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tv   The Civil War Mark Twain Civil War Memory  CSPAN  July 5, 2019 11:05am-11:46am EDT

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100,000 square miles of country should help us so little while a single half defeat should hurt us so much. that being the performance at the seven days. >> tune in friday at 8:00 p.m. eastern to learn more about major civil war theaters with ri storian gary gallagher. you are watching american history tv only on c-span 3. next on american history tv, university of virginia professor steven kushman describes how the civil war affected the life of mark twain and analyzes his writings to look at how he interpreted the differences between imagining and experiencing the war. this was part of a day long conference of the university of virginia's center for civil war history. >> so our next acclaimed speaker
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of the day is none other than steve kushman. he holds the robert c. taylor it wasship in the english department and a renowned poet and thrilled to say he is a scholar of the civil war as well. three of professor kushman's 14 books dealt with the civil war including be lidge represent muse and the book i suggested you get in the back, civil war writing from the first conference with professor gallagher. with that, i will turn it over to professor kushman. >> i'm grateful to everybody. i won't repeat the thank yous, but on behalf of tamika and myself, i will say thank you for
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being courageous and not being driven away by that first talk. let's start with a large claim. without the civil war, there would be no mark twain. but why stop with one big claim. here's another i will throw in free of charge. without mark twain, memory of the civil war would be different from what it is today. twain played a significant role in shaping civil war memory by publishing books and by various other people about the war, at least one of which the personal memoirs of u.s. grant has been part of american literature and american history in its own right. let's stick to the first big claim. without the civil war, there
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would be no mark twain. as we think about mark twain and the civil war, two key terms that will be important are imagining and remembering. specifically i'll be looking at the way twain links imagining the civil war with vicksburg and remembering the civil war with new orleans. for now, how did the civil war turn samuel clemens into mark twain. relax on the handout. this is something i harvested from a larger project i'm doing. the important thing is the chronology so if you get lost, you can reorient yourself. we won't look at every single thing. please look at number one and all i'm interested in is the second sentence in gold. i was piloting on the mississippi when the news came that south carolina had gone out of the union on the 20th of
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december, 1860. on that date, young sam clemens under the private tutelage of river boat captain horace bixby would have been three weeks past his 25th birthday. like many young men at the moment, clemens had to rethink some serious things. would he fight or would he not? because he was from missouri and missouri remained in the union as a slave state throughout the war, he would to have figure out whose side he was on. his father, john, a general store operator later elected justice of the peace in hannibal, missouri owned one slave. clemens knew the institution firsthand, but he was hardly an arden proconfederacy fire reader. there was another serious consideration. please look at number five on the happened out and the bold
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sentences there. in due course, i got my license and i supposed and hoped i was going to follow the river the rest of my days. by and by, the war came and commerce was suspend and my occupation was gone. so i wasn't just that south carolina and 10 other states forced clemens and 3.5 to four million other young men to face the prospect, but his sudden unemployment caused by the war and unemployment coincided with the collapse of the team boating industry. the civil war threw him out of a job and along with killing three quarters of a million men, it started to strangle an entire industry and with it, his way of earning a living. he tells you clearly that piloting a steamboat on the mississippi is what he an 'tis 8 approximated doing for the rest
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of his life. there is some of my evidence for the first big claim. without a pink slip for the war, sam clemens may have lived out the rest of his days a lucrative and prestigious location. if he were a pilot, what if anything would kick him into writing for a living. his piloting fantasy dissolved. what did he do? looked back at number one on your handout. the last sentence in bold. the following summer, he, a friend of twain's from new york, a fellow pilot, he was piloting a union gun boat and shouting for the union and i was in the confederate army. compare that with the first sentence of number six. several of the boat's officer his seen active service in the
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mississippi flee. you put themming ing ttogether yourself this question. why didn't the newly licensed pilot offer his services either to the united states or to the confederacy? qualified pilots were in huge demand during the first years of the war before the fall of vicksburg in 1863. the control of the mississippi river by the u.s. when the earliest visions of the war effort and the anaconda plan controlled the mississippi, it was imperative. someone who read the situation clearly and pragmatically in a letter of may 31, 1861. writing a friend and former colleague at what would become lsu, i am going from sherman. the mississippi river will be a great theater of war.
