I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: There are some amazing and strange things to be found in the Civil War digitized collections from Library of Congress.
Did you ever think you’d see a rabbit in Union uniform? Well, prepare yourself, and I assure you, you haven’t had too much to drink on this holiday weekend. This is a very real illustration from the Civil War era:
A few notes on the creation which was published in 1863 under the title “The Adventures of a Conscript as Told By Himself.”
- It appears that originals these cards would have been punched or cut apart, probably a children’s entertainment or perhaps a parlor item of amusement.
- This “rabbit conscript” has quite the opinion of himself and his adventures; be sure to note the battle scenes were he is doing the exact opposite of his words.
- There appears to be some additional text in cursive below the block printing on each card; I have not been able to decipher it.
- Plates 9 and 10 in the collection refer to “gorillas” and have a racist caricature. This type of drawing was not uncommon in the 1860’s, but its commonality does not make this type of indignity right. (For a deeper discussion about other northern attitudes toward African Americans and slavery as depicted in visual art from the 1860’s please refer to this blog post.) What is the sketch trying to depict in these plates? At this point in my research, I think it is implying that “Conscript Rabbit” in his fear and lack of thinking kills some enslaved or freedmen behind the lines that he mistakes for “rebel traitors”; conscript is never in danger and that is supposed to be the humor?
- The entire piece is a satire from the good citizen, to substitutes, to brave battle experience, and his happily-ever-after.
Here are the details of the sequence and the text transcribed:
- “Ha, a draft? Good, as a patriot, if drafted, I go—sure!”
2. “I receive a letter which tells the agonizing fact. I’m drafted.”
3. “By the advice of $?0,000 friends, I offer a substitute.” [the actual number is not legible]
4. “Who, uttering a quack, is rejected by the insulted surgeon.”
5. “I feel my country calls! Farewell, my love! I go where glory waits me!”
6. “I fiercely charge the foe, and do fearful carnage.”
7. “And make a sturdy rebel fly!”
8. “Am sent with dispatches! A perilous duty, death or glory!”
9. “Attacked by a band of gorillas, I cry, ‘Come on ye Trrrrraitors!'”
10. “I discomfit them, and bear off the head of the gorilla chief!”
11. “I deliver despatches, save the army, and am made a brigadier general!”
12. “And thus relieved from future dangers in the field, I crown my glory with love!”
I think it would be wise to avoid conscripting rabbits into the army. This did not turn out well for anyone except Conscript and Mrs. Rabbit!