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Ambrose Bierce’s Civil War

Ambrose Bierce’s Civil War

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Ambrose Bierce’s Civil War

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269 Seiten
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Freigegeben:
Nov 6, 2015
ISBN:
9781786251879
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Buch

Beschreibung

This powerful collection contains the very best of this world-renowned author’s writings. All of the short stories and factual accounts of the Civil War presented here form a searing, unflinching portrait of this terrible war. For fiction and non-fiction fans and history buffs alike.
Freigegeben:
Nov 6, 2015
ISBN:
9781786251879
Format:
Buch

Über den Autor

Ambrose Bierce was an American writer, critic and war veteran. Bierce fought for the Union Army during the American Civil War, eventually rising to the rank of brevet major before resigning from the Army following an 1866 expedition across the Great Plains. Bierce’s harrowing experiences during the Civil War, particularly those at the Battle of Shiloh, shaped a writing career that included editorials, novels, short stories and poetry. Among his most famous works are “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” “The Boarded Window,” “Chickamauga,” and What I Saw of Shiloh. While on a tour of Civil-War battlefields in 1913, Bierce is believed to have joined Pancho Villa’s army before disappearing in the chaos of the Mexican Revolution.


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Text originally published in 1956 under the same title.

© Pickle Partners Publishing 2014, all rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted by any means, electrical, mechanical or otherwise without the written permission of the copyright holder.

Publisher’s Note

Although in most cases we have retained the Author’s original spelling and grammar to authentically reproduce the work of the Author and the original intent of such material, some additional notes and clarifications have been added for the modern reader’s benefit.

We have also made every effort to include all maps and illustrations of the original edition the limitations of formatting do not allow of including larger maps, we will upload as many of these maps as possible.

AMBROSE BIERCE’S CIVIL WAR

EDITED AND WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY

WILLIAM MCCANN

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Contents

TABLE OF CONTENTS 4

INTRODUCTION 5

WAR MEMOIRS 10

ON A MOUNTAIN 10

WHAT I SAW OF SHILOH 14

A LITTLE OF CHICKAMAUGA 25

THE CRIME AT PICKETT’S MILL 28

FOUR DAYS IN DIXIE 34

WHAT OCCURRED AT FRANKLIN 40

A BIVOUAC OF THE DEAD 44

WAR STORIES 46

A HORSEMAN IN THE SKY 46

AN OCCURRENCE OWL CREEK BRIDGE 51

CHICKAMAUGA 58

A SON OF THE GODS 63

ONE OF THE MISSING 68

KILLED AT RESACA 76

THE AFFAIR AT COULTER’S NOTCH 81

THE COUP DE GRACE 88

PARKER ADDERSON, PHILOSOPHER 92

AN AFFAIR OF OUTPOSTS 97

THE STORY OF A CONSCIENCE 104

ONE KIND OF OFFICER 109

ONE OFFICER, ONE MAN 117

GEORGE THURSTON 121

THE MOCKING-BIRD 125

THREE AND ONE ARE ONE 129

A BAFFFLED AMBUSCADE 132

TWO MILITARY EXECUTIONS 134

A RESUMED IDENTITY 136

JUPITER DOKE, BRIGADIER-GENERAL 141

REQUEST FROM THE PUBLISHER 148

INTRODUCTION

The Civil War writings of Ambrose Bierce, both factual and fictional, are assembled in this volume. Bierce belongs to the small group of American authors, including John W. DeForest and Sidney Lanier, who fought in the war and who turned their experiences to literary account. One of them, a writer of exceptional promise, Theodore Winthrop, was killed in battle at Great Bethel. With these men in mind perhaps, H. L. Mencken jeeringly and quite unjustly described Mark Twain, Howells and Henry James as draft-dodgers.

Bierce, Lanier, and DeForest made use of their first-hand knowledge of war in writing imaginative literature. Numerous Americans, of course, recorded their Civil War activities and reflections, in some instances superlatively well—John S. Wise, for one, in his book The End of An Era. Most of them, however, wrote ineptly, protractedly, and with the bathos and sentimentality that were Ambrose Bierce’s inveterate aversions.