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it is horrible to contemplate, but it cannot be avoided. were it not for the physical geography of the country, people could consent to divide, but the mississippi is too grand to be divided and all its extent must of necessity be of one government. against this strategic backdrop, sam clemens would be making a valuable contribution of whichever side he aligned himself with. if he only joined up as a mentor, horace bixby served as a pilot of the uss bent on of the squadron. clemens didn't join up and that fact should tell us something important about him. instead of joining up, he had a brief adventure with a small group of young missouri an who is called themselves the marion rangers and aligned themselves
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with the confederacy. 20 years after, twain contributed the piece of a campaign that failed to the famed battles and leaders series published by century magazine that featured the high ranking officers on both sides. twain's private history is a gem and should be read by anyone serious about either the civil war or twain. the dominant mode is humor and much of it as clemens' own expense, but it has a serious core, too. whatever his reasons for not signing on as a wartime steamboat pilot, he led out for the territory as huck fin would later say. he headed west to nevada where for the first time he signed a piece of writing with the name mark twain that comes out of his piloting days for life on the mississippi. i'm sorry if you already know
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this, but as many may understand, mark twain is a navigational term. twain means two and refers to the number of fathoms or units of six feet. two fathoms would be 12 feet. a save depth for steamboats. mark refer it is to mark on the side for the depth. one of the most famous pen names was born from piloting on the mississippi. the civil war may have cost him his job on the mississippi, but it produced mark twain, whose new name proclaimed a lifelong identity with that job and that river. more than 20 years later after his antebellum days as a pilot,
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twain returned to the river in 1882 as an established writer, partly to engage in imagining and remembering the war in the second part of the life on the mississippi. in turning now to twain's imagining and remembering the war, i want to point to a motif that runs through life on the mississippi and that motif is the changeableness of the mississippi river's course. please have a look at number eight. again, just hitting. more of the river's creeks. afterwards it changed its course and reversing the old order, the river running up four or five miles instead of down. the changeableness was there in 1858 or 59 and still a problem
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today according to a recent story. it could shift hundreds of feet a year since the 1930s. the u.s. army core of engineers shored up the river bed with concrete to prevent it from shifting. i want to suggest that in twain's capable hands, it's figurative. it's also a med for for the fickle typography of history and imagination and memory. what twain seems to be suggesting in our own lives and collectively across the increasing number of postwar years, that's what we choose to
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remember. that's all theater is. a place you look. of all the theaters of war, none is more important than the theaters, the looking places or vantage points of imagination and memory. and so to vicksburg. a single chapter of life on the mississippi is devoted to vicksburg. in it, twain seems primarily interested in the capacity for historical imagination by people who did not experience the war firsthand. the vicksburg chapter begins appropriately enough with an image of the change of the course of mississippi at vicksburg itself. look at number 10.
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>> we used to plow past vicksburg downstream, but we cannot do that now. there is currentless water and also a big island in front of vicksburg now. the real change in the river, one that happened on april 26th, 1876 between twain's two stints on the mississippi. twain also uses the change to signal the contrast between a remote then and immediate now. with that signal, he's going to begin a meditation on how we, who live now, can make any kind of mental connection with all that happened back then. this is the challenge behind any and all historical writing whether nonfiction or fiction.
