_ Confederate Bushwhacker: Mark Twain in the Shadow of the Civil War_. By
Jerome Loving. University Press of New England, 2013. Pp. xv + 243.
Hardcover. $27.95. ISBN 978-61158-465-0.
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Jerome Loving, the author of the 2010 biography _Mark Twain: The Adventures
of Samuel L. Clemens_, focuses on a single year in his latest book
_Confederate Bushwhacker_. Loving calls 1885 Samuel Clemens's "annus
mirabilis" or "year of wonder." At the height of his success, Clemens's
annual income was estimated at $285,000. By comparison, his close friend and
confidant William Dean Howells was taking in about $12,000 annually, while
the annual wage for the American laborer was only $400. Drawing from an
abundance of secondary sources, Loving examines the economic, social, and
political culture of America in 1885 with Samuel Clemens at center stage.
By January 1885, Clemens had published _Adventures of Huckleberry Finn_ and
portions of the novel were being serialized in _Century_ magazine. He was
engaged in a speaking tour north of the Mason-Dixon line with George
Washington Cable, whose essay "The Freedman's Case in Equity" also appeared
in the January 1885 edition of _Century_. Cable's support of social equality
for blacks had gained him unpopular notoriety throughout the post war South.
William Dean Howells's novel _The Rise of Silas Lapham_ was also being
serialized in _Century_. Loving discusses the parallels between Howells's
character Silas Lapham, a man faced with an economic and moral dilemma, and
Samuel Clemens. In 1885 American politics focused on continuing
reconciliation between the North and South while social and political civil
rights for black people continued to be a controversial back-burner issue.
General Ulysses S. Grant, a man of mythic proportions who had saved the
Union from dissolution, was dying and Clemens's publishing firm of Webster
and Company had secured the lucrative contract to publish his memoirs. In a
non-chronological narrative and a series of short chapters, Loving puts
together a picture of Samuel Clemens as a man forced to face up to his own
role in the Civil War.
Loving's book begins with a prelude flashback to October 7, 1877, when
Clemens made his first public statement regarding his two week participation
in an informal Missouri state militia of rag-tag civilian soldiers.
Clemens's speech was short and flippant and he claimed "We couldn't really
tell which side we were on" (p. 2). Loving discusses the divided loyalties
and confusion that the citizens of Missouri, including Clemens, experienced.
The governor of Missouri favored the South, but the state ultimately
remained in the Union, "though it became the scene of guerilla warfare
throughout the conflict" (p. 108).
Flashing forward seven years later, in November 1884 _Century_ magazine
began a series of memoirs "Battles and Leaders" of the Civil War. The series
featured essays from both Union soldiers like General Grant and Confederate
officers. Clemens and Cable were two of several authors invited to
contribute their own war memoirs to the series.
Loving recounts the mental anguish Clemens likely endured at the thought of
publicly confessing in print his behavior at a time when "what you did in
the war did matter" (p. 144). He speculates that Clemens was invited to
contribute to the series because he had become "part of the inner circle of
the great general [Grant], whose legacy many thought nearly beyond
comprehension" (p. 85). The invitation to Clemens was issued in the spring
of 1885 by _Century_ editor Robert Underwood Johnson. Clemens's attention
for completing such an essay was diverted due to the time he was giving to
arranging Grant's own memoirs. After Grant's death in July, letters
exchanged between Johnson and Clemens that summer indicate that the essay
was not completed because Clemens's wife Livy had vetoed it "in its present
shape" (p. 107). Clemens looked for a way to avoid the assignment. He
suggested it be eliminated from the magazine altogether and be included only
in the collected multi volume edition of the _Century_ essays planned for
publication in 1887. He wrote Johnson:
"If it went only into the book, he would hope that 'its defects might be
lost in the smoke and thunder of the big guns all around it . . .; but in
the narrower and peacefuller field of the magazine I think myself it will
look like mighty poor weak stuff'" (p. 139).
In spite of his reluctance, Mark Twain's "The Private History of a Campaign
That Failed" was published in the December 1885 _Century_. The essay is
filled with humor and almost comical illustrations by Edward Kemble who had
illustrated _Huckleberry Finn_ the year before. However, the essay takes a
dark gut-wrenching twist when Clemens provides details of his helping to
kill an unarmed man in civilian clothes who was mistaken for an enemy
soldier. Clemens focuses on the guilt he felt over the man's death and his
ultimate decision to drop out of the war. His critics viewed the killing of
the stranger as evidence that "Twain had been a bushwhacker in the guerilla
warfare that consumed Missouri during the war" (p. 180). The description of
Mark Twain as a "Confederate bushwhacker" is still used today as evidenced
by the title of Loving's book.
The essay never appeared in the _Century_ collected edition of 1887. Loving
speculates, "more serious heads wisely found it lacking the dignity of the
other essays" (p. 139). However, Loving establishes the essay as "possibly
the very first antiwar statement in the annals of American literature,
preceding Crane's _The Red Badge of Courage_ by ten years" (p. 148).
