vein, “too Dad! And as for steaks, why, sir, there is not a steak is this whole country. They stew them, colonel, actually stew beefsteaks! Listen to the receipt a ‘notable housewife’ gave me: ‘Put a juicy steak, cut two inches thick, in a saucepan; cover it well with water; put in a large lump of lard and two sliced onions. Let it simmer till the water dries; add a small lump of butter and a dash of pepper --and it's done!’ Think of that, sir, for a bonne bouche!” “ Good God!” ejaculated the colonel, with beads on his brow. “I have seen those things, but I never knew how they were done! I shall dream of this, egad! for weeks.”  “ Fact, sir,” Wyatt added, “and I've a theory that no nation deserves its liberties that stews its steaks. Can't gain them, sir! How can men legislate-how can men fight with a pound of stewed abomination holding them like lead? ‘Bold and erect the Caledonian stood,’ but how long do you think he would have been ‘bold,’ if they had stewed his ‘rare beef’ for him? No, sir! mark my words: the nation that stews its beefsteaks contracts its boundaries! As for an omelette-” “Say no more, will!” broke in the colonel solemnly. “After the war, come to my club and we'll dine-egad, sir! for a week!” That invincible pluck of the southron, which carried him through starvation and the sweltering march of August, through hailing shot and shell, and freezing mud of midwinter camps — was unconquered even after the surrender. Equally invincible was that twin humor, which laughed amid all these and bore up, even in defeat. Some of the keenest hits of all the war-tinctured though they be with natural bitterness — are recalled from those days, when the beaten, but defiant, Rebel was passing under the victor's yoke. Surprising, indeed, to its administrators must have been the result of “the oath,” forced upon one green cavalryman, before he could return to family and farm. Swallowing the obnoxious allegiance, he turned to the Federal officer and quietly asked:
And punished for his wickedness, according to the story.
Between him and the Indian shoe, this likeness doth come in,
One made a mock oa virtue, and one a moccasin!
Wail, an' now I reck'n I'm loyil, ain't I?“ Oh, yes! You're all right,” carelessly replied the captor. “An‘ ef I'm loyil, I'm same as you 'uns?” persisted the lately sworn. “We're all good Union alike, eh?” “Oh, yes,” the officer humored him. “I We're all one now.” “Wail then,” rejoined Johnny Reb slowly, “didn't them darned rebs jest geen us hell sometimes?” City Point, on the James river, was the landing for transports with soldiers released from northern prisons, after parole. A bustling, self-important major of United States volunteers was at one time there, in charge. One day a most woe-begone, tattered and emaciated “Johnnie” sat swinging his shoeless feet from a barrel, awaiting his turn. “ It isn't far to Richmond,” suddenly remarked the smart major, to nobody in particular. “ Reck'n et's neer onto three thousin‘ mile,” drawled the Confed. weakly.  “ Nonsense! You must be crazy,” retorted the officer staring. “Wail, I ent a-reck'nin‘ adzact,” was the slow reply-“Jest tho't so, kinder.” “Oh! You did? And pray why?” “Cos et's took'n you'uns nigh onto foore year to git thar from Wash'nton,” was the settling retort. In the provost-marshal's department at Richmond, shortly after surrender, was the neatest and most irrepressible of youths. Never discourteous and often too sympathetic, he was so overcurious as to be what sailors describe as “In everybody's mess and nobody's watch.” One day a quaint, Dickensesque old lady stood hesitant in the office doorway. Short, wrinkled and bent with age, she wore a bombazine gown of antique cut-its whilom black red-rusty from time's dye. But “Aunt Sallie” was a character in Henrico county; and noted withal for the sharpest of tongues and a fierce pair of undimmed eyes, which now shone under the dingy-brown poke bonnet. Toward her sallied the flippant young underling, with the greeting:
Well, madam, what do you wish?“What do I wish?” The old lady grew restive and battlehungry. “Yes'm! That's what I asked,” retorted the youth sharply. “What do I wish?” slowly repeated the still-rebellious dame. “Well, if you must know, I wish all you Yankees were in — hell!” But not all the humor was confined to the governing race; some of its points cropping out sharply here and there, from under the wool of “the oppressed brother” --in-law. One case is recalled of the spoiled body servant of a gallant Carolinian, one of General Wheeler's brigade commanders. His master reproved his speech thus:
Peter, you rascal! Why don't you speak English, instead of saying ‘wah yo‘ is'?“Waffer, Mars' Sam?” queried the negro with an innocent grin. “Yo allus calls de Gen'ral-Weel-er?” Another, close following the occupation, has a spice of higher satire. A Richmond friend had a petted maid, who-devoted and constant to her mistress, even in those tempting days-still burned with genuine negro curiosity for a sight of everything pertaining to “‘Mars’ Linkum's men” --especially for “de skule.”  For swift, indeed, were the newcome saints to preach the Evangel of alphabet; and negro schools seemed to have been smuggled in by every army ambulance, so numerously did they spring up in the captured Capital. So, early one day, Clarissa Sophia, the maid of color, donned her very best and, “with shiny morning face,” hied her, like anything but a snail, to school. Very brief was her absence; her return reticent, but pouting and with unduly tip-tilted nose. After a time negro love for confidences conquered; and the murder came out. The school-room had been packed and pervaded with odors-of sanctity, or otherwise-when a keen-nosed and eager school-marm rose up to exhort her class. She began by impressing the great truth that every sister present was “born free and equal;” was “quite as good” as she was. “Wa‘ dat yo's sain‘ now?” interrupted Clarissa Sophia. “Yo‘ say Ise jess ekal as Yo‘ is?” “Yes; I said so,” was the sharp retort, “and I can prove it!” “Ho! ‘Tain't no need,” replied the lately disenthralled. “Reck'n I is, sho‘ nuff. But does yo‘ say dat Ise good as missus?--my missus?” “Certainly you are!” This with asperity. “Den Ise jess gwine out yere, rite off!” cried Clarissa Sophia, suiting action to word-“Ef Ise good as my missus, I'se goin‘ ter quit; fur I jess know she ent ‘soshiatin‘ wid no sich wite trash like you is!” And so — under all skies and among all colors — the war dragged its weary length out; amid sufferings and sacrifices, which may never be recorded; and which were still illumined by the flashes of unquenchable humor-God's tonic for the heart! Had every camp contained its Froissart-had every social circle held its Boswell-what a record would there be, for reading by generations yet unborn! But-when finished, as this cramped and quite unworthy chronicle of random recollections is-then might the reader still quote justly her of Sheba, exclaiming:
And behold! the one-half of the greatness of thy wisdom was not told me!