He went up the river as a passenger on a steamer named the Uncle Sam. Zeb Leavenworth was one of the pilots, and Sam Clemens usually stood watch with him. They heard war-talk all the way and saw preparations, but they were not molested, though at Memphis they basely escaped the blockade. At Cairo, Illinois, they saw soldiers drilling—troops later commanded by Grant. The Uncle Sam came steaming up toward St. Louis, those on board congratulating themselves on having come through unscathed. They were not quite through, however. Abreast of Jefferson Barracks they suddenly heard the boom of a cannon and saw a great whorl of smoke drifting in their direction. They did not realize that it was a signal—a thunderous halt—and kept straight on. Less than a minute later there was another boom, and a shell exploded directly in front of the pilot-house, breaking a lot of glass and destroying a good deal of the upper decoration. Zeb Leavenworth fell back into a corner with a yell.
“Good Lord Almighty! Sam;” he said, “what do they mean by that?”
Clemens stepped to the wheel and brought the boat around. “I guess they want us to wait a minute, Zeb,” he said.
They were examined and passed. It was the last steamboat to make the trip from New Orleans to St. Louis. Mark Twain’s pilot-days were over. He would have grieved had he known this fact.
“I loved the profession far better than any I have followed since,” he long afterward declared, “and I took a measureless pride in it.”
The dreamy, easy, romantic existence suited him exactly. A sovereign and an autocrat, the pilot’s word was law; he wore his responsibilities as a crown. As long as he lived Samuel Clemens would return to those old days with fondness and affection, and with regret that they were no more.
Clemens spent a few days in St. Louis (in retirement, for there was a pressing war demand for Mississippi pilots), then went up to Hannibal to visit old friends. They were glad enough to see him, and invited him to join a company of gay military enthusiasts who were organizing to “help Gov. ‘Claib’ Jackson repel the invader.” A good many companies were forming in and about Hannibal, and sometimes purposes were conflicting and badly mixed. Some of the volunteers did not know for a time which invader they intended to drive from Missouri soil, and more than one company in the beginning was made up of young fellows whose chief ambition was to have a lark regardless as to which cause they might eventually espouse.
—[The military organizations of Hannibal and Palmyra, in 1861, were as follows: The Marion Artillery; the Silver Grays; Palmyra Guards; the W. E. Dennis company, and one or two others. Most of them were small private affairs, usually composed of about half-and-half Union and Confederate men, who knew almost nothing of the questions or conditions, and disbanded in a brief time, to attach themselves to the regular service according as they developed convictions. The general idea of these companies was a little camping-out expedition and a good time. One such company one morning received unexpected reinforcements. They saw the approach of the recruits, and, remarking how well drilled the new arrivals seemed to be, mistook them for the enemy and fled.]