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THE ORPHEUS C. KERR PAPERS
From The Missouri Republican, August 20, 1862.
This article was republished in the September 2007 issue of The Shrapnel .
WARNING: This is a verbatim reprint of a period humor article and contains language that may be offensive to some.
"THE ORPHEUS C. KERR PAPERS"
The Humor of the War-Dashes at Military Life with a Free Pencil.
Mr. Newell, whom it is no breach of faith to name as the writer of the "Orpheus C. Kerr Papers,"* has struck an original vein of humor, and works it with decided effect. The war has given birth to no more amusing book than this. It is thoroughly good humored and loyal but exposes the weak side of our military policy in a way which shows the absurdities of many measures which have hitherto controlled the campaign against the rebels; the loose administration of the oath of allegiance, for instance, furnishing our author with an inexhaustible fund for raillery. It is now well known that the rebels who have taken the oath have openly violated it, returning to the ranks of their fellow-traitors so soon as interest or inclination dictated. Others errors of our past military management are relentlessly ridiculed in these "Papers"-sometimes unjustly, but generally with excellent reason.
Originally appearing as contributions to a Sunday journal in this city, the "Papers" have been widely copied and read. There runs through the handsome volume in which the first series is now collected, a dry humor that explains the popularity of the writer during his year of hebdominal appearance before the public. New chapters of autobiographical character have been added to the published volume, and the originals have been pruned or touched up, so that in their amended form the "Papers" may be regarded as a notable contribution to the humorous literature of the country. Occasionally the humor degenerates into coarseness, and a severer pruning of the coming volumes of the series will improve it-yet, wise things are said in a funny way, and the book is a good one to laugh over.
Under date of Washington, April, 1861, ""Orpheus" gives his opinion of ther rebels in this
The chivalrous South, my boy, has taken Fort Sumter, and only wants to be "let alone." Some things of a Southern sort I like, my boy; Southdown mutton is fit for the gods, and Southside particular is liquid sunshine for the heart; but the whole country was growing tired of new South wails before this, and my present comprehensive estimate of all there is of Dixie may be summed up in twelve straight lines, under the general heading of
'Neath a ragged palmetto a Southerner at rest,
A-twisting the band of his Panama hat,
And trying to lighten his mind of a load
By humming the words of the following ode:
"Oh! For a nigger, and oh! for a whip;
Oh! for a cocktail, and oh! for a nip!
Oh! for a shot at old Greeley and Beecher;
Oh! for a crack at a Yankee school-teacher;
Oh! for a captain, and oh! for a ship;
Oh! for a cargo of niggers each trip."
And so he kept oh-ing for what he had not,
Not contented with owing for all that he'd got.
These "twelve straight lines" are worthy of Hood.
Here is a fair hit at the way in which the recruiting service was conducted in the early stages of the war:
The Calcium Light regiment was recruited at great expense in New York, and went into camp on Riker's Island, until Secretary Cameron ordered his Colonel to bring him on immediately for the defense of Washington. The regiment has three officers, and will elect the others as soon as his voice is strong enough. He says that he is a regiment of 1,000 men; he says that 1,000 is simply the figure 1 and three ciphers, and that he represents the 1, and his three officers the three ciphers.
I believe him, my boy!
Villiam Brown of Regiment 5, Mackeral Brigade, asked his Colonel last week for leave to go to New York on recruiting service, and got it. He came back to day, and says the Colonel to him:
"Where's your recruits?"
Villiam smiled sweetly, and remarked that he didn't see it.
"Why, you went to New York on recruiting service, didn't you?" exclaimed the Colonel.
"Yes," says Villiam. "I went to recruit my health."
The Colonel immediately administered the oath to him. The oath, my boy, tastes well with lemon in it.
A DEFIANCE TO GREAT BRITAIN
The General of the Mackeral Brigade is no friend to England. He is reported to have made this strong speech:
"We have borne with Great Britain a great while, my boy; but it is now time for us to take Canada, and wipe every vestige of British tyranny from the face of the globe. The American eagle, my boy, flaps his dark wings over the redhead of battle, and as his scarlet eyes rest for a moment on the English Customhouse, he softly whispers-he simply remarks-he merely ejaculates-Gore!
"Americans! fellow-citizens! foreigners! and people of Boston! shall we longer allow the bloated British aristocracy to blight us with base Abolition proclivities, while Mr. Seward is capable of holding a pen?
"'Hail blood and thunder! welcome, gentle Gore!
Let the loud hewgag shatter every shore!
