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Mark Twain's Civil War

Mark Twain

Publication Year: 2007

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.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Title, Photo

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pp. i-ii

Title Page

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pp. iii


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pp. iv


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pp. v-vi

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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...


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from Roughing It (1872)

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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 the Territorial Enterprise, a poverty-stricken weekly journal, gasping for breath...

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Mark Twain's First Civil War Autobiography (1877)

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pp. 29-33

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...

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from "Some Rambling Notes of an Idle Excursion" (1877)

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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...

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from Life on the Mississippi (1883)

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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...

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"The Private History of a Campaign That Failed" (1885)

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pp. 47-77

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,...

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"An Author's Soldiering" (1887)

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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?...

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"General Grant's Grammar" (1887)

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pp. 83-87

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...

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"How Twain Saved the Union" (1901)

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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...

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A Selection from Mark Twain's Autobiographical Dictations (1907)

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pp. 95-101

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...

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Albert Bigelow Paine, "The Soldier" (1912)

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pp. 103-109

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...

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Absalom C. Grimes, "Campaigning with Mark Twain" (1926)

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pp. 111-128

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 the William Wallace, one of the first steamboats that navigated the upper Mississippi. This...


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Anonymous, "An Exchange of Prisoners" (1863)

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pp. 131-136

"Every young man ought to enlist-every one!" 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...

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"Lucretia Smith's Soldier" (1864)

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pp. 137-143

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...

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"The Facts in the Case of the Great Beef Contract" (1870)

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pp. 145-155

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...

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from The Gilded Age (1873)

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pp. 157-167

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...

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"A True Story, Repeated Word for Word as I Heard It" (1874)

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pp. 169-177

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...

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"A Curious Experience" (1881)

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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...

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Coda: Battle Hymn of the Republic (Brought Down to Date) (c. 1900)

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pp. 213-214

In his later years, Mark Twain emerged as a vocal opponent of imperialism and imperialist greed, especially in the wake of the United States' acquisition of the Philippines following the Spanish-American War. Twain was especially galled by the blind patriotism with which citizens supported their governments in such endeavors. He saw patriotism as a "religion" that...


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pp. 215-217


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pp. 219-220

E-ISBN-13: 9780813126715
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813124742

Page Count: 232
Publication Year: 2007