Help me understand this American Civil War-era reference
March 28, 2014 9:26 AM   Subscribe

More than once I have come across this image: Jeff. Davis' Coat of "Alms.", typically on an envelope. I am insufficiently knowledgeable about the American Civil War to understand the reference.

The words 'let me alone' are featured in old versions of the song Jack of Diamonds and / or Rye Whiskey, each of which have some ties to the Civil War song The Rebel Soldier ... but I feel that might be going down the wrong path. I have not found a clear connection between Jefferson Davis and whiskey (supplies for the troops? personal libation?) and so I can't even tell if this design is making fun of him or celebrating him. I want to say it's a pro-Union statement since a search for Jefferson Davis and 'let me alone' also turns up a similar image, Jeff Davis. Taken from Life. as well as Jeff. Davis & Co. "Seeing the Elephant." but I just can't figure out the bigger picture. Is it a general Union statement about Southerners being drunkards? Or specific to Jefferson Davis? Or something else entirely?
posted by komara to Society & Culture (5 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The "alms" part refers (according to the Dartmouth College Library bulletin) to the fact that the South sought support from abroad. Punning on "coat of arms" The skull and crossbones and crown are calling Davis a pirate king for issuing letters of marque (which since they weren't recognized by the Union made their bearers pirates) to Confederate ships to raid Union shipping.
posted by Jahaza at 9:40 AM on March 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Davis apparently had a history of drunken escapades.
posted by Jahaza at 9:43 AM on March 28, 2014

Best answer: I found a version of the Dartmouth College Library Bulletin article I can link to:
In a stationery vignette titled 'Jeff's Coat of Alms,' for example, the pirate's skull and crossbones, paired with rattlesnake and moonshine, proclaim in punning fashion the South's unsuccessful attempts to secure financing from abroad and the poverty of its resources at home, where taxes had to be paid in kind.
posted by Jahaza at 9:47 AM on March 28, 2014 [4 favorites]

I don't know of this helps, but for the third image, "seeing the elephant" was an expression used to mean that you had actually participated in combat during the Civil War. Those who had been in combat could say that they "had seen the elephant."
posted by Mr. Fig at 1:08 PM on March 28, 2014

Best answer: Here's some context. "Oh, let me alone" is being used sarcastically as Jeff Davis' motto, implying that he thinks there should be no consequences for his role in the civil war.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 6:22 AM on March 29, 2014

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