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have a look at number 11. signs and scars still remine as a reminder of the tremendous war experience. skip down, in vicksburg in the six weeks was perhaps, but wait, here are some materials out of which to reproduce it. in this troubled twain, he put his finger exactly on the problem of writing and reading history, especially the history of war, in this case the american civil war. how do we who weren't there and did not undergo the tremendous war experiences ever manage to reproduce them? twain's word. reproduce them. how do we reproduce them in our mind's eyes or imaginations. how do the stragglers move from signs and scars of past events to accurate and effective reproductions of them in our
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awareness? we can look at photographs or watch civil war movies and welcome reenactors and primary document or material artifacts. though we can lead the horses of our imagination to the river of historical vision, we cannot make those horses drink a drop. clearly the theater of civil war imagination involves something more. it involves paying undistracted attention on deep contemplation. it's a matter of mindful surrender and submission and the subject of passage number 12.
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he's now giving the materials to reproduce the weeks in vicksburg. population 27,000 and 3,000 noncombatants and cut off from the world. no buying and selling and no passing to and fro and no god and no welcoming a coming one and no printed acres of worldwide news. no rush and turmoil and no struggling. all quiet there. nothing for them to do. silence so dead. perhaps the stillness is absolute. all in a moment come ground shaking thunder crashes of artillery of dim figures and women and children scurrying towards the cave dungeons with the grim soldier who shot rats to your holes and laugh. is there an image professor in
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the house? they could tell you this passage is one single sentence. it's not even a sentence. at least not grammatically because there is no main verb. what there is here is an overgrown sentence fragment away on the cogs and gears and parallelism and cataloging and all of them managed by the 19th century wonder of punctuation, the semi colon. most of it works by negation and listing what is absent in order to reproduce what's present. thank goodness there is not a bore among us. we are free to surrender to the mesmerizing flow of language, the mississippi of a sentence or pseudosentence winding, eddying, churning and changing. if on following what twain is up
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to, he is undertaking a verbal hypnosis and it's a both a self hypnosis and hypnosis he aims to perform on his reader. let's be clear. i have been teaching a long time. it will take a wrong turn and slide off into sleep. but for others, it will induce a sort of trance. a state of suggestibility and a kind of narrative theater in which the past can reproduce itself so that as the poet put it, the past can rise and walk before us. because in the end, this is the point. the point is that we cannot necessarily work or will ourselves into profound historical awareness. we can certainly saturate ourselves with historical knowledge in many of the ways i menti mentioned, but a deep experience may only be available through something like a subor unconscious experience.
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the potential power of this kind of suggestibility leads twain to an intriguing possibility and a fascinating question. please look at number 13. those are the materials furnished by history and from them might not anybody reproduce for himself the life of that time in vicksburg. whoa! really? isn't this a kind of blasphemy? a nonparticipant with do a more effective job in the imagination of other nonparticipants than someone who lives through it? what does such a suggestion do to the value of eyewitness reportage? this is a big topic. for one thing as many lawyers and judges can vouch, eyewitness is far from infallible.
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twain has a big stake in the conversation f. nonparticipants can't be effective reproducers, writers are pretty much out of luck and out of a job in twap's case, a second one. twain as a good point. look at number 14. he's talking about someone keeping a diary. he kept a diary in six weeks. only the first six days. the second day five and a third. the other diary abandoned. life having now become common place in a matter of course. twain is working to persuade us that the nonparticipant who has the advantage. the wartime experience of terrific vicksburg can never dwindle into the common place and matter of course.
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in addition, we nonparticipants were trying to reproduce in our imaginations today. they are not immediately vulnerable to corrosive and e facing and powers working on the mississippi river in the same way as the physical landscape, including the monuments. please look at number 15. the monument stamped upon the scene. surrender to general grant, but the brick foundations are crumbling and it will tumble down by and by. the word comes from the latin of warning as in admonishment. in some sense it's a warning that the event is a monument to, you better not forget or else. it's also a warning about the
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transience, e femorality of all monumentalizing. or the monuments themselves will erode and degrade and disappear. think of all the ruins from the ancient world, many of which we don't know how to read or understand and many of which we haven't even found. what about people for whom imagination is unnecessary because they have memory. as twain works down to new orleans in 1882, this is the question before him. he has a lot of fun with it. so now i move on to the second part. this is new orleans and memory. number 16. we saw men relics of the war with an oil painting with the last interview from general lee.
