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Mark Twain's Civil War

Mark Twain's Civil War

Mark Twain
Edited by David Rachels
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Mark Twain's Civil War
    Book Description:

    When the Civil War halted steamboat travel on the Mississippi River in 1861, an unemployed riverboat pilot named Samuel Clemens enlisted in the Missouri militia. After two weeks of service, Clemens abandoned his post and fled westward to begin a writing career -- a turn of events that precipitated the rise to fame of the man who would become known as Mark Twain. The circumstances surrounding his departure are unclear; some view Twain as a deserter, while others call into question the nature of his commitment from the beginning. Twain defended himself in speeches and in print, offering varying accounts -- with varying degrees of truth -- of his confusion upon enrollment, his ignorance of the moral and political forces behind the war, and his claim to have killed a man while hiding in a corncrib. Regardless of the reason for his desertion, his personal experiences and the Civil War in general are recurring topics in Twain's speeches, fiction, and nonfiction. In addition to broaching the issue in longer works, such as Life on the Mississippi and The Gilded Age, Twain directly addresses it in shorter pieces such as "The Private History of a Campaign That Failed" and "A Curious Experience." Editor David Rachels unites these selections in Mark Twain's Civil War, offering Twain fans and Civil War scholars the unprecedented opportunity to read the entire array of Twain's Civil War-influenced literature in one volume. In addition to Twain's own pieces, Rachels includes an account of Twain's war career by his official biographer as well as a story by Absalom C. Grimes, a Confederate mail runner who claims to have served with Twain early in the war. An introduction by Rachels completes the text, which analyzes Twain's military stint and assesses the war's profound influence on one of America's most celebrated authors.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-2671-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[vi])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    On January 24, 1940, after New York Congressman Samuel Dickstein’s impassioned speech condemning Nazi atrocities against Polish Jews, talk in the U.S. House of Representatives turned to domestic matters. Representative William Jennings Miller of Connecticut took the floor to discuss the Famous Americans series of postage stamps. The first five stamps in the series were to honor authors. The first two, picturing Washington Irving and James Fenimore Cooper, would go on sale in five days. The Irving stamp would be sold first in Tarrytown, New York, where Irving had lived the final years of his life; the Cooper stamp would...

  4. Nonfiction

    • from Roughing It (1872)
      (pp. 21-28)

      The “flush times” held bravely on. Something over two years before, Mr. Goodman and another journeyman printer, had borrowed forty dollars and set out from San Francisco to try their fortunes in the new city of Virginia. They found theTerritorial Enterprise, a poverty-stricken weekly journal, gasping for breath and likely to die. They bought it, type, fixtures, good-will and all, for a thousand dollars, on long time. The editorial sanctum, news-room, press-room, publication office, bed-chamber, parlor, and kitchen were all compressed into one apartment and it was a small one, too. The editors and printers slept on the floor,...

    • Mark Twain’s First Civil War Autobiography (1877)
      (pp. 29-34)

      I wouldn’t have missed being here for a good deal. The last time I had the privilege of breaking bread with soldiers was some years ago, with the oldest military organization in England, the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of London, somewhere about its six hundredth anniversary; and now I have enjoyed this privilege with its eldest child, the oldest military organization in America, the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts, on this your two hundred and fortieth anniversary. Fine old stock, both of you—and if you fight as well as you feed, God protect the enemy.


    • from “Some Rambling Notes of an Idle Excursion” (1877)
      (pp. 35-36)

      The Reverend had been an army chaplain during the war, and while we were hunting for a road that would lead to Hamilton he told a story about two dying soldiers which interested me in spite of my feet. He said that in the Potomac hospitals rough pine coffins were furnished by government, but that it was not always possible to keep up with the demand; so, when a man died, if there was no coffin at hand he was buried without one. One night late, two soldiers lay dying in a ward. A man came in with a coffin...