During a long journalistic career Bierce wrote a great deal, much of it topical and trivial. Unwisely, he chose late in life to publish the vast bulk of it in a grandiosely conceived Collected Works, running to twelve volumes. Not more than four of them forward his claim to serious literary recognition. Nevertheless, each scrap of his work was written with admirable crispness and precision of diction. He often succeeded in preserving readability and interest in subject-matter that patently deserved oblivion. His still valuable little handbook, Write It Right, reveals an almost overweening concern for careful craftsmanship and exactitude of expression.

Bierce’s pretensions to lasting recognition as a literary artist must rest on his short stories. The meretriciousness, the callow contrivances that unquestionably disfigure some of his works are notably absent from the war stories. In these creations his life-long obsessions with death and macabre calamity were fruitfully and not incongruously employed. War abounds in abnormal situations and pathological characters. Because of their remoteness from normal life Bierce turned readily to war episodes. In none of his other writings, save the ghost stories—the tales of the weird and the incredible—does Bierce smoothly and artfully draw from the reservoir of his unusual, if specialized, talent. His war stories are ingenious and insinuating, but they are not forced and specious. And some of them stick in the reader’s mind, as one critic says, like the memory of a morgue.

The crisply evocative descriptions, the compassionless recital of events, are perfectly suited to the war tale. In his curt manner Bierce could communicate the fighting soldier’s ruthlessly limited, narrow but often intense, awareness of what goes on about him. (As to the rank and file, they can know nothing more of the matter than the arms they carry.) In the din, the senseless confusion, the terror, the blood-letting, the soldier cannot allow himself the luxuries of pity and pathos. By rigorously excluding the normal human reactions, Bierce immeasurably intensifies his readers’ impressions of actual battle.

His misanthropy, his chilling indifference to ordinary human values and feelings, are amply evident in Bierce’s factual war writing. I had not previously known one could get on, even in this unsatisfactory fashion, with so little brain, he writes of a soldier with a mortal head wound. One of my men, whom I knew for womanish fellow, asked if he should put his bayonet through him. Inexpressibly shocked by the cold-blooded proposal, I told him I thought not; it was unusual, and too many were looking. This frigid inhumanity is appalling and reprehensible, but we feel unmistakably that here are men at war.

Bierce relates his war experiences episodically and dramatically. The impersonal parts are historically accurate. To heighten the dramatic effects, however, it is likely that he did, at times, appropriate to himself the adventures of others, though by so doing he never puts himself in the hero’s role. He is mercilessly candid. Mark Twain once expressed amazement at the frankness with which Civil War officers criticized each other in print. He may have had in mind General Grant, who wrote of Secretary of War Stanton, The enemy would not have been in danger if Mr. Stanton had been in the field. But no one could be more caustic and acidulous than Bierce. See, for example, his reference to General Howard in The Crime at Pickett’s Mill. Only one soldier, William B. Hazen, seems to have come up to Bierce’s notion of what a general should be.

Bierce’s exposure to war was not peripheral, as was Whitman’s, nor brief, as was Mark Twain’s. He enlisted on April 19, 1861, when he was eighteen, as a private in Company C of the Ninth Regiment of Indiana Volunteers. This newly organized regiment was sent at once to western Virginia, where it had several brushes with the enemy (We shot off a Confederate leg at Philippi), and Bierce was officially commended for coolness under fire.

In July, the Ninth Indiana returned home and Bierce was mustered out at the end of three months’ service, his term of enlistment. When the regiment was reorganized in August, however, lie promptly re-enlisted. He was advanced in rank to a sergeant and then to a sergeant-major before being sent back to Virginia. Early in 1862, his regiment was assigned to Buell’s Army of the Ohio and moved to Nashville to join General William B. Hazen’s brigade of Nelson’s division. Bierce’s first major engagement was on April 7, the second day of the great battle of Shiloh, an event he has vividly described in his war memoirs. The Ninth took part in the siege of Corinth and, after evacuation, guarded and repaired the nearby railroads.

