Was she the craziest woman in history? Her name was Jeanne Darc. After her death in 1431, the French added the apostrophe to d’Arc to gussy her up for sainthood. The English renamed her Joan of Arc, which must have mightily insulted her ghost,since they were the ones who lit the torches at her burning. Either way, she became one of those symbols people twist and turn in an effort to bring meaning to whatever absorbs and excites them. Her actual history is a mass of contradictions, none of it reliable. She was—and still is—whoever and whatever anyone wanted her to be.
So in an attempt to clarify Jeanne’s murky life, here’s our version—an Americanized Joan of Arc, as if the Maid of Orleans had leapt out of the shadows into an alternative, but comparable, period of history, namely the Confederate States of America, circa 1865.
You have to picture the American Civil War grinding down like this: In the South’s darkest days, three brilliant Union generals—Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan—bear down on Richmond and ravage Atlanta and the granaries of the Shenandoah Valley. The British Navy, meanwhile, has brought off its threatened intervention and conquered the southern coastal states. Jeff Davis and his gaggle of bickering, back-stabbing schemers still control petty rumps of just two small commonwealths—Virginia and Mississippi—along with the strangely recalcitrant hold-outs of Tampa and Corpus Christi. A thoroughly hopeless mess.
Whereupon an eighteen-year-old farmgirl hops up out of nowhere and talks the still-pretending Governor of North Carolina into introducing her to Jeff and the schemers. The mildly attractive Maid has never held a gun or political office, she can’t even read or write. She’s a self-confessed expert seamstress and not much more. Her secret, of course, is that she has God bellowing in her ear. Jeff has her examined for virginity, asks her a bunch of complicated theological questions, then blithely hands over one of his few remaining ragtag armies to her.
And just like that, the Maid takes off for Robert E. Lee’s Virginia, elbows the old guy aside, and knocks Grant clear out of the South into Maryland. Next she collars Jeff and drags him to New York to crown him President, not just of the Confederacy, but of all North America, including Canada. Along the way, she waves in passing at a handful of Union armies, but they are so understandably baffled to see her, that they politely bow out of her way.
After twelve months of this willful, crazy wandering, the Maid heads for Washington DC, determined once and for all to set things to right. Except that Jeff, bored with her non-stop, self-righteous God-prattle and determined to get back to his carousing and womanizing ways, lets her fall into British hands. For a handful of empty promises, the famously perfidious Brits sell her onward to Abe Lincoln.
Abe despises pants suits on a woman so vehemently that he burns the Maid at the stake. The rest of the South is so incensed at Abe’s inferno, that they arise in a great mass, drive out the British, and, once and for all time, conquer the North. Everyone lives happily ever after, except Maid Jeanne and the slaves who toil in the fields where she caught her first psychotic message.
But of course, it never could have happened in America…