The war will never be over. Let minié balls corrode, Confederate money crumble, and imitation battle flags rot. As long as there is a tear-jerking poem to be read, a droll statue to be unveiled, a cannon ball to be unearthed, a fast buck to be made—then there will always be a Confederacy. Grant, Sheridan, Sherman—they could whip Marse Robert Lee and Retreating Joe Johnston. But they will never whip that long gray line of genealogists, antique dealers, historians, promoters, and roundtable buffs—marching to the Gray Nirvana.
The above is from a little gem of a book I read today, Will Success Spoil Jeff Davis?: The Last Book about the Civil War, by T. Lawrence Connelly. Published in 1963, the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg among other important events, the book is a gentle—sometimes not-so-gentle—spoof of the Civil War Centennial.
Thomas Connelly was uniquely positioned to satirize the war and the mythology surrounding it; at the time of the book’s publication he was chair of the History department at Presbyterian College in fire-eating South Carolina. Today Professor Connelly is justly renowned as author of The Marble Man: Robert E. Lee and His Image in American Society, his 1977 book examining the hagiography of the Confederate general.
In Jeff Davis Connelly recounts the efforts of the Sobbing Sisters of the Southern Secession—or S.S. for short—to tell their version of the War Between the States. He also urges us to check out the mechanical Abraham Lincoln (Insert a quarter and Abe splits a rail; Insert a dollar and he saves the Union) on our next Civil War road trip. I’m going to look for it the next time I’m on Steinwehr Avenue.
Re-enactors, souvenir hucksters, and Lost Causers aren’t the only ones who come in for the ribbing that they deserve though. One of the book’s many high points is when the constipated professor from the State College drones on and on from his latest paper, “Symbolism and Poetic Imagery in Confederate Field Battle Reports” at a public event. Then there are the (fictitious) dissertations:
“Saddle Soap Usage in Southwestern Virginia, 1861-1865” and
“Confederate Hymn Book Production in East Mississippi.”
Apparently portentous prose and over-specialization are not unique to the modern academy.
Equally important as the text are the illustrations by Campbell Grant. I may be mistaken, but I believe this is the same Campbell Grant who worked for Disney and illustrated Fantasia, Snow White, Pinocchio, and other classics for the studio.
Alas, Jeff Davis is out of print. Being the good librarian I am, I interlibrary loaned a copy from another school. It would seem that republishing this knowing little tome, perhaps in a 50th anniversary edition with a new introduction by one of today’s historians, would be an opportunity for some small press focusing on Civil War titles. Until then, thankfully, you can get it here:
Thanks for checking in.