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it means nothing without its label. he is going to try a few labels now. the first interview, last interview. jackson introducing himself to lee. jackson accepting lee's invitation to dinner and did you cliping with thanks. apologizing for a heavy defeat. jackson reporting a great victory and asking lee for a match. it tells one story and a goods legible label is worth for information a ton of significant attitude and expression in a historical picture. the building he refers to was the washington artillery building in new orleans and the painting painted by everett in 1869, a big one, 13 by 9.5 feet hangs in the american civil war museum in richmond. in this passage about the painting, twain is having fun sending up many things.
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among them, verbaal captions for visual art. but he's also pointing out how we can put very different kinds of spin on historical reproductions for people who weren't there and don't have personal experience to draw on. by contrast, shouldn't the memories of those who do be most trust worthy and less susceptible to inventive and sometimes misleading spin? well, according to twain, yes and no. please turn to number 17. in the north, one hears the war mentioned in social conversation once a month. the case is very different in the south. there every man you meet was in the war and every lady saw the war. in the south, the war is what ad is elsewhere. they date from it.
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it gives the inexperienced stranger a vast invasion that he can ever get by reading books at the fire side. twain is pointing out the differences that can be between the north and south during the war. this is for all kinds of reasons. but also notice that twain is playing a shifty game here. he casts himself as the gee wiz inexperienced stranger when he, too, at least for a little while, was involved in the early stages of the war and claiming to value in the direct testimony of wartime residents of new orleans over the reading of books by the fire side. the vicksburg chapter in that chapter he was saying that the wartime residents may be less effective at reproducing images
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than nonresidents to be read. people such as himself. what's up with this double deal something to move towards a conclusion, look at passage 18, the final one for today. he is still in new orleans. at a club one evening, a gentleman turned to me and said you notice we are nearly always talking about the war. in the war, each of us in his own person seems to have sampled all the varieties of human experience. as a consequence, you can't mention an outside matter, but it will remind some of something that happened during the war. out he comes with it. of course that brings the talk back to the war. now here we go. the poet was sitting a distance away and presently he began to speak about the moon.
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the moon is far enough from the seat of war, but it will suggest something and the moon is a top take that will be shelved. the moonlight was much stronger and brighter than up north. a brief dispute followed as to whether the difference between northern and southern moonlight existed or was only imagined. somebody remembered when farragut advanced, he carried no battle lanterns. the flothey got the floor again. the men who were in war was always interesting. he was not in the moon is likely to be dull. war talk by men and women who have been in war can be some of the most powerful moving talk there is. we can't have any of it from
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civil war era people except in writing or even now from world war i people. they shall not grow old came outer in december of 2014. do not pass go. find it and look at it. anybody interested in the memory or reproducing of war should see it. when duane said it's always more interesting than the talk of poets which he ment to burr link writers in general, watch out. this is a fun comic moment, seemingly staged at the expense of the moon-struck poet. there some signals that it's also tongue in cheek at the expense of the wartime rememberers, too. first of all, people who had powerful experiences in war don't always want to talk about them. conversely, a lot of people who do a lot of talking may not have had powerful experiences.
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there are all kinds of reasons for the general rules, but let's leave them for now. twain, the teller of tall tales knew more than most one should beware of big talkers. second, nothing is always anything. when he said war talk is always more interesting, you know he is winking at you. sure, twain thought it was true in the cases of people like grant, sherman and people he published, but his own treatment shows he believed firmly in the possibility that more interesting war talk could come from people who did not live through the war. people such as himself. third and finally, no poet could have been on the moon after 1969, it collapses into meaningless farce.