High to the zenith let our eagle fly,
Ten thousand battles blazing in his eye!
Nail our proud standard to the Northern Pole,
Plant patent earthquakes in each foreign hole!
Shout havoc, murder, victory and spoils,
Till all creation crouches in our toils!
Then, when the world to our behest is bent,
And takes the Herald for its punishment,
We'll pin our banner to a comet's tail
And shake the Heavens with a big "All Hail!'"
"That's the spirit of America, my boy, taken with nutmeg on top and a hollow straw. Very good for invalids."
The following are amusing bits:
A MODEL PROCLAMATION.
Finding himself master of the situation, Capt. Villiam Brown called the solitary chivalry to him and issued the following proclamation:
"Citizens of Accomac! I come among you not as a incendiary and assassin, but to heal your wounds and be your long-lost father. Several of the happiest months in my life were not spent in Accomac, and your affecting hospitality will make me more than jealously watchful of your liberties and the pursuit of happiness. (See the Constitution.)
"Citizens of Accomac! These brave men of whom I am a spectator are not your enemies; they are your brothers, and desire to embrace you in fraternal bonds. They wish to be considered your guests, and respectfully invite you to observe their banner of our common forefathers. In proof whereof I establish the following orders:
"I. If any nigger come within the lines of the United States army to give information, whatsomever, of the movements of the enemy, the aforesaid shall have his head knocked off, and be returned to his lawful owner, according to the groceries and provisions of the fugitive slave ack. (See the Constitution.)
II. If any chicken or other defenseless object belonging to the South be brought within the lines of the United States army, by any nigger, his heirs, administrators and assigns, the aforesaid shall have his tail cut off, and be sent back to his rightful owner at the expense of the Treasury Department.
III. Any soldier found guilty of shooting the Southern Confederacy, or bothering him in any manner whatsomever, the same shall be deemed guilty of disorderly conduct, and be pronounced an accursed Abolitionist.
VILLIAM BROWN, Eskevire.
Captain Conic Section Mackeral Brigade, Commanding Accomac."
DIGGING OUT REGIMENTS FROM THE MUD
The mud at present inclosing the Mackeral Brigade is unpleasant to the personal feelings of the corps, but the effect at a distance is unique. "As you survey that expanse of mud from Arlington Heights," continued Captain Bob Shorty, "with the veterans of the Mackeral Brigade wading about in it up to their chins, you are forcibly reminded of a limitless plum-pudding, well stocked with animated raisins."
"My friend," says I, "the comparison is apt, and reminds me of Shakespeare's happier efforts. But tell me, my Pylades, has the dredging for those missing regiments near Alexandria proved successful?"
Captain Bob Shorty shook the mire from his ears, and then, says he:
"Two brigades were excavated this morning, and are at present building a raft to go down to Washington after some soap. Let us not utter complaints against the mud," continued Captain Bob Shorty, reflectively, for it has served to develop the genius of New England. We dug out a Yankee regiment from Boston first, and the moment those wooden nutmeg chaps got their breath, they went to work at the mud that had almost suffocated them, mixed up some spoiled flour with it, and are now making their eternal fortunes by peddling it out for patent cement."
THE GENERAL OF THE MACKERAL BRIGADE ON M'CLELLAN.
It pleases me greatly to announce, my boy, that the General of the Mackeral Brigade believes in McClellan, and gorgeously defends him against the attacks of that portion of the depraved Press which has friends dying of old age in the Army of the Potomac.
"Thunder!" says he to Captain Bob Shorty stirring the oath in his tumbler with a toothbrush, "the way Little Mac is devoting himself to the military squelching of this here unnatural rebellion is actually outraging his physical nature. He reviews his staff twice a day, goes over the river every five minutes, studies international law six hours before dinner, takes soundings of the mud every time the dew falls, and takes so little sleep that there's two inches of dust on one of his eye-balls. Would you believe it," says the General, placing the tumbler over his nose to keep off a fly, "his devotion is such that his hair is turning gray and will probably dye!"
Captain Bob Shorty whistled. I do not mean to say that he intended to be musically satirical, by boy; but if I should hear such a canary bird remark, after I'd told a story, some one would go home with his eye done up in rainbows.
A TAKE OFF.
* * * "Read that ere Napoleonic docky-ment," says William, handing me a scroll. It was as follows:
"EDICK-Having noticed that the press of the United States of America is making a ass of itself, by giving information to the enemy concerning the best methods of carrying on the strategy of war, I do hereby assume control of all special correspondents, forbidding them to transact anything but private business; neither they nor their wives, nor their children, to the third and fourth generation.
"I. It is ordered that all advice from editors to the War Department, to the General Commanding, or the Generals Commanding the armies in the field, be absolutely forbidden; as such advice is calculated to make the United States of America a idiot.
"II. Any newspaper publishing any news whatever, however obtained, shall be excluded from all railroads and steamboats, in order that country journals, which receive the same news during the following year, may not be injured in cirkylation.
"III. This control of special correspondents does not include the correspondent of the London Times, who wouldn't be believed if he published all the news of the next Christian era. By order of
VILLIAM BROWN, Eskevire,
"Captain Conic Section Brigade."
A WARRIOR'S SPEECH.
On reaching Accomac, my boy, we found Captain Villiam Brown at the head of the Conic Section of the Mackeral Brigade, dressed principally in a large sword and brass buttons, and taking the attitude of the sun with a glass instrument operated by means of a bottle.
"Ah!" says Villiam, "You are just in time to hear my speech to the sons of Mars, previous to the capture of Manassas by the United States of America!"
Hereupon Villiam mounted a demijohn laid lengthwise, and says he:
"Fellow-Anacondas: Having been informed by a gentleman who has spent two weeks at Manassas, that the Southern Confederacy has gone south for its health, I have concluded that it is time to be offensive. The great Anaconda, having eluded Barnum, is about to move on the enemy's rear:
"'Rear aloft your peaks, ye mountings,
Rear aloft your waves, O sea!
Rear your sparklings crests, ye fountings,
For my love's come back to me!'
The day of inaction is past, and now the United States of America is about to swoop down like an exasperated eagle on the chickens left by the hawk. Are you ready, my sagacious reptiles, to spill a drop or so for your soaking country? Are you ready to rose up as one man--
"'The rose is red,
The willets blue,
Sugar is sweet, and
Bully for you.'
"Ages to come will look down on this day and say: "They died young."The Present will reply: 'I don't see it;' but the present is just the last thing for us to think about. Richmond is before us, and there let it remain. We shall take it in a few years:
"'It may be for years and it may be forever,
Then why art thou silent, O pride of me heart,'
which is poickry. I hereby divide this splendid army into one corps dammee, and take command of it."
At the conclusion of this thrilling oration, my boy, the corps dammee formed itself into a hollow square, in the centre of which appeared a mail-clad ambulance.
THE CAPTURE OF MANASSAS.
Onward moved the magnificent pageant toward the plains of Manassas, the Anatomical Cavalry being in advance and the Mackeral Brigade following closely after.
Arriving on the noted battle field, we found nothing but a scene of desolation; the rebels gone; the masked batteries gone; and nothing left but a solitary daughter of the sunny South, who cursed us for invading the peaceful homes of Virginia, and then tried to sell us stale milk at six shillings a quart.
When Captain Villiam Brown surveyed this spectacle, my boy, his brows knit with portentous anger, and says he:
"So much for wasting so much time. Ah!" says Villiam, clutching convulsively at his canteen, "we have met the enemy, and they are hours-ahead of us."
IRRITATING THE SOUTH.
Like four and twenty thunder storms the howitzers roared together, and had not the Orange county veterans forgotten to put in any balls, there is reason to believe that some windows would have been broken. Another discharge, however, was more successful, as it knocked the top off the chimney.
The Southern Confederacy appeared at the window again, and says he:
"If you fellows don't quit that racket down there you'll irritate me pretty soon."
* * * "Mr. Davis," says Samyule to the Confederacy at the window, "if we do not irritate you, will you consent to be reconstructed?"
"Reconstructed!" says the Confederacy, thoughtfully: "reconstructed! Ah!" says he, "you mean will I consent to be born again?"
"Yes," says Samyule, metaphysically; "will you consent to be borne again, as we have borne with you heretofore?"
The Confederacy thought awhile, and then says he:
"Consider me reconstructed."
As that was all the Constitution asked, of course there was no more to be done, and the Orange County Howitzers returned to their original position in the mire-the English gentlemen remarking that the appearance and discipline of our troops were satisfactory to Albion.
Fighting according to the Constitution, my boy, is such an admirable way of preventing carnage that some doctor ought to take out a patent for it as a cheap medicine.
"Orpheus" does not confine himself to war topics. His views of the National Anthem business, of the "Jane Eyre" school of novels, and of the American experience of Garibaldi are very droll.
Volume one of The Orpheus C. Kerr Papers can be found online here.