    • from Life on the Mississippi (1883)
      (pp. 37-46)

      Talk began to run upon the war now, for we were getting down into the upper edge of the former battle-stretch by this time. Columbus was just behind us, so there was a good deal said about the famous battle of Belmont. Several of the boat’s officers had seen active service in the Mississippi war-fleet. I gathered that they found themselves sadly out of their element in that kind of business at first, but afterward got accustomed to it, reconciled to it, and more or less at home in it. One of our pilots had his first war experience in...

    • “The Private History of a Campaign That Failed” (1885)
      (pp. 47-78)

      You have heard from a great many people who did something in the war; is it not fair and right that you listen a little moment to one who started out to do something in it, but didn’t? Thousands entered the war, got just a taste of it, and then stepped out again, permanently. These, by their very numbers, are respectable, and are therefore entitled to a sort of voice,—not a loud one, but a modest one; not a boastful one, but an apologetic one. They ought not to be allowed much space among better people—people who did...

    • “An Author’s Soldiering” (1887)
      (pp. 79-82)

      You Union veterans of Maryland have prepared your feast and offered to me, a rebel veteran of Missouri, the wound-healing bread and salt of a gracious hospitality. Do you realize all the vast significance of the situation? Do you sense the whole magnitude of this conjunction, and perceive with what opulence of blessing for this nation it is freighted? What is it we are doing? Reflect! Upon this stage to-night we play the closing scene of the mightiest drama of modern times, and ring down, for good and all, the curtain raised at Sumter six-and-twenty years ago. The two grand...

    • “General Grant’s Grammar” (1887)
      (pp. 83-88)

      I will detain you with only just a few words—just a few thousand words; and then give place to a better man—if he has been created. Lately a great and honored author, Matthew Arnold, has been finding fault with General Grant’s English. That would be fair enough, may be, if the examples of imperfect English averaged more instances to the page in General Grant’s book than they do in Mr. Arnold’s criticism upon the book—but they don’t. (Laughter and applause.) It would be fair enough, may be, if such instances were commoner in General Grant’s book than...

    • “How Twain Saved the Union” (1901)
      (pp. 89-94)

      Two self-confessed Confederates—Samuel L. Clemens and Henry Watterson—paid a high tribute to Abraham Lincoln last evening. Incidentally the humorist told how both of them saved the Union, when Col. Watterson failed to follow the advice of Second Lieut. Twain and drive Gen. Grant across the country into the Pacific Ocean.

      It was the celebration of the ninety-second anniversary of the birthday of Lincoln, and was for the benefit of the Lincoln Memorial University at Cumberland Gap, Tenn. The boxes were crowded. High in the family circle were grouped over 500 singers, under the command of Frank Damrosch, and...

    • A Selection from Mark Twain’s Autobiographical Dictations (1907)
      (pp. 95-102)

      Republics have lived long, but monarchy lives forever. By our teaching, we learn that vast material prosperity always brings in its train conditions which debase the morals and enervate the manhood of a nation—then the country’s liberties come into the market and are bought, sold, squandered, thrown away, and a popular idol is carried to the throne upon the shields or shoulders of the worshiping people, and planted there in permanency. We are always being taught—no, formerly we were always being taught—to look at Rome, and beware. The teacher pointed to Rome’s stern virtue, incorruptibility, love of...

    • “The Soldier” (1912)
      (pp. 103-110)
      Albert Bigelow Paine

      Clemens spent a few days in St. Louis (in retirement, for there was a pressing war demand for Mississippi pilots), then went up to Hannibal to visit old friends. They were glad enough to see him, and invited him to join a company of gay military enthusiasts who were organizing to “help Gov. ‘Claib’ Jackson repel the invader.” A good many companies were forming in and about Hannibal, and sometimes purposes were conflicting and badly mixed. Some of the volunteers did not know for a time which invader they intended to drive from Missouri soil, and more than one company...

    • “Campaigning with Mark Twain” (1926)
      (pp. 111-128)
      Absalom C. Grimes

      I was born near Anchorage, Jefferson County, Kentucky, fourteen miles from Louisville, on August 22, 1834. Soon after this event my parents moved to St. Louis. My father, William Leander Grimes, was a pilot on the upper Mississippi River from St. Louis to Dubuque. He was employed on theWilliam Wallace, one of the first steamboats that navigated the upper Mississippi. This vessel belonged to Captain Absalom Carlisle, my mother’s uncle, for whom I was named.

