Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Mark Twain, Unreconstructed Confederate



"........ Dear Wife, I had to march the first day of the month barefoot and I wore the skin off my feet and froze them and my toenails will come off and they pain me all most to death. You never have seen such feet [as] I got."

((Private Edward L. Sowers, Confederate soldier)).......

Mark Twain chose never to publish his 'War-Prayer' short story.  Why he did not is a question worth pondering, but can never be completely answered. Regardless, it is safe to say that Twain must have feared someone's wrath. Twain liked to refer to himself as a 'reconstructed Southerner'.  Had he published 'War-Prayer', some of the public might have doubted that he was truly reconstructed. 

Twain's 'War-Prayer' tells of a heavenly visitor who walks into a church service where loved ones are sending  their men off to war...the preacher begins a prayer for victory, quoting from the Old Testament...then a spectral visitor asks if he can finish the prayer.....

" ....we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun-flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it -- for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! ......

Wikipedia says Twain's unpublished work was a protest against the Spanish American War.  Depending upon when it was written, that could be true.. The story is certainly anti-war.  HOWEVER, the images conjured-- in particular, the image of snow, betrays that Twain does not have in mind the tropics, which is where the Spanish American war was fought. The snow instead  points to  America's Civil War, where there WERE battles fought in bitter cold. ( like Pea Ridge) and where Confederate soldiers were notorious for going unshod.

In addition to Twain's references to soldiers with bloody feet,  he also mentions burnt homes and masses of homeless and blighted lives. The only large scale destruction of people's homes took place in the South! He also mentions enemy dead as 'patriot dead'. This indicates that the praying-side must be about to invade someone else's land.  If this is a Civil War metaphor, then the devastation depicted does not reflect the North's losses during the War. Twain's sad litany is an accurate picture of devastated Dixie and hence is most likely an indictment of the Union's conduct during the War.