Civil War Humor

Disunion discusses how the war was filtered through comedy (mainly of the sarcastic bent) at the time.

Abraham Lincoln became the war’s most notorious jester, known for his backcountry yarns and goofy, self-deprecating style. Washington socialites complained that he simply would not stop telling jokes at their dinner parties. His cabinet – stiff, bearded, capable men, whom Navy Secretary Gideon Welles called “destitute of wit” – met his enthusiastic joking with blank stares and awkward sneezes; William P. Fessenden, the secretary of the Treasury, objected that comedy was “hardly a proper subject.” Lincoln ignored them, introducing his plan for emancipation by reading aloud a routine by his favorite humorist. He often joked with citizens who sought his aid: when a businessman requested a pass through Union lines to Richmond, Lincoln chuckled that he had already sent 250,000 men in that direction, but “not one has got there yet.”

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