Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Cofield on Oxford — The "Colonel" And The General

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My old grandfather Cofield was a true-to-life character. He came to Oxford in 1928, from Georgia. And, because during the Civil War the Union Army had burned down half of Georgia and everything any of the Cofields had, he hated the Yankee Army.
He had a grandfather and host of uncles listed in the 1860 census as gentleman. The two left in the 1870 census were listed as paupers. He didn’t hate Lincoln, black people, the North in general or even General Sherman. Just the loathsome Yankee Army. So…one day a guy from West Point Military Academy in New York called Granddaddy.
The man wanted a large photograph of William Faulkner. West Point was proud of their connection to Faulkner and wanted to hang a portrait. But Mr. Faulkner refused to sit for a painting, or even a photo session with a portrait photographer. He told them to call Cofield in Oxford. They were offering top dollar.
Granddaddy couldn’t hear very well and at first he didn’t understand that the guy was not in West Point, Mississippi. But when he ‘got it’…he cut loose on the poor guy…for burning down their farm in Georgia a hundred years ago. Told the guy that he wasn’t giving any kind of aid to the damn Yankee Army, and don’t ever call him again! Hung up.
The Army sent a couple of very diplomatically worded letters asking for help. He ripped them up. Then an indignant Colonel called and got cussed out. Then a General called. The General was smooth, but still there would be no Cofield Yankee Army aid forthcoming. Then the story went all the way back down the chain of cussings-out and landed on the desk of two ROTC kids at Ole Miss.
Dad laughed for 15 minutes when the two students ended up on the other side of his desk at the Ole Miss Public Relations office trying to explain that General Somebody in Washington wasn’t laughing at all. He gave them instructions and sent ‘em on down to the studio.
Granddad was absolutely delighted that his portrait would hang at Robert E. Lee’s old alma mater, in the Georgia Room (there is no such thing). He printed the portrait and the ROTC guys were excited beyond words to have secured it.
He didn’t send a bill, but a year and a half later a check from the Yankee Army showed up for $200. Real good money in those days. Granddad ripped it up. Said he wasn’t taking their money now, it was too damn late!
Courtesy of John Cofield, a hottytoddy.com writer and one of Oxford’s leading folk historians. He is the son of renowned university photographer Jack Cofield. His grandfather, “Col.” J. R. Cofield, was William Faulkner’s personal photographer and for decades was Ole Miss yearbook photographer. Cofield attended Ole Miss as well. Contact John at johnbcofield@gmail.com.

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