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or is it completely meaningless. let's recall a statement by twain that comes up in his book following the equator, 1897, which is about a reading tour he made around the world. a statement he makes in following the equator. the secret source of humor itself is not joy, but sorrow. the secret source of humor itself is not joy, but sorrow. if this statement is true, or if twain believed it to be true, when we encounter humor, twain's humor about the american civil war, especially here in new orleans and the guys we know there has to be sorrow somewhere. for mark twain, the civil war turned out to be not just a complicated inner weaving of imagination and memory, but also a complicated tangled mess of humor and sorrow, inspiration
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and profit, art, and business. as a piece of theater, it was for him a problem play of mixed genre. this mixing of humor and sadness is a reminder of those of us who need one that mark twain was hardly alone in his awe and fascination and confusion and curiosity and surprise and disgust and unabating bewilderment in the face of what our forefathers brought forth at the beginning of decade of the century between the two aprils four years apart. what they brought forth continues its ever lengthening theater run within each of us in no small part with mark twain's promotion and backing. thank you.
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>> given his views on war and the war memory in imagination, did he express any thoughts on the red badge of courage? >> express any thoughts -- >> on the red badge of courage. >> he didn't like it at all and didn't think that -- twain was not always generous. i think you can get this. and also if there was a literary success that didn't come from his publishing company, it was a competitor, too. somebody who loathed the red badge of courage which was interesting. he loathed everything. but he was a veteran and for a lot of people against red badge
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was that it could be made up by a kid who didn't even live this that time. i take the point of your question, you would think he would be more accommodating, but no. >> didn't twain blame the war on walter scott? >> that's very good. didn't twain blame the war on walter scott? that's in the life of the mississippi. it's one of the great illustrations of invektive. he thinks that scott romanticism did more than anything to produce these southern illusions without which people would not have gone. same book. nep.
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i'm the only thing between you and lunch. i know how to read a crowd. >> it's more about twain's relationship with grant. >> that's good. twain and grant. the analogy i would draw is there are two great cross media relationships in the 19th century. one is walt whitman and lincoln and the srth twatwain and whitm twain and grant. he would see lincoln go by and write about how he was sure he made eye contact and no one ever understood lincoln the way he did. that's odd and funny, but in fact if you do take the time to
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look at the campaign that failed which comes out in 1885, the same year that grant's memoire comes out, it's a great and painful piece of writing. humor and sorrow at many points. but twain makes fun of his own cowardice and said we heard that the yankees were coming and we all disbanded and went out west. he said only years later did i learn the name of the general who was advancing and it was grant who was coming out of belmont. twain makes it that they had this military encounter. twain admired grant tremendously and i don't know how that will
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work. at the end, the composition of grant's memoirs in the under treatment and he is dosed with cocaine and morphine. it is not true that twain ghost wrote. twain knew that grant who was not an acute business man was getting snook snookerred. grant was about to sign and he said not a chance. twain got into the contract and twain was the one who kept going up to mount mcgregor and visiting, i think the relationship was hugely important in the history of civil war memory. that really is a moment where the two things come together.
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>> from nevada and not on the conflicts. >> never. in fact here's the thing about twain that we tried to make about humor. twain thought the war was an unmitigated disaster, blunder, abomination. and did not have anything good to say about it except he kept cool in public and would never say anything like that. when you are trying to be sort of america's literary pt barnam, you want to keep people happy about what they have done. at least the north. his antiwar stuff never came out. there is a fascinating document that is worth looking up called the war prayer. it seems to be about the
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spanish-american war. it's never mentioned there and clearly an indictment of american militarism and of mindless falling into line to go fight. twain is a very complicated fellow when it comes to the civil war. he made a lot of money and not what we would call a patriot in that way. thank you very much. >> this is american history tv, covering history c-span style with lectures and discussions with authors, historians and
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teachers. 48 hours, all weekend, every weekend, only on c-span 3. next on american history, william kurtz talks about william rosen cranes' career and clashes with superiors like ulysses s. grant and edwin stanton. this was part of a day long conference hosted by the center for civil war history. >> it is my distinct pressure to produce the first speaker of this afternoon. if you haven't been able to glean how important he is, i want to say how important will is to


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