Emphasizing the influence of Mark Twain's essay on Stephen Crane, Loving
"Young Stephen Crane, on his way to writing _The Red Badge of Courage_, read
many of the essays in the _Century_ series (which had doubled the magazine's
circulation.) He was looking not simply for facts but the human element that
Grant and his compatriots carefully left out. The _Century_ authors, Crane
complained, never wrote of 'how they _felt_ in those scraps. They spout
enough of what they _did_, but they're emotionless as rocks.' 'The thought
shot through me,' Twain had written in _his_ essay on the killing of the
stranger, 'that I was a murderer.' Twain's 'The Private History' may have
been the one essay in 'Battles and Leaders' that revealed the emotion Crane
sought for his novel" (p. 186).
While Mark Twain's essay may have been the inspiration for Stephen Crane,
other notable American writers published antiwar poems and essays which
predate "The Private History of a Campaign That Failed." James Russell
Lowell's _The Bigelow Papers_ was published in 1848 and Henry David
Thoreau's "Resistance to Civil Government" first appeared in 1849. Both were
responses to the Mexican-American War. Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Chiefly About
War Matters" in _Atlantic Monthly_ in July 1862 may also be categorized as
an antiwar statement. Which writers may have influenced Clemens in 1885 as
he struggled to write a Civil War essay--one that his wife Livy would
approve--is a topic for further study and one that Loving does not examine.
Toward the end of 1885 Clemens's attention shifted from black slavery issues
to labor issues and controversies surrounding Native Americans. Loving's
final chapter steps out of 1885 and into 1886 when Clemens was writing _A
Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court_, a book heavily influenced by the
events of 1885. According to Loving, "there were three victims of the
American Dream to worry about in the 1880s--the freedmen, the wage slaves,
and the Indians..." (p. 206). Loving finds that by 1886 "Mark Twain had
already given up the optimism of his greatest book [_Huckleberry Finn_] and
fallen into the pessimism of _A Connecticut Yankee_ (p. 215).
It is always dangerous for an author to issue broad statements of absolute
facts and Loving does miscalculate with his statement "Every other work of
fiction he published after _Huckleberry Finn_ ...concludes in a dark web of
determinism" (p. 19). However, in 1899 Clemens did write a story with a
miraculous happy ending titled "The Death Disk." Published in _Harper's
Magazine_ in December 1901, the story was made into a silent film in 1909.
Establishing the truth of Samuel Clemens's activities in the Civil War as
revealed in "The Private History of a Campaign That Failed" has bedeviled
scholars for decades. Fred Lorch published a study on the topic in 1940 in
_American Literature_. John Gerber published his study in 1955 in _Civil War
History_. James M. Cox in _Mark Twain: The Fate of Humor_ (1966) devoted a
chapter to the essay and Loving's current book is dedicated to Cox. In _The
Short Works of Mark Twain: A Critical Study_ (2001) Peter Messent features a
chapter on the essay incorporating many of the viewpoints of the earlier
Loving's book is the third book published since 2007 that has a strong focus
on "The Private History of a Campaign That Failed." _Mark Twain's Civil War_
(2007) by David Rachels features complete reprints of Mark Twain's Civil War
related speeches and essays as well as a biographical account by Absalom
Grimes titled "Campaigning with Mark Twain." Loving reprints only two
complete texts: Clemens's 1877 speech in which he made his first public
reference to his participation in the Civil War and "The Private History of
a Campaign That Failed." However, Rachel's book features Kemble's
illustrations that accompanied the _Century_ publication. Loving's book
contains no illustrations or photographs. The lack of illustrations is a
hindrance when Loving discusses their utilization.
_The Reconstruction of Mark Twain: How a Confederate Bushwhacker Became the
Lincoln of Our Literature_ (2010) by Joe Fulton devotes one chapter to "The
Private History of a Campaign That Failed." However, Loving and Fulton
differ in their initial reaction to the truthfulness of the story. Loving
immediately dismisses the majority of the essay as a work of fiction. He
relies on biographer Albert Bigelow Paine's 1912 assertion that the killing
of an unarmed soldier "was invented, of course, to present the real horror
of war" (Loving, p. 222). Paine's 1912 account of Mark Twain's Civil War
activity was based on the Absalom Grimes memoir that was written and
published after Clemens's death. Some scholars have questioned Grimes's
memory and version of events. Fulton is not so quick to dismiss Mark Twain's
version as entirely fiction. Fulton writes:
"One cannot know for certain what Sam's experiences were during his brief
service to the Confederacy, or what he might have become had he not
deserted. Still, it is profoundly naive to dismiss the Missouri Militias
that formed around Hannibal as enjoying 'a little camping-out expedition and
a good time,' as Albert B. Paine, Clemens's biographer, once did" (Fulton,
The veracity of "The Private History of a Campaign That Failed" and how its
composition reflected or changed Samuel Clemens's outlook on life as
expressed through his subsequent literature will continue to be debated
among scholars. Loving's study focuses on the broader picture of America in
the shadow of the Civil War and how Samuel Clemens stepped out of it to
deliver his own story. Whether all the details of Clemens's story are true
or not may never be known.