      In the year 1850 I was employed as a messenger boy for the Morse Telegraph Company, whose only competitor in the St. Louis field...

  5. Fiction

    • “An Exchange of Prisoners” (1863)
      (pp. 131-136)

      “Every young man ought to enlist—everyone!”

      Letty Dallas flashed the blue light of her eyes, half smiling half scornful, upon Mr. St. Mayne as she spoke. A straight, lithe maiden, with black ripples of shining hair, and blue eyes, full of shadow, like late-blossomed violets, it was not in the nature of any male individual to endure her sprightly badinage unmoved. Yet Marcy St. Mayne only smiled as he stood quietly watching her.

      “Are you so very anxious to secure volunteers, Miss Letty?”

      “Anxious? of course I am! Come, Mr. St. Mayne, follow your brother’s example, and turn...

    • “Lucretia Smith’s Soldier” (1864)
      (pp. 137-144)

      On a balmy May morning in 1861, the little village of Bluemass, in Massachusetts, lay wrapped in the splendor of the newly-risen sun. Reginald de Whittaker, confidential and only clerk in the house of Bushrod & Ferguson, general dry goods and grocery dealers, and keepers of the Post-office, rose from his bunk under the counter and shook himself. After yawning and stretching comfortably, he sprinkled the floor and proceeded to sweep it. He had only half finished his task, however, when he sat down on a keg of nails and fell into a reverie. “This is my last day in this...

    • “The Facts in the Case of the Great Beef Contract” (1870)
      (pp. 145-156)

      In as few words as possible I wish to lay before the nation what share, howsoever small, I have had in this matter—this matter which has so exercised the public mind, engendered so much ill-feeling, and so filled the newspapers of both continents with distorted statements and extravagant comments.

      The origin of this distressful thing was this—and I assert here that every fact in the followingrésumécan be amply proved by the official records of the General Government:

      John Wilson Mackenzie, of Rotterdam, Chemung county, New Jersey, deceased, contracted with the General Government, on or about the...

    • from The Gilded Age (1873)
      (pp. 157-168)

      Eight years have passed since the death of Mr. Hawkins. Eight years are not many in the life of a nation or the history of a state, but they may be years of destiny that shall fix the current of the century following. Such years were those that followed the little scrimmage on Lexington Common. Such years were those that followed the double-shotted demand for the surrender of Fort Sumter. History is never done with inquiring of these years, and summoning witnesses about them, and trying to understand their significance.

      The eight years in America from 1860 to 1868 uprooted...

    • “A True Story, Repeated Word for Word as I Heard It” (1874)
      (pp. 169-178)

      It was summer time, and twilight. We were sitting on the porch of the farm-house, on the summit of the hill, and “Aunt Rachel” was sitting respectfully below our level, on the steps,—for she was our servant, and colored. She was of mighty frame and stature; she was sixty years old, but her eye was undimmed and her strength unabated. She was a cheerful, hearty soul, and it was no more trouble for her to laugh than it is for a bird to sing. She was under fire, now, as usual when the day was done. That is to...

    • “A Curious Experience” (1881)
      (pp. 179-212)

      This is the story which the Major told me, as nearly as I can recall it:

      In the winter of 1862–3, I was commandant of Fort Trumbull, at New London, Conn. May be our life there was not so brisk as life at “the front”; still it was brisk enough, in its way—one’s brains didn’t cake together there for lack of something to keep them stirring. For one thing, all the Northern atmosphere at that time was thick with mysterious rumors—rumors to the effect that rebel spies were flitting everywhere, and getting ready to blow up our...

  6. Coda: Battle Hymn of the Republic (Brought Down to Date) (c. 1900)
    (pp. 213-214)
  7. Notes
    (pp. 215-218)
  8. Sources
    (pp. 219-221)