The Boys’ Life of Mark Twain
by Paine

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XVIII. The Soldier

When he reached Hannibal, Samuel Clemens found a very mixed condition of affairs. The country was in an uproar of war preparation; in a border State there was a confusion of sympathies, with much ignorance as to what it was all about. Any number of young men were eager to enlist for a brief camping-out expedition, and small private companies were formed, composed about half-and-half of Union and Confederate men, as it turned out later.

Missouri, meantime, had allied herself with the South, and Samuel Clemens, on his arrival in Hannibal, decided that, like Lee, he would go with his State. Old friends, who were getting up a company “to help Governor `Claib’ Jackson repel the invader,” offered him a lieutenancy if he would join. It was not a big company; it had only about a dozen members, most of whom had been schoolmates, some of them fellow-pilots, and Sam Clemens was needed to make it complete. It was just another Tom Sawyer band, and they met in a secret place above Bear Creek Hill and planned how they would sell their lives on the field of glory, just as years before fierce raids had been arranged on peach-orchards and melon- patches. Secrecy was necessary, for the Union militia had a habit of coming over from Illinois and arresting suspicious armies on sight. It would humiliate the finest army in the world to spend a night or two in the calaboose.

So they met secretly at night, and one mysterious evening they called on girls who either were their sweethearts or were pretending to be for the occasion, and when the time came for good-by the girls were invited to “walk through the pickets” with them, though the girls didn’t notice any pickets, because the pickets were calling on their girls, too, and were a little late getting to their posts.

That night they marched, through brush and vines, because the highroad was thought to be dangerous, and next morning arrived at the home of Colonel Ralls, of Ralls County, who had the army form in dress parade and made it a speech and gave it a hot breakfast in good Southern style. Then he sent out to Col. Bill Splawn and Farmer Nuck Matson a requisition for supplies that would convert this body of infantry into cavalry– rough-riders of that early day. The community did not wish to keep an army on its hands, and were willing to send it along by such means as they could spare handily. When the outfitting was complete, Lieutenant Samuel Clemens, mounted on a small yellow mule whose tail had been trimmed in the paint-brush pattern then much worn by mules, and surrounded by variously attached articles–such as an extra pair of cowhide boots, a pair of gray blankets, a home-made quilt, a frying-pan, a carpet-sack, a small valise, an overcoat, an old-fashioned Kentucky rifle, twenty yards of rope, and an umbrella–was a fair sample of the brigade.

An army like that, to enjoy itself, ought to go into camp; so it went over to Salt River, near the town of Florida, and took up headquarters in a big log stable. Somebody suggested that an army ought to have its hair cut, so that in a hand-to-hand conflict the enemy could not get hold of it. There was a pair of sheep-shears in the stable, and Private Tom Lyons acted as barber. They were not sharp shears, and a group of little darkies gathered from the farm to enjoy the torture.

Regular elections were now held–all officers, down to sergeants and orderlies, being officially chosen. There were only three privates, and you couldn’t tell them from officers. The discipline in that army was very bad.

It became worse soon. Pouring rain set in. Salt River rose and overflowed the bottoms. Men ordered on picket duty climbed up into the stable-loft and went to bed. Twice, on black, drenching nights, word came from the farmhouse that the enemy, commanded by a certain Col. Ulysses Grant, was in the neighborhood, and the Hannibal division went hastily slopping through mud and brush in the other direction, dragging wearily back when the alarm was over. Military ardor was bound to cool under such treatment. Then Lieutenant Clemens developed a very severe boil, and was obliged to lie most of the day on some hay in a horse- trough, where he spent his time denouncing the war and the mistaken souls who had invented it. When word that “General” Tom Harris, commander of the district–formerly telegraph-operator in Hannibal–was at a near-by farm-house, living on the fat of the land, the army broke camp without further ceremony. Halfway there they met General Harris, who ordered them back to quarters. They called him familiarly “Tom,” and told him they were through with that camp forever. He begged them, but it was no use. A little farther on they stopped at a farm-house for supplies. A tall, bony woman came to the door.

“You’re Secesh, ain’t you?”

Lieutenant Clemens said: “We are, madam, defenders of the noble cause, and we should like to buy a few provisions.”

The request seemed to inflame her.

“Provisions!” she screamed. “Provisions for Secesh, and my husband a colonel in the Union Army. You get out of here!”

She reached for a hickory hoop-pole [5] that stood by the door, and the army moved on. When they reached the home of Col. Bill Splawn it was night and the family had gone to bed. So the hungry army camped in the barn-yard and crept into the hay-loft to sleep. Presently somebody yelled “Fire!” One of the boys had been smoking and had ignited the hay.

Lieutenant Clemens, suddenly wakened, made a quick rotary movement away from the blaze, and rolled out of a big hay-window into the barn-yard below. The rest of the brigade seized the burning hay and pitched it out of the same window. The lieutenant had sprained his ankle when he struck, and his boil was still painful, but the burning hay cured him– for the moment. He made a spring from under it; then, noticing that the rest of the army, now that the fire was out, seemed to think his performance amusing, he rose up and expressed himself concerning the war, and military life, and the human race in general. They helped him in, then, for his ankle was swelling badly.

In the morning, Colonel Splawn gave the army a good breakfast, and it moved on. Lieutenant Clemens, however, did not get farther than Farmer Nuck Matson’s. He was in a high fever by that time from his injured ankle, and Mrs. Matson put him to bed. So the army left him, and presently disbanded. Some enlisted in the regular service, North or South, according to preference. Properly officered and disciplined, that “Tom Sawyer” band would have made as good soldiers as any.

Lieutenant Clemens did not enlist again. When he was able to walk, he went to visit Orion in Keokuk. Orion was a Union Abolitionist, but there would be no unpleasantness on that account. Samuel Clemens was beginning to have leanings in that direction himself.

[5] In an earlier day, barrel hoops were made of small hickory trees, split and shaved. The hoop-pole was a very familiar article of commerce, and of household defense.


Preface  •  I. The Family of John Clemens  •  II. The New Home, and Uncle John Quarles’s Farm  •  IV. Education Out of School  •  V. Tom Sawyer and His Band  •  VI. Closing School-Days  •  VII. The Apprentice  •  VIII. Orion’s Paper  •  IX. The Open Road  •  X. A Wind of Chance  •  XI. The Long Way to the Amazon  •  XII. Renewing an Old Ambition  •  XIII. Learning the River  •  XIV. River Days  •  XV. The Wreck of the “Pennsylvania”  •  XVI. The Pilot  •  XVII. The End of Piloting  •  XVIII. The Soldier  •  XIX. The Pioneer  •  XX. The Miner  •  XXI. The Territorial Enterprise  •  XXII. “Mark Twain”  •  XXIII. Artemus Ward and Literary San Francisco  •  XXIV. The Discovery of “The Jumping Frog”  •  XXV. Hawaii and Anson Burlingame  •  XXVI. Mark Twain, Lecturer  •  XXVII. An Innocent Abroad, and Home Again  •  XXVIII. Olivia Langdon. Work on the “Innocents”  •  XXIX. The Visit to Elmira and Its Consequences  •  XXX. The New Book and a Wedding  •  XXXI. Mark Twain in Buffalo  •  XXXII. At Work on “Roughing It”  •  XXXIII. In England  •  XXXIV. A New Book and New English Triumphs  •  XXXV. Beginning “Tom Sawyer”  •  XXXVI. The New Home  •  XXXVII. “Old Times,” “Sketches,” And “Tom Sawyer”  •  XXXVIII. Home Pictures  •  XXXIX. Tramping Abroad  •  XL. “The Prince and the Pauper”  •  XLI. General Grant at Hartford  •  XLII. Many Investments  •  XLIII. Back to the River, With Bixby  •  XLIV. A Reading-Tour With Cable  •  XLV. “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”  •  XLVI. Publisher to General Grant  •  XLVII. The High-Tide of Fortune  •  XLVIII. Business Difficulties. Pleasanter Things  •  XLIX. Kipling at Elmira. Elsie Leslie. The “Yankee”  •  L. The Machine. Good-By to Hartford. “Joan” Is Begun  •  LI. The Failure of Webster & Co. Around the World. Sorrow  •  LII. European Economies  •  LIII. Mark Twain Pays His Debts  •  LIV. Return After Exile  •  LV. A Prophet At Home  •  LVI. Honored by Missouri  •  LVII. The Close of a Beautiful Life  •  LVIII. Mark Twain at Seventy  •  LIX. Mark Twain Arranges for His Biography  •  LX. Working With Mark Twain  •  LXI. Dictations at Dublin, N. H.  •  LXII. A New Era of Billiards  •  LXIII. Living With Mark Twain  •  LXIV. A Degree From Oxford  •  LXV. The Removal to Redding  •  LXVI. Life at Stormfield  •  LXVII. The Death of Jean  •  LXVIII. Days in Bermuda  •  LXIX. The Return to Redding  •  LXX. The Close of a Great Life

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