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Add to My Citations To M. Jeff Thompson
28 March 1874 • Hartford, Conn.
(St. Louis Missouri Republican, 28 Apr 74, UCCL 11170)
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[Farmington Avenue,
em spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceHartford], March 28, 1874.


[My Dear General]:1 I don’t wonder that you failed to locate Col. Sellers & the Hawkins family. They were old friends of mine in Missouri, but I doubt if you ever stumbled on them. “Clay” is not me; in fact I dropped him in just as a make-shift, & have never been personally acquainted with him.2

When you were slashing around on the Natchez I wonder you didn’t come across my old friend Billy Youngblood,3 who ought to have been standing watch [& ] watch with Bob Smith in the pilot-house. Splendid fellow is Billy Youngblood. And so is old Ed. Montgomery, whom you mention. Ed. Montgomery is worthy to be an admiral of the blue. I ran the City of Memphis into a steamboat at New Orleans one night under his orders, & he never went back on me—shouldered the responsibility like a man.4 Warner tells me to write you, & say he has just written. I have no news that you would care to hear, because, although I was a soldier in the rebel army in Missouri for two weeks once, we never won any victories to speak of. We never could get the enemy to stay still when we wanted to fight, & we were generally on the move when the enemy wanted to fight. Our campaign is not even referred to in the shabby record which they call “history.” But historians are mighty mean people any way.5

However, if you will drop in here & let this roof shelter you awhile, I will invent a few [warlike ] passages that ought to content a soldier. Warner, the peaceful, is my next door neighbor. Warner has never been to war, & so he is a trifle dull in his experiences; but he means well. Come & you shall be introduced to him.

Yours truly,

[Samuel L. Clemens].

To Gen. M. [Jeff. Thompson ]

Explanatory Notes | Textual Commentary

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1 Meriwether (Jeff) Thompson (1826–76), a native of Harpers Ferry, Virginia, lived in St. Joseph, Missouri, between 1848 and 1861, working as a grocer, surveyor, real-estate agent, and railroad president, and serving as mayor. A committed secessionist, in 1861 he became a brigadier general in the Missouri State Guard. Known for bombast and buffoonery but also for military shrewdness, Thompson spent much of the Civil War leading a force of irregulars in the swamps of Missouri and Arkansas, winning fame as the “Missouri Swamp Fox.” Immediately after the war he was a grocer in Memphis, then in 1867 moved to New Orleans, where he became the chief engineer of the Louisiana Board of Public Works, the post he still held. Clemens answered the following letter from him, which Warner had passed along (CU-MARK):
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Clemens and Thompson probably met sometime between mid-February 1857, when Clemens is now known to have begun his apprenticeship as a Mississippi River pilot (see Branch 1992, 2–3), and 13 February 1859, the completion date of the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad, alluded to by Thompson, but no details of their acquaintance have been recovered. (Clemens’s father had been an early proponent of the railroad in the spring of 1846, a year before his death.) Warner spent 1853 and 1854 in Missouri, working as a surveyor for the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad, and met Thompson then, but no article by him on Thompson has been found in Putnam’s Magazine or in his Complete Writings, published in 1904. In The Gilded Age, Thompson appears in chapters 16 and 17, both written by Warner. He is described as “one of the most enthusiastic engineers in this western country, and one of the best fellows that ever looked through the bottom of a glass,” “popular” and “indomitable,” with the habit of ending each day by singing “the Star Spangled Banner from beginning to end.” No mention is made of “the One Hundred and Two or Third fork of Platte,” tributaries of the Platte River, in Missouri, near the route of the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad (SLC 1873–74, 152, 158, 160, 161). Several of the allusions in Thompson’s letter to Warner have been identified. John Duff was head of the firm that built the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad and a director of the Union Pacific Railroad. Alfred Jefferson Vaughan, Jr. (1830–99), a civil engineer, rose to the rank of brigadier general in the Confederate infantry and lost a leg during the war. Samuel Clarke Pomeroy (1816–91), a Republican senator from Kansas (1861–73) who was the model for the corrupt Senator Dilworthy in The Gilded Age, by 1864 had acquired an interest in the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad. Robert Marcellus Stewart (1815–71), a Missouri state senator (1846–57) and governor (1857–61), was the chief organizer and a financier of the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad, and a Union supporter. Robert Smith was a Mississippi River pilot who served the Confederacy. The Platte Valley, a steamboat built in 1857 for Missouri River service, ran for a time between St. Joseph and Kansas City under the command of Captain William C. Postal, connecting with the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad, and afterward was a Union transport vessel. The City of Alton, built in 1860, was part of Grant’s fleet and later served in the St. Louis–Memphis trade. The palatial steamboat Great Republic, built in 1867, was purchased in 1871 by Captain William H. Thorwegan and a partner. Joseph Edward Montgomery (1817–1902), a well-known captain and pilot under whom Clemens served (see note 4), in 1861 organized and assumed command of the Confederacy’s Mississippi River defense fleet. On 10 May 1862 Commodore Montgomery led a partially successful engagement with Union boats near Fort Pillow, Tennessee. But on 6 June 1862 in an encounter at Memphis, Montgomery’s fleet of eight steam rams was destroyed by a superior Union fleet in a little over an hour, resulting in the surrender of the city. Clemens recalled in chapter 49 of Life on the Mississippi that when Montgomery’s “vessel went down, he swam ashore, fought his way through a squad of soldiers, and made a gallant and narrow escape” (SLC 1883, 487). Montgomery was apprehended in 1864 trying to flee to Texas with hundreds of thousands of dollars in Confederate bonds and was imprisoned until the end of the war. Afterward he lived in St. Louis, New York, and Texas (Allardice, 219–20; Heitman, 2:179; L1, 70–71, 98 n. 3, 385, 387, 389; Holcombe, 901, 947–48; Warner 1904; Bryant Morey French, 138, 162, 195; L4, 168 n. 4; “Members”; Way: 1963, 12; 1983, 89, 197–98, 374; DAH, 4:272; “War Hero Passes Away,” Chicago Evening Post, 4 Aug 1902, 1; “Commodore Montgomery—the Confederate Naval Hero and His Adventures,” Chicago Sunday Tribune, 5 Apr 96, 37; Bowman, 97–98, 102; Milligan, 73–76).