On December 1, 1862, Bierce was commissioned a second lieutenant, the rank he was to hold during the bloody battle at Stone River. He was promoted to a first lieutenant in February, 1863, and assigned to brigade headquarters as General Hazen’s topographical engineer. The brigade fought with Rosecrans’ army at Chickamauga, and for his conduct there Bierce was commended by General Hazen. He later took part in the siege of Chattanooga and the battle of Missionary Ridge. He climbed to the crest of Missionary Ridge with the first Federal troops to reach it.

During the winter of 1863-64 he took a furlough, but in February rejoined Hazen’s brigade (now in Wood’s division) and started out towards Atlanta with Sherman’s army. At Pickett’s Mill, in Georgia, his brigade was badly shot up in an ill-advised attack ordered by General O. O. Howard. While Sherman was trying to out-maneuver the wily Confederate Joseph E. Johnston, Bierce was busy day and night obtaining topographical data and preparing maps.

At Kennesaw Mountain, on June 23, he was hit in the head and grievously wounded by a sharpshooter’s bullet. General Hazen, in his report of casualties, referred to Bierce as my topographical officer, a fearless and trusty man.

Following a long hospital confinement, Bierce went home to convalesce. He spent the rest of the summer on his father’s farm in Indiana. In the fall he rejoined the brigade, which was detached from Sherman’s forces and sent with Schofield’s corps to assist General Thomas in Tennessee. During the savage engagements at Franklin and Nashville, Bierce was on the staff of General Samuel Beatty. At the end of the campaign, when Thomas had destroyed Hood’s army, General Beatty reported that Lieutenant Bierce, Ninth Indiana, topographical engineer, rendered me efficient service. When the army went into winter quarters at Huntsville, Alabama, Bierce applied for a discharge. On January 16, 1865, he became a civilian.

Curiously, in view of his impatience at nearly all forms of restraint, Bierce did not detest army life. Its hardships he bore good-naturedly or at least stoically. In battle he was brave and competent. No demerits, no official reprimands cloud his military record.

After the war Bierce’s brothers ascribed his acerbity of temper to the head wound suffered at Kennesaw Mountain. With characteristic acrimony Bierce rejected this explanation, though years later, when making application for a pension, he stated that he had been tormented since the war by violent headaches and vertigo. Be this as it may, his temper and philosophy of life doubtless were profoundly influenced by his military service, as were those of another well-known combatant, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

When one is comfortable and well off, Holmes wrote, it is easy to talk high. I remember just before the battle of Antietam thinking and perhaps saying to a brother officer that it would be easy after a comfortable breakfast to come down the steps of one’s house pulling on one’s gloves and smoking a cigar to get on a horse and charge a battery up Beacon Street, while the ladies wave handkerchiefs from a balcony. But the reality was to pass a night on the ground in the rain with your bowels out of order and then after no particular breakfast to wade a stream and attack the enemy. That is life. Bierce fully shared Holmes’ distaste for high talk. And both men had a marked respect for naked, disinterested courage.

Bierce’s disenchantment with human nature, however, greatly exceeded Holmes’. As a commentator on life, Bierce wrote in a mood of acutely conscious and somber disillusionment. His criticisms of erring humanity were seldom relieved by pity or compassion. Even the prolonged exposure to the horrors of war scarcely accounts for the extremes of his pessimism and nihilism. It seems quite possible that something prior to the war and the later unhappiness of his personal life, perhaps a congenital defect, tainted the stream of life for him at its source.

But for all his asperity and bitterness Bierce, on a rare occasion, could be a bit wistful and sentimental, as in The Bivouac of the Dead. This is a short piece written in 1903 when, upon the subject of the Civil War at least, he had perceptibly mellowed. However, the object of his brief burst of sentiment is the long-dead soldier, not the living civilian.

Bierce believed that literary evaluation is hopelessly obscured by the introduction of personal facts. The facts of his own life indeed, particularly his mysterious disappearance and death, have influenced his literary reputation, and not wholly to its detriment. He was born in Meigs County, Ohio, on June 24, 1842, the tenth child of honorable but improvident farmers. When he was four the family moved to a farm near Warsaw, Indiana, where he spent his boyhood. He had little formal education, a deficiency for which he compensated by voracious, though unsystematic, reading. Early in life he decided that one cannot be trusted to feel until one has learned to think.

