Secrecy was necessary, for the Union militia had a habit of coming over from Illinois and arresting suspicious armies on sight. It would humiliate the finest army in the world to spend a night or two in the calaboose.

So they met secretly at night, and one mysterious evening they called on girls who either were their sweethearts or were pretending to be for the occasion, and when the time came for good-by the girls were invited to "walk through the pickets" with them, though the girls didn't notice any pickets, because the pickets were calling on their girls, too, and were a little late getting to their posts.

That night they marched, through brush and vines, because the highroad was thought to be dangerous, and next morning arrived at the home of Colonel Ralls, of Ralls County, who had the army form in dress parade and made it a speech and gave it a hot breakfast in good Southern style. Then he sent out to Col. Bill Splawn and Farmer Nuck Matson a requisition for supplies that would convert this body of infantry into cavalry-- rough-riders of that early day. The community did not wish to keep an army on its hands, and were willing to send it along by such means as they could spare handily. When the outfitting was complete, Lieutenant Samuel Clemens, mounted on a small yellow mule whose tail had been trimmed in the paint-brush pattern then much worn by mules, and surrounded by variously attached articles--such as an extra pair of cowhide boots, a pair of gray blankets, a home-made quilt, a frying-pan, a carpet-sack, a small valise, an overcoat, an old-fashioned Kentucky rifle, twenty yards of rope, and an umbrella--was a fair sample of the brigade.

An army like that, to enjoy itself, ought to go into camp; so it went over to Salt River, near the town of Florida, and took up headquarters in a big log stable. Somebody suggested that an army ought to have its hair cut, so that in a hand-to-hand conflict the enemy could not get hold of it. There was a pair of sheep-shears in the stable, and Private Tom Lyons acted as barber. They were not sharp shears, and a group of little darkies gathered from the farm to enjoy the torture.

Regular elections were now held--all officers, down to sergeants and orderlies, being officially chosen. There were only three privates, and you couldn't tell them from officers. The discipline in that army was very bad.

It became worse soon. Pouring rain set in. Salt River rose and overflowed the bottoms. Men ordered on picket duty climbed up into the stable-loft and went to bed. Twice, on black, drenching nights, word came from the farmhouse that the enemy, commanded by a certain Col. Ulysses Grant, was in the neighborhood, and the Hannibal division went hastily slopping through mud and brush in the other direction, dragging wearily back when the alarm was over. Military ardor was bound to cool under such treatment. Then Lieutenant Clemens developed a very severe boil, and was obliged to lie most of the day on some hay in a horse- trough, where he spent his time denouncing the war and the mistaken souls who had invented it. When word that "General" Tom Harris, commander of the district--formerly telegraph-operator in Hannibal--was at a near-by farm-house, living on the fat of the land, the army broke camp without further ceremony. Halfway there they met General Harris, who ordered them back to quarters. They called him familiarly "Tom," and told him they were through with that camp forever. He begged them, but it was no use. A little farther on they stopped at a farm-house for supplies. A tall, bony woman came to the door.

"You're Secesh, ain't you?"

Lieutenant Clemens said: "We are, madam, defenders of the noble cause, and we should like to buy a few provisions."

The request seemed to inflame her.

"Provisions!" she screamed. "Provisions for Secesh, and my husband a colonel in the Union Army. You get out of here!"

She reached for a hickory hoop-pole [5] that stood by the door, and the army moved on.

Mark Twain
Classic Literature Library

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