By Mark Twain; Edited and with an Introduction by Benjamin Griffin; Illustrations by E. W. Kemble
From the Mark Twain Project comes a freshly informed look at Twain’s controversial Civil War story “The Private History of a Campaign That Failed.” Twenty years after Appomattox, Twain published a highly fictionalized account of his two-week stint in the Confederate Army. Ostensibly this told what he did (or, in his own words, why he “didn’t do anything”) in the war; but the article was criticized as disingenuous, and it did little to address a growing curiosity about the nature of his brief military service. The complex political situation in Missouri during the early months of the war and Twain’s genius for transforming life into fiction have tended to obstruct historical understanding of “The Private History”; interpretations of Samuel Clemens’s enthusiastic enlistment, sedulous avoidance of combat, and abandonment of the rebellion have ranged from condemnation to celebration. Aided by Twain’s notes and correspondence—transcribed and published here for the first time—Benjamin Griffin of UC Berkeley’s Mark Twain Project offers a new and cogent analysis, particularly of Clemens’s multiple revisions of his own war experience. A necessity for any Twain bookshelf, Mark Twain’s Civil War sheds light on a great writer’s changeable and challenging position on the deadliest of American conflicts.