After the war Bierce went to California and became a journalist, contributing satirical paragraphs and verse to west coast periodicals. He married in 1871 and went the next year to England where he worked on the staff of Fun. He found companionship in a small company of wits, which included George Augustus Sala and W. S. Gilbert. In four years he returned to California and continued to practice journalism, primarily as a critic and satirist, becoming a kind of Western literary monarch. Eastern publishers, however, were not enthusiastic over his work. Killed at Resaca and An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, two of his finest stories, were rejected because of their grimness. His first book of stories, Tales of Soldiers and Civilians, was published in 1892 at the expense of a generous merchant, E. L. G. Steele. (It is not the least pleasing of my reflections, he wrote, that my friends have always liked my work—or me—well enough to publish my works at their expense.)

Bierce went to Washington in 1895 as a correspondent for Hearst’s New York American. Life for him had not become more pleasant with the passage of years. He and his wife had separated. One of his sons, Day, had been murdered in a sordid scrape. In Washington his life was lonely. For some reason, probably from choice, he made few friends there among other writers and journalists. It is said that his only intimates were war veterans. But despite the somberness and cynicism of his life and writings he seemed to harbor little personal animosity. One acquaintance described him as the serenest of stoics. But death, as always, was much on his mind. His second son, Leigh, died at the start of a promising career. Mencken met Bierce at the funeral of Percival Pollard. He told me some curious anecdotes on the way to the crematory, Mencken reported, chiefly of morgues, dissecting-rooms and lonely church-yards: he was the most gruesome of men.

In the fall of 1913 he announced his intention to visit Mexico. He was setting out, he said, with a pretty definite purpose, which, however, is not at present disclosable. First off, he went to Chattanooga. There he began a walking tour of the battlefields upon which he had fought a half century before. Still a proud, erect man for his seventy-one years, Bierce climbed Missionary Ridge, and under a hot autumn sun trudged fifteen miles over the battlefield of Chickamauga. Then he went to Murfreesboro, to Franklin and Nashville. At Shiloh he found the graves of comrades of the Ninth Indiana who had fallen on the April day long ago.

Late in the year he arrived at New Orleans. After a brief stay there, he crossed the border into Mexico and disappeared forever. His last letter was dated December 26, 1913. One of the more plausible conjectures is that he was accidentally slain, in January, 1914, during Villa’s siege of Ojinaga. If this is true, one of Ambrose Bierce’s most persistent desires was realized. He had always hoped for a sudden death.

It beats old age, he said, disease, and falling down the cellar stairs.

WILLIAM MCCANN

East Lansing, Michigan

October 1, 1955

WAR MEMOIRS

ON A MOUNTAIN

They say that the lumberman has looked upon the Cheat Mountain country and seen that it is good, and I hear that some wealthy gentlemen have been there and made a game preserve. There must be lumber and, I suppose, sport, but some things one could wish were ordered otherwise. Looking back upon it through the haze of near half a century, I see that region as a veritable realm of enchantment; the Alleghenies as the Delectable Mountains. I note again their dim, blue billows, ridge after ridge inter-minable, beyond purple valleys full of sleep, in which it seemed always afternoon. Miles and miles away, where the lift of earth meets the stoop of sky, I discern an imperfection in the tint, a faint graying of the blue above the main range—the smoke of an enemy’s camp.

It was in the autumn of that most immemorial year, the 1861st of our Lord, and of our Heroic Age the first, that a small brigade of raw troops—troops were all raw in those days—had been pushed in across the Ohio border and after various vicissitudes of fortune and mismanagement found itself, greatly to its own surprise, at Cheat Mountain Pass, holding a road that ran from Nowhere to the south-east. Some of us had served through the summer in the three-months’ regiments, which responded to the President’s first call for troops. We were regarded by the others with profound respect as old soldