War is a distinctly unfunny business, but soldiers seem to maintain their sense of humor at the worst of times and satire has always been a great tool for political commentary.
The Democratic Banner had a little of both when it ran the following item on Sept. 24, 1861, under the headline “Swear Him or Let Him Go”:
“The best piece of satire upon the leniency observed by the authorities, in reference to rebels found committing depredations, is in the shape of a story, which is told, we believe by Gov. Pierpont. As the story goes, some of the soldiers in General Cox’s camp, down in Kanawha, recently caught a large rattlesnake. The snake manifested a most mischievous disposition, snapping and thrusting out its forked tongue at all who came near it. The boys at last got tired of the reptile, and as nobody wanted such a dangerous companion, the question arose, ‘What shall we do with him?’ The question was propounded several times without an answer, then a half-drunken soldier, who was lying near upon his back, rolled over upon his side, and relieved his companions by quietly remarking: ‘Swear him and let him go.’”