The Private History of a Campaign That Failed: Twain’s War Diary
“We pierced the forest about half a mile and took up a strong position with some low and rocky hills behind us, and a purling limpid creek in front. Straightaway half the command was in swimming and the other half fishing,”and so Mark Twain’s short story: The Private History of a Campaign that Failed is summarized—but was Twain swimming or fishing? Published in 1896, Twain’s piece follows a band of youthful Civil War rebels through the eyes of their 24-year-old ‘leader’. Instantly one can distinguish the inadequacies of the “Marion Rangers” as Twain depicts both their cowardice and inexperienced war tactics. Through a closer examination of textual evidence, along with historical evidence of Twain’s relationship with the Civil War, one can conclude that The Private History of a Campaign That Failed is directly representative of the author’s real-life experiences and opinions. The characters of this piece can be directly compared to Twain himself—steering the story away from the fictional realm and towards the autobiographical. The Private History of a Campaign that Failed briefly chronicles the exploits of a young group of rebel soldiers; Twain himself was a member of a similar, or possibly the same, gang as mentioned. When the Civil War broke out, Twain and some friends joined the Confederate side and formed a militia group, the ‘Marion Rangers’. Although it disbanded after a few weeks, the ‘Marion Rangers’, as described in The Private History of a Campaign that Failed actually existed, and Twain was a member. In his story, Twain uses a Marion Ranger, Ed Stevens, who can serve as a sample of the entire group’s character. He writes, “There was nothing serious in life to him. As far as he was concerned, this military expedition of ours was simply a holiday.” Twain paints the picture of a group of young boys that are simply playing war. They know nothing of the gravity and hardship of battle....
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