Samuel Clemens and the Civil War, Part 1: “A Private History of a Campaign That Failed”

He was of an age eligible for military service when the War Between the States broke out. What side did Samuel Clemens fight for?

Anyone familiar with his writing knows that Mark Twain had a strong emotional side. He was often cynical and never more so than in Letters From the Earth, which was published after he died. However, that shows exactly what I mean, for a cynic is just an eternally disappointed, unbroken idealist.

What exactly did a terrible civil war mean to this intelligent, emotional, 20-something who had been born to a slave-owning family in a border state, with a fiery abolitionist for a brother?

I wonder how accurate the PBS account is in their suggestion that the war ultimately led to Clemens becoming Mark Twain.

There’s no time to research it for this week, but while looking around I did learn that Clemens wrote an account of his brief service in the Missouri militia during the war: “A Private History of a Campaign That Failed.”

Even though partially fictionalized, it contains a big part of the answer.

Here is a video that some Ohio University students made of it in 2011. (Be aware that just because this is by Mark Twain and student-made does not mean it’s family friendly or humorous. Clemens [Henry in the story] was deadly serious about an experience in 1861 that changed his whole life. There is a lot of foul language including the F-bomb and the N-word, violence, implied homicide and suicide, moments of extreme tension, and the whole thing is one long very adult situation in which carefree youths have to quickly grow up. It’s also a very, very good story.)

Hard to believe he went from that to eventually publishing Grant’s memoirs.

Samuel Clemens followed an interesting path through exciting times, and next week, I’ll be back with a more in-depth look at it all.

Categories: American Civil War, American history, Random thoughts, War and writers

Tags: , , ,

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