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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 16 Jan 1996 23:00:09 -0500
Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
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For those who expressed interest in Mark Twains role in the Civil War and the
controversy that arose 70 years later on the floors of Congress I offer this
abbreviated synopsis of research that I did on the subject.
    "At the time the MT Memorial Stamp was issued (1935), the question arose
in Congress whether Harford, CT or Hannibal, MO should sell the first covers.
Representative Shannon of Kansas City, in a speech which he circulated over
the state, asserted heatedly that Missouri wanted none of the of the honor;
that if Sam Clemens had not been a 'slecker' he would have stayed in Missouri
to fight for the Confederacy instead of running away to California." From
"The Art Humor, and Humanity of Mark Twain", by Brashear and Rodney 1959.
After reading that book and Twains well known pseudo-autobiographical story
"The Private History of a Campaign that Failed" I was intrigued to check out
the details. The private history story was originally written as an
anti-heroic entry to the Century magazines "Battles and Leaders" series. It
is a satirical Tom Sawyerish account of a group of untrained, undisciplined,
local boys who banded together to repel the invading union forces. )In fact
the original story is illustrated by E. W. Kemble.) When they accomplish
killing an unidentified union soldier Twain's campaign was spoiled, "It
seemed to me that I was not rightly equipped for this awful business...I
resolved to retire from this avocation of sham soldiership while I could save
some remnant of my self-respect." The story is is the only detailed account
that Clemens ever offered of his war experience. Was Twain really a "slecker"
as reported by Congressman Shannon or was this an "inconsequential interlude"
in the long life of the author as described by Paine? Did he simply leave the
army to go west with his brother Orion in search of gold as others have said?
In fact half of the "Marion Rangers" apparently left at the same time that
Clemens did. There are no known letters or notes written by him during his
enlistment in the Southern cause. There are numerous letters and notebooks
from his Mississippi piloting and his Western travels but these intervening
three or four weeks are essentially barren. Sources that I found to give
accounting to his activities are many minor references to this period in
newspaper articles and biographical sketches. Some are inconsistent and only
cause more confusion that they eliminate. I refer those interested to Paine's
biography chapters XXIX to XXXI and a book by Absalom Grimes who served with
Twain during the war. ("Absalom Grimes, Confederate Mail Runner")
Unfortunately a careful reading of that book , written in Grimes' later years
upon prompting from his daughter, leaves one with the impression of someone
trying to capitalize on his association with the famous author. It has to be
noted that Twain was in no way famous at the time of the war and for Grimes
to have paid attention to Twains actions more than anyone else in the group
is unlikely. Paine's account is also suspect. It appears to rely in large
part on the campaign story and the account of Grimes. The evidence at least
does support that Clemens' actions were not one of a coward who left while
all the others stayed. The situation in a border state like Missouri was
difficult. Even Clemens' family was split as to which side was in the right.
Clemens left when it appeared that there was no hope of accomplishing
anything with the militia. There are many others who acted the same way he
did; some went on to re-enlist in more disciplined outfits while some who had
the opportunity to leave and lead a more exciting life did so.
  This posting summarizes some Twain's civil war experience. I do have
available quite a few other details on this but I hesitate to lengthen this
all ready ponderous email. There is the whole other side to this story-what
happened in Congress when the north and south squared off against each other
again to refight the war with Twain as the central figure. I have
correspondence from quite a few people from Hannibal who were involved in the
Twain stamp's first day of issue festivities and from James A. Farley (long
deceased) who was the Postmaster General at that time. If there is interest I
would be willing to summarize that interesting story. Or I could post the
references to the Congressional Record  insertions regarding this. Hope this
helped those who expressed interest to me. Long ago I thought of putting all
this together and try to publish it but I never got around to it. But  I
believe Twain himself recommended...Do not put off till tomorrow what can be
put off till day-after tomorrow just as well....Dave Neuburger