Will Success Spoil Jeff Davis?

I was four years old when the Civil War centennial began and eight years old when I ended, but even I recall what a big hoopla it all was. In the midst of it all, Thomas Lawrence Connolley, who would become the foremost historian of the Confederate Army of Tennessee, brought out a book in 1963 entitled Will Success Spoil Jeff Davis?, a satirical look at the often over the top aspects of the centennial observations. The book is a howlingly funny look at Civil War mania and still is relevant today. Here is a tiny sample:

The easiest way to publish something on the War is to submit an article to a historical journal. Better still, start your own journal. There are some two thousand in print and, judging by the tone of the articles, many of them are in need of material. Journal writing has its advantages. If he cannot write good prose, the writer can bury himself in footnotes. The footnote is a clever device, designed to confuse the general reader and absolve the author of any lawsuits. For example, consider a typical footnote to the statement “General Crumbley was a bastard.” 34

34. Ibid, see also, Cornstalk, Bastards in Gray, loc. sic.* op. sit., loc. site, sob. Many maintain that General Crumbley was not a bastard. See Thirty Years View by Mrs. Crumbley, op. sit., sic. hoc. Major Kumpley maintained that the General may have been a bastard but that he was indeed a “magnificent old bastard at that/* See diary of Isaac Bumpley, Moose University Archives, XXCI, pt, 2, Sept. 21, 1863. In addition to being a bastard, the General was also a Mason. See diary of Cornelius Kraut, 1st Wisconsin Infantry, SWMVHR (XXI, Je. 45).

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The centennial commission, whether statewide or local, is usually comprised of the following members : CHAIRMAN: An off-beat State College history teacher and Civil War buffoon whose last book sold two copies* EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR: This post, which demands leg work and tail resting, is generally filled by an out-of-work and self-appointed “Colonel,” who got his commission as a former auctioneer. He wears moth-chewed suede coats, splatters his droll conversation with references to “fathuh s division” and the “Yunkees,” and displays on the wall behind his oversized desk a large map of Civil War campaigns, replete with numerous colored tacks. THE COMMITTEE : No centennial commission would be complete without the Committee. The Committee is composed of influential state senators, battlefield motel owners, high brass of the Sobbing Sisters of the S.S., county judges, bored bank presidents who collect lead soldiers, and a solid phalanx of first class antiques such as family tree surgeons and museum operators. All of these people are affected with a strange and contagious malady known as “Centennialism.” Basically, the disease Centennialism is the uncontrolled desire to commemorate. The object of the centennial celebration makes no difference. If Robert E. Lee threw a corn cob at a pesky camp dog somewhere in the neighborhood, a commemoration ceremony will be held, complete with the planting of a gaudy, silvery-embossed highway marker. There is something magic about the figure 100, possibly the fact that it so closely resembles a one dollar mark. The symptoms of Centennialism are easy to dis cern: the pulse quickens whenever the term “Confederate Monument” is mentioned ; eyes dilate at the sight of an unmarked Civil War site; the nose twitches violently when within 500 yards of an un-restored Civil War breastworks ; and extreme itching occurs, especially near the pocketbook, whenever the term “tourist” is mentioned. Naturally, the Centennial Committee plans all ceremonies within range of local motels and orange blossom honey stands operated by, surprise! Committee members.

The book may be read online here.  Copies of the book may be purchased here.  I highly recommend it.

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