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2 The prototype for Colonel Sellers in The Gilded Age was James J. Lampton, Jane Clemens’s first cousin (see 23 Sept 74 to Mackenzie, n. 2, and 8? Nov 74 to Watterson, n. 1). Clemens was acquainted with the Hawkins family of Hannibal and adopted the name of his childhood friend Anna Laura Hawkins for one of the principal characters in the novel. He later portrayed her as Becky Thatcher in Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. But he drew more significantly on his own family in creating The Gilded Age Hawkinses, basing Judge Si Hawkins on his father, John Marshall Clemens, and Washington Hawkins on his brother Orion. No prototype for Clay Hawkins has been identified (see 10 May 74 to Howells, n. 2; Inds, 313, 322–24; and Bryant Morey French, 145–63).

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3 William C. Youngblood was a pilot on the John J. Roe, on which Clemens served as a cub pilot in August and September 1857, although not under Youngblood. He was the uncle of Laura M. Wright, whom Clemens met and became enamored of in May 1858 (L1, 74, 114 n. 7, 387). Clemens remembered Youngblood in an Autobiographical Dictation of 31 August 1906:

Youngblood was as fine a man as I have known. In that day he was young, and had a young wife and two small children—a most happy and contented family. He was a good pilot, and he fully appreciated the responsibilities of that great position. Once when a passenger boat upon which he was standing a pilot’s watch was burned on the Mississippi, he landed the boat and stood to his post at the wheel until everybody was ashore and the entire after part of the boat, including the after part of the pilot-house, was a mass of flame; then he climbed out over the breastboard and escaped with his life, though badly scorched and blistered by the fire. A year or two later, in New Orleans, he went out one night to do an errand for the family and was never heard of again. It was supposed that he was murdered, and that was doubtless the case, but the matter remains a mystery yet. (CU-MARK)

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4 The incident occurred in late June 1860, while Clemens was piloting the City of Memphis, then under Montgomery’s command, as she was either entering or leaving port. Since it was the captain, not the pilot, who controlled the ship’s movements at such a time, Montgomery’s failure to order his pilot “to back” caused the incident (L1, 98–99 nn. 3, 5). In chapter 49 of Life on the Mississippi (where he misidentified the boat as the Crescent City) Clemens expressed admiration for Montgomery’s “heavenly serenity” in accepting responsibility (SLC 1883, 487). Even earlier, in mid-January 1866, he had lauded Montgomery in a San Francisco letter to the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise, remarking that “whenever he commenced helping anybody, Captain Ed. Montgomery never relaxed his good offices as long as help was needed” (SLC 1866).

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5 Clemens alluded to his June 1861 experience with the Marion Rangers in letters to his family from Nevada, but did not repair the “shabby record” until December 1885 when he published “The Private History of a Campaign That Failed” in the Century Magazine (see L1, 121, 124, 127 n. 4, 135 n. 7, 146 n. 4, 211; SLC 1885).

glyphglyphCopy-text:glyph“Mark Twain to Jeff. Thompson,” St. Louis Missouri Republican, 28 Apr 74, 3. The original letter may have been written on monogram letter-head.

glyphglyphPrevious publication:glyph L6, 96–100; “River Intelligence,” St. Louis Times, 2 May 74, 7.

glyphglyphEmendations and textual notes:glyph

Farmington Avenue, Hartford • Farmington Avenue, Hartford

My Dear General • My Dear General

& • and [here and hereafter]

warlike • war-|like

Samuel L. Clemens • SAMUEL L. CLEMENT

Jeff. Thompson • Jeff. Thompson.