Home | Quotations | Newspaper Articles | Special Features | Links | Search

The New York Times, October 7, 1877



Mr. Samuel L. Clemens was a guest at the dinner given the Boston Ancient and Honorable Artillery company in Hartford by the Putnam Phalanx of that city, and in responding to a toast said:

"I wouldn't have missed being here for a good deal. The last time I had the privilege of breaking bread with soldiers was some years ago, with the oldest military organization in England, the Ancient and Honourable Artillery Company of London, somewhere about its six-hundredth anniversary; and now I have enjoyed this privilege with its oldest child, the oldest military organization in America, the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts, on this your two hundred and fortieth anniversary. Fine old stock, both of you; and if you fight as well as you feed, God protect the enemy. I did not assemble at the hotel parlors today to be received by a committee as a mere civilian guest. No, I assembled at the head quarters of the Putnam Phalanx, and insisted upon my right to be escorted to this place as one of the military guests. For I, too, am a soldier. I am inured to war. I have a military history. I have been through a stirring campaign, and there is not even a mention of it in any history of the United States or of the Southern Confederacy. To such lengths can the envy and the malignity of the historian go. I will unbosom myself here, where I cannot but find sympathy. I will tell you about it, and appeal through you to justice. In the earliest summer days of the war, I slipped out of Hannibal, Mo., by night, with a friend, and joined a detachment of the rebel General Tom Harris' (I find myself in a great minority here) Army up a gorge behind an old barn in Ralls County. Colonel Ralls, of Mexican War celebrity, swore us in. He made us swear to uphold the flag and Constitution of the United States, and to destroy every other military organization that we caught doing the same thing, which, being interpreted, means that we were to repel invasion. Well, you see, this mixed us. We couldn't really tell which side we were on, but we went into camp and left it to the God of Battles. For that was the term then. I was made Second Lieutenant and Chief Mogul of a company of eleven men, who knew nothing about-war - nor anything, for we had no Captain. My friend, who was 19 years old, 6 feet high, 3 feet wide, and some distance through, and just out of the infant school, was made Orderly Sergeant. His name was Ben Tupper. He had a hard time. When he was mounted and on the march he used to go to sleep, and his horse would reach around and bite him on the leg, and then he would wake up and cry and curse, and want to go home. The other men pestered him a good deal, too. When they were dismounted they said they couldn't march in double file with him because his feet took up so much room. One night, when we were around the camp fire, some fellow on the outside in the cold said, 'Ben Tupper, put down that newspaper; it throws the whole place into twilight, and casts a shadow like a blanket.' Ben said, 'I ain't got any newspaper.' Then the other fellow said, 'Oh, I see - 'twas your ear!' We all slept in a corn crib, on the corn, and the rats were very thick. Ben Tupper had been carefully and rightly reared, and when he was ready for bed he would start to pray, and a rat would bite him on the heel. And then he would sit up and swear all night and keep everybody awake. He was town bred and did not seem to have any correct idea of military discipline. If I commanded him to shut up, he would say, 'Who was your nigger last year?' One evening I ordered him to ride out about three miles on picket duty, to the beginning of a prairie. Said he, 'What, in the night, and them blamed Union soldiers likely to be prowling around there any time?' So he wouldn't go, and the next morning I ordered him again. Said he, 'In the rain? I think I see myself!' He didn't go. Next day I ordered him on picket duty once more. This time he looked hurt. Said he: 'What! on Sunday; you must be a _____ fool.' Well, picketing might have been a very good thing, but I saw it was impracticable, so I dropped it from my military system. We had a good enough time there at that barn, barring the rats and the mosquitoes and the rain. We levied on both parties impartially, and both parties hated us impartially. But one day we heard that the invader was approaching, so we had to pack up and move, of course, and within 24 hours he was coming again. So we moved again. Next day he was after us once more. Well, we didn't like it much, but we moved, rather than make trouble. This went on for a week or 10 days more, and we saw considerable scenery. Then Ben Tupper's patience was lost. Said he, 'War is not what it's cracked up to be; I'm going home if I can't ever get a chance to sit down a minute. Why do these people keep us a humpin' around so? Blame their skins, do they think this is an excursion?'

"Some of the other town boys got to grumbling. They complained that there was an insufficiency of umbrellas. So I sent around to the farmers and borrowed what I could. Then they complained that the Worcestershire sauce was out. There was mutiny and dissatisfaction all around, and, of course, here came the enemy pestering us again - as much as two hours before breakfast, too, when nobody wanted to turn out, of course. This was a little too much. The whole command felt insulted. I detached one of my aides and sent him to the brigadier, and asked him to assign us a district where there wasn't so much bother going on. The history of our campaign was laid before him, but instead of being touched by it, what did he do? He sent back an indignant message and said: 'You have had a dozen chances inside of two weeks to capture the enemy, and he is still at large. (Well, we knew that! ) Stay where you are this time, or I will court-martial and hang the whole lot of you.' Well, I submitted this brutal message to my battalion, and asked their advice. Said the Orderly Sergeant, 'If Tom Harris wants the enemy, let him come and get him. I ain't got any use for my share, and who's Tom Harris anyway, I'd like to know, that's putting on so many frills? Why, I knew him when he wasn't nothing but a darn telegraph operator. Gentlemen, you can do as you choose; as for me, I've got enough of this sashaying around so's 't you can't get a chance to pray, because the time's all required for cussing, so off goes my war paint. You hear me!' The whole regiment said, with one voice, 'That's the talk for me.' So there and then, on the spot, my brigade disbanded itself and tramped off home, with me at the tail of it. I hung up my own sword and returned to the arts of peace, and there were people who said I hadn't been absent from them yet. We were the first men that went into the service in Missouri; we were the first that went out of it anywhere. This, gentlemen, is the history of the part which my division took in the great rebellion, and such is the military record of its Commander-in-Chief, and this is the first time that the deeds of those warriors have been brought officially to the notice of mankind. Treasure these things in your hearts, and so shall the detected and truculent historians of this land be brought to shame and confusion. I ask you to fill your glasses and drink with me to the reverent memory of the Orderly Sergeant and those other neglected and forgotten heroes, my footsore and travel-stained paladins, who were first in war, first in peace, and were not idle during the interval that lay between."

Return to The New York Times index

Quotations | Newspaper Articles | Special Features | Links | Search