A Collection of Civil War Humor
By Robert McLernon
From Burke Davis, “Our Incredible Civil War”
A Monsieur Chillon, a French army veteran who had migrated to California, walked cross-country to war in 1861, through Indian territory accompanied only by his donkey, Jason, with whom he slept. Chillon was welcomed by the French-speaking 3rd Louisiana of the Confederate Army and settled down. There was one trouble: the regiment’s colonel bore a strong resemblance to old Chillon, and at bedtime Jason invariably pushed into the commander’s tent and tried to curl up next to the officer, to the joyous yelping of the troops.
“A Rebel Battery enfiladed our Brigade and a shot striking the horse of Captain Kempf commanding the 5th Wisconsin Vols., then bounded down the line of his Regiment and wounded several men. The horse, a large white animal, had a part of his flank shot off and started on a run with his tail hanging by a piece of flesh. The Captain jumped to his feet and shouted: “There goes my…..horse, my…….haversack, my……..blankets, my……canteen” and he also named over all of his traps that went off on his horse. (The blank spaces above may be supplied with adjectives.) Notwithstanding the fact that shot and shell were plunging into our Brigade, the group of officers including myself who witnessed this scene rolled in the sand convulsed with laughter. We had to change our position, for the Rebels seemed to have the exact range of our line.”
From Elisha Hunt Rhodes “All For The Union.” Pg. 183 Sept. 21, 1864, speaking of the Battle of
Opequon Creek, Va., on September 19, 1864
Sunday, May 22, 1864 - U.S. Grant
Early in the afternoon, Grant and his party stopped to rest at a plantation that commanded a fine view of the Mattapony valley. Grant fell into conversation with the two women of the house, one of whom had a husband serving with Joseph E. Johnston in the west. Neither believed Grant’s statement that Sherman’s army was steadily pushing Johnston’s men back toward Atlanta, but even as they were arguing, a courier arrived with dispatches that confirmed his words. Both women were shocked by the news. The portly Ambrose Burnside rode up, made an exaggerated bow, and conversationally inquired as
to whether the ladies had ever seen so many Yankee soldiers before.
“Not at liberty, sir,” one of the women snapped back.
Remembered Horace Porter, “This was such a good shot that every one was greatly amused and General Grant joined heartily in the laugh that followed at Burnside’s expense.”
From Noah Andre Trudeau “Bloody Roads South” pg. 223
There is a song called “Just Before The Battle, Mother” (I was thinking most of you).
The men thought up many parodies of the songs they sang. A parody of “Just Before The Battle, Mother” goes:
“Just before the battle, Mother,
I was drinking mountain dew,
When I saw the Rebels coming
To the rear I quickly flew.”
The Irish Brigade
Brigadier General Thomas Francis Meagher resigned in May, 1863. “Gen. Meagher’s departure was greatly regretted. A most brilliant leader he was, who seemed at his best in the midst of a combat. He had great faith in “buck and ball and the bayonet,” and frequently urged on the men the use of the latter weapon.
“Take everything with the bayonet,” was the standing command when about to close with the foe; and that well-known and oft-repeated order was the occasion of a most amusing incident. One evening the brigade commissary had received new supplies; and among other things, some barrels of molasses beside which a young Irishman was placed on guard to prevent the men from getting at it until the proper time. Seeing no one around as he walked up and down, he thought he would enjoy the sweets of life, and succeeded in picking a hole in one of the barrels with his bayonet. Then dipping the weapon into the molasses, he would draw it out and transfer it to his mouth. Meagher happened to catch the boy in the act, and reproached him in rather strong terms for stealing the molasses over which he was placed to guard. The young man was astounded and overcome with terror for a moment at seeing the general, but quickly recovering himself, he quietly pushed the blade into the syrup, pulled it out dripping with the sweet liquid, took a big lick of it and reminded the General: Sure, don’t ye be always telling us to take everything wid the bayonet?”
From Corby, Memoirs of Chaplain Life, pg. 384
“One dark night, when we were marching away from Falmouth, the brigade was groping along a by-path, the men growling about the roughness of the walking, now and then tripping over a log, and plunging headlong into the darkness. A man remarked to his comrade, who was grumbling and falling more frequently than the others: “Whist, Jimmy, yez’ll be on the main road in a minute.” “Bedad, Barney,” replied the unfortunate one, “Oi’ll nivir get onto a mainer road than this!”
From Corby, Memoirs of Chaplain Life, pg. 355 Both of these are from St. Clair A. Mulholland
“One slightly wounded man complained that he had to walk to the rear. A more seriously wounded comrade replied, “Ah Duffy, hold your tongue. There’s a lad over there with his head shot off and he’s not making a complaint at all.”
Spotsylvania, May 12, 1864; Mule Shoe Salient (“Bloody Angle”) from Patrick O’Flaherty’s “History of the Sixty-ninth”
General Robert E. Lee
From “Lee Of Virginia” by Douglas Southall Freeman:
On September 16, 1864, Wade Hampton captured 2,486 beef cattle belonging to the Federal Army. “For days after that the soldiers had beef instead of the thin slice of “Nassau bacon” that had been issued them. The temporary contrast between fat beef and rancid bacon gave point to a joke that then was going the rounds of the educated soldiers. They of course were proud to call themselves the Army of Northern Virginia, but for a shorter name they preferred now to be known as ‘Lee’s Army.” Still another name, they said in grim jest, was appropriate to them. Victor Hugo’s novel Les Miserables was being republished in the South and was much read in the army. The title seemed distinctly personal to the men: They were “Lee’s Miserables,” they said.
I have a friend who lives in West Virginia. He has a book that I read one night, by Kenneth Davis “Don’t Know Much About History.” This contained some errors about the Civil War, and had the following statement: “In addition, the North vastly outproduced the South in agricultural products and livestock holdings (except asses and mules).”
Whenever I think of those asses and mules! To me, that is just about one of the funniest things I have ever read! ! What do you think? Did it make you laugh, or did it only slightly amuse you? Is it just me? I don’t think the author meant it to be funny.
There are some that I wish I could find:
There were two men carrying one man on a stretcher. A shell crashed nearby, and all three men took off running.
An officer had a horse that was so afraid of combat, it would always turn away from it. The officer had to sit backwards, and look over the rear end of the animal.
If you can think of a funny, and I mean funny, Civil War story, please send it to me, for inclusion here. - Robert McLernon