Tag Archives: Mark Twain

Mark Twain’s First & Last Combat in the Civil War vs US Grant

From Duty, Honor, Country, a Novel of West Point & the Civil War

14 July 1861, Florida, Missouri

“Florida contained but one hundred people when I was born here twenty-six years ago and I increased the town’s population by one percent.  This is more than many of the best men in history could have done for a town.”

The speaker held an old smoothbore musket in sweaty hands, and he licked his upper lip nervously, a bushy black mustache adorning the space between mouth and nose.

“Now ya get the chance to defend your town from the Yankees, Sam,” the man next to him said.

Both men were dressed in civilian clothes, dirty from weeks spent foraging and traveling to and fro across Missouri following the orders of confused and amateur officers.  How they’d ended up here was pure chance, the vagaries of war.  It was early morning, and the dew had yet to be burned away by the mid-July heat.  It was the most comfortable time of the day and would soon be gone.

“I did leave when I was four, though, so I have no particular fondness for the place,” Samuel Clemens noted.

“Aint much to it,” his friend agreed as they took in the muddy lane that ran through the small cluster of cabins.  The two guards held a position just south of the hamlet where the road peaked a knoll, so they could see in both directions.  “Why the devil does this Union Colonel want this place?”

“Probably same reason we’re standing here,” Clemens said.  “Someone told him to.”

Behind the two pickets, in a trampled cornfield, a cluster of makeshift shelters and men rolled in blankets constituted the small unit sent to defend Florida, Missouri from the Union incursion.  It consisted of Clemens’ own group, the self-named Marions Rangers, and other bands of men that could not quite be called a company of light infantry, although they would agree on the light:  light on weapons, light on food and light on discipline.

Hush.”  Clemens turned his head, listening.  “Riders coming.”  He tapped his partner on the shoulder.  “Best get the Colonel.”

*****

As a side note:  The Union force approaching Floriday, Missouri, was the 21st Illinois commanded by Colonel U.S. Grant.  It was Grant’s first time leading troops into combat.  Years after the war, destitute from a ponzi scheme and dying, Grant finally acceded to Twain’s request to publish his memoirs.  It became the #1 bestselling nonfiction book of the 19th Century and insured Grant’s family future.

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Why was U.S. Grant known as Unconditional Surrender Grant?

During the early days of the Civil War, the Union was on its heels. The South had won at First Bull Run (of course, at the time they thought it was going to be the only Bull Run battle).  Then an unknown Union general in the west seized Fort Henry and Fort Donelson and the entire tenor changed.  When the Confederate commander at Fort Donelson, General Simon Bolivar Buckner, West Point 1844, asked for terms, Grant sent back his infamous “unconditional surrender” letter.  It was so famous, Mark Twain carried a copy with him the rest of this life.  And Mark Twain had a role to play in my novel, Duty, Honor, Country and also later, in Grant’s life, but that’s another blog post.

But where did Grant get the idea?  Perhaps, what if this happened:

“Is it not true that Lucius Rumble, now a private in the Army, resigned to take responsibility for the very event which you now lay at my doorstep?” Cord asked.  “Is it not true that Mister King’s action brought about his dismissal?”

“Everyone knows—“ Lyon began, but Cord cut him off.

“Everyone knows nothing.  Has Lucius Rumble made a claim against me that you’re acting on?  Has Mister King?  I wish to know my accuser.”

“Your accuser is the Corps,” Lyon said.  He took a step closer.  “You options are limited, Mister Cord.  Resign.”

“I’m afraid I must disappoint you gentlemen,” Cord said.  “Although I am indeed guilty of several mistakes, I will never resign.”

Lyon and Buckner exchanged a glance.  Lyon took a few steps forward until he was right next to Cord.  He lowered his voice to a harsh whisper.  “You bring disgrace on all of us with your lack of honor.  Do the right thing.”

“You equate right with honor?” Cord asked.  He shook his head.  “Never.”

Lyon stepped back and raised his voice.  “Then you must face the wrath of the Corps and experience the ‘Silence’.  No one will speak to you or acknowledge you.  You will not exist.”

Cord stood fast as the four cadets in the back row began to remove their full dress coats.  Lyon and Buckner stayed back as the four approached, spreading out.  Still, Cord made no move to defend himself.  When they charged, he stood still, arms down.

The beating was quick and vicious.  For half a minute they pummeled, but then the attackers slowed their fists, disconcerted by the lack of defense offered.  A blow to the side of the head dropped Cord to his knees, blood pouring from cuts on his face.  His lip was split, his nose broken anew.  One of the attackers swung his boot, catching Cord in the chest and a rib cracked, causing him to double over in pain.

The four cadets stepped back, fists bruised and covered in Cord’s blood, but otherwise unmarked.

Cord slowly straightened, then staggered to his feet.  He attempted his trademark smile, causing more blood to flow from his lip.  “Is that all you have to offer me?”

“You must resign,” Simon Bolivar Buckner said.  “That is unconditional.”

“Is it now, Gentlemen?”  Everyone turned to the door where Sam Grant stood, wearing dress gray and the white sash of the cadet in charge of quarters.  Grant made a show of checking his pocket watch.  “Unconditional, Mister Buckner?  I do believe there are cadets in this room who are absent quarters after evening reveille.”

“Grant,” Lyon said, “mind your business.”

“This is my business,” Grant said.  “But I am a lenient man.  If you depart now, I won’t have to write this up or summon the cadet officer of the day, Cadet Dent.  Whose room, I believe, this is.”

Lyon pointed at Cord.  “He’s been ‘Silenced’.”

And who do you think delivers Grant’s Unconditional Surrender note to Buckner at Fort Donelson so many years later?

A new blog post every day leading up to the 150th Anniversary of the start of the Civil War on April 12th and the publication of Duty, Honor, Country, a Novel of West Point & the Civil War, the first in my series.

Tomorrow:  George Pickett leading the most successful charge—of the Mexican War