Discovering the Civil War through America’s First Rock Star

By Alex Andrioli ’18

He was rebellious, had attitude, and invented the iconic American sense of humor. He had a knack for addressing issues of his day with a simple eloquence that can be translated to fit our modern times. He made his claim to fame in 1865 and the world has known his name ever since. He wasn’t just an American, he was the American. His name was Mark Twain.

We remember him today as the riverboat captain-turned-humorist that authored the classic American novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but few know that before his fame he served as a Confederate soldier for a whopping two weeks during the American Civil War in 1861. But the war wasn’t just black and white, right and wrong, or Union versus Confederacy for Twain. His loyalties were split in twain, just like his identity in future years.

In this photo, Samuel Clemens (circa 1859, around 23 years old) appears as he would have during his two weeks of service in the Confederate army in 1861. Photo via Smithsonian Magazine.
In this photo, Samuel Clemens (circa 1859, around 23 years old) appears as he would have during his two weeks of service in the Confederate army in 1861. Photo via Smithsonian Magazine.

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“I’m not embarrassed. Are you?”: The friendship of Ulysses S. Grant and Mark Twain

by Tricia Runzel, ’13 ???And in still one more cradle, somewhere under the flag, the future illustrious Commander-in-Chief of the American armies is so little burdened with his approaching grandeurs and responsibilities as to be giving his whole str…

By Tricia Runzel ’13

“And in still one more cradle, somewhere under the flag, the future illustrious Commander-in-Chief of the American armies is so little burdened with his approaching grandeurs and responsibilities as to be giving his whole strategic mind at this moment to trying to find out some way to get his big toe into his mouth – an achievement which, meaning no disrespect, the illustrious guest of this evening turned his entire attention to some fifty-six years ago; and if the child is but a prophecy of the man, there are mighty few who will doubt that he succeeded.” – Mark Twain, 1879 Reunion of the Army of the Tennessee

With those words, Mark Twain concluded his toast entitled “The Babies.” Silence descended on the Chicago ballroom where the reunited Union soldiers of the Army of the Tennessee held their collective breath as they looked for the reaction of the “illustrious guest” of honor – General Ulysses S. Grant. Both then and now, the former Union general and President of the United States was seen as a man with carefully controlled emotions.

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