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

[This article has been edited to include only pertinent references to Mark Twain's participation.]

The New York Times, June 9, 1881



HARTFORD, June 8. - The heavy rain-storm of Tuesday morning probably kept away many who expected to attend the twelfth annual reunion of the Society of the Army of the Potomac. The attendance, nevertheless, was fully up to the average, and the rain ceased so that the parade ceremonies were not interfered with, although the streets were muddy. The corps meetings took place at the Capitol at 10 o'clock, and while they were in progress the First Regiment, C.N.G., was reviewed by Gov. Bigelow, assisted by Gen. Sherman and members of his staff. It was intended to have Secretary of War Lincoln attend the review and participate in the parade, but by some oversight he received no invitation from the Governor, and finally made his way to the Opera house soon after noon. It consisted of the First Regiment, the Governor's Foot Guard, the Tibbitts Corps, of Troy; Grand Army posts from Philadelphia and Springfield, members of the Army and Navy Club of Connecticut, the members of the Army of the Potomac, and carriages containing the Governor, prominent soldiers, and disabled veterans. Gens. Burnside, Wright, Franklin, Slocum, McMahon, Miles and others, chose to march through the mud with their respective corps.

The banquet took place at 9 o'clock [P.M.]. At that hour the Society of the Army of the Potomac, the Army and Navy Club of Connecticut, and the invited guests, marched into Allyn Hall, which was elegantly decorated. The galleries and boxes were filled with ladies and gentlemen. The floor of the hall was occupied by tables with seats for about 400 persons. The whole interior of the hall presented a brilliant spectacle. A member of the Fifth Corps called for three cheers for the generous and patriotic citizens of Hartford. Grace was said by the Rev. J. H. Twichell, of this city. Soon after the company were seated, Secretary Lincoln and Gen. Sherman entered, and were greeted with enthusiastic applause by the soldiers and by the people in the galleries. Gen. H. G. Wright, President of the society, presided, Secretary Lincoln sitting at his immediate right, and Gen. Hawley and Gov. Bigelow at his left. Gens. Burnside, Sickles, Devens, Slocum, and other prominent Generals; Daniel Dougherty, ex-Gov. Jewell, Mark Twain, Mayor Bulkeley, Gov. Littlefield, of Rhode Island, and other invited guests, also occupied seats at this table, which extended nearly the entire breadth of the hall, in front of the stage.

Soon after 10 o'clock Gen. Wright announced the first toast, "The President of the United States." Secretary Lincoln responded, being received with much applause. At the close of Secretary Lincoln's speech Gen. Barnum called for three cheers for the worthy and honored son of the great emancipator - Abraham Lincoln. They were given with a will. The second toast, "The United States," was responded to by Gen. Hawley, who spoke eloquently upon the magnificent growth of the Nation and its wonderful development since 1861. The toast to "the Governors of the States,"" was responded to by Gov. Littlefield of Rhode Island. The next toast was "the Army and Navy," Gen. Sherman responded, and was greeted with cheers upon cheers. The next toast: "the state of Connecticut," was responded to by Gov. Bigelow. The toast, "The City of Hartford," was responded to by Mayor Bulkeley and the Hon. Henry C. Robinson. The toast to "The Army of the Potomac" was responded to by Gen. Horace Porter. The next toast, "The Benefit of Judicious Training," was responded to by Mark Twain. Other toast were as follows: "The Volunteers," by Gen. Daniel E. Sickles; "The Orator of the Day," Daniel Dougherty; "The Poet of the Day," Col. Samuel B. Sumner; "The Press," Gen. Nelson A. Miles.


To the regular toast, "The benefit of judicious training," Mr. Samuel L. Clemens, (Mark Twain,) responded as follows:

"Let but the thoughtful civilian instruct the solider in his duties, and the victory is sure."
- Martin Farquhar Tupper on the Art of War.

MR. CHAIRMAN: I gladly join with my fellow townsmen in extending a hearty welcome to these illustrious Generals and these war-scared soldiers of the Republic. This is a proud day for us, and, if the sincere desire of our hearts has been fulfilled, it has not been an unpleasant day for them. I am in full accord, Sir, with the sentiment of the toast, for I have always maintained with enthusiasm that the only wise and true way is for the soldier to fight the battle and the unprejudiced civilian to tell him how to do it. Yet I was invited to respond to this toast, and furnish this advice and instruction, I was almost as much embarrassed as I was gratified, for I could bring to this great service but the one virtue of absence of prejudice and set opinion. Still, but one other qualification was needed, and it was of only minor importance. I mean, knowledge of the subject. Therefore I was not disheartened, for I could acquire that, there being two weeks to spare. A General of high rank in this Army of the Potomac said two weeks was really more than I would need for the purpose. He had known people of my style who had learned enough in 48 hours to enable them to advise an army. Aside from the compliment, this was gratifying, because it confirmed an impression I had had before. He told me to go to the United States Military Academy at West Point, and said, in his flowery professional way, that the Cadets would "load me up." I went there and stayed two days, and his prediction proved correct. I make no boast on my own account - none. All I know about military matters I got from the gentlemen at West Point, and to them belongs the credit. They treated me with courtesy from the first, but when my mission was revealed, this mere courtesy blossomed into warmest zeal. Everybody, officers and all, put down their work and turned their whole attention to giving me military information. Every question I asked was promptly and exhaustively answered; therefore I feel proud to state that is the advice which I am about to give you as soldiers, I am backed up by the highest military authority in the land - yes, in the world, if an American does say it - West Point.

To begin, gentlemen, when an engagement is meditated, it is best to feel the enemy first, that is, if it is night, for, as one of the Cadets explained tome, you do not need to feel him in the day-time, because you can see him then. I never should have thought of that, but it is true - perfectly true. In the day-time the methods of procedure are various, but the best, it seems to me, is one which was introduced by Gen. Grant. Gen. Grant always sent an active young man redoubt to reconnoitre and get the enemy's bearings. I got this from a high officer at the Point, who told me he used to be a redoubt on Gen. Grant's staff, and had done it often. when the hour for the battle is come, move to the field with celerity - fool away no time. Under this head I was told of a favorite maxim of Gen. Sheridan's. Gen. Sheridan always said, "If the siege train isn't ready, don't wait - go by any trains that are handy; to get there is the main thing." Now, that is the correct idea. As you approach the field it is better to get out and walk. This gives you a better chance to dispose of your forces judiciously for the assault. Get your artillery in position and throw out stragglers to the right and left to hold your lines of communication against surprise. See that every hod-carrier connected with a mortar battery is at his post. They told me at the Point that Napoleon despised mortar batteries, and never would use them. He said that for real efficiency he wouldn't give a hatful of brickbats for a ton or mortar. However, that is all he knew about it. Everything being ready for the assault, you want to enter the field with your baggage to the front. This idea was invented by our renowned guest, Gen. Sherman. They told me that Gen. Sherman said that the trunks an baggage make a good protection for the soldiers, but that chiefly they attract the attention and rive the interest of the enemy, and this gives you an opportunity to whirl the other end of the column around and attack him in the rear. I have given a good deal of study to this tactic since I learned about it, and it appears to me it is a rattling good idea. Never fetch on your reserves at the start. This was Napoleon's first mistake at Waterloo. Next, he assaulted with his bomb-proofs and ambulances and embrasures, when he ought to have used a heavier artillery. Thirdly, he retired his right by ricochet - which uncovered his pickets - when his only possibility of success lay in doubling up his centre, flank by flank, and throwing out his chevaux de frise by the left oblique to relieve the skirmish line and confuse the enemy - if such a maneuver would confuse him, and at West Point they said it would. It was about this time that the Emperor had two horses shot under him. How often you see the remark that Gen. So-and-So at such and such a battle had two or three horses shot under him. Gen. Burnside and many great European military men, as I was informed by a high artillery officer at West Point, have justly characterized this as a wanton waste of projectiles, and he impressed upon me a conversation in the tent of the Prussian chiefs at Gravelotte, in the course of which our honored guest just referred to - Gen. Burnside - observed that if "you can't aim a horse so as to hit the General with it, shoot it over him, and you may bag something on the other side, whereas a horse shot under a General does no sort of damage." I agree cordially with Gen. Burnside, and Heaven knows I shall rejoice to see the artillerists of this land and of all lands cease from this wicked and idiotic custom. At West Point they told me of another mistake at Waterloo, namely, that the French were under fire from the beginning of the fight till the end of it - which was plainly a most effeminate and ill-timed attention to comfort, and a foolish division of military strength; for it probably took as many men to keep up the fires as it did to do the fighting. It would have been much better to have had a small fire in the rear, and let the men go there by detachments and get warm, and not try to warm up the whole army at once. All the Cadets said that an assault along the whole line was the one thing which could have restored Napoleon's advantage at this juncture, and he was actually rising in his stirrups to order it, when a sutler burst at his side and covered him with dirt and debris, and before he could recover Wellington opened a tremendous and devastating fire upon him from a monstrous battery of vivandieres, and the star of the great captain's glory set to rise no more. The Cadet wept while he told me these mournful particulars.

When you leave a battle-field always leave it in good order. Remove the wreck and rubbish, and tidy up the place. However, in the case of a drawn battle it is neither party's business to tidy up anything. You can leave the field looking as if the City Government of New York had bossed the fight. When you are traversing the enemy's country, in order to destroy his supplies and cripple his resources, you want to take along plenty of camp followers. The more the better. They are a tremendously effective arm of the service, and they inspire in the foe the liveliest dread. A West Point Professor told me that the wisdom of this was recognized as far back as Scripture times. He quoted the verse. He said it was from the new revision, and was a little different from the way it reads in the old one. I do not recollect the exact wording of it now, but I remember that it wound up with something about such and such a devastating agent being as "terrible as an army with bummers." I believe I have nothing further to add but this: The West Pointers said a private should preserve a respectful attitude toward his superiors, and should seldom, or never, proceed so far as to offer suggestions to his General in the field. If the battle is not being conducted to suit him, it is better to resign. By the etiquette of war it is permitted to none below the rank of newspaper correspondent to dictate to the General in the field.

Return to The New York Times index

Quotations | Newspaper Articles | Special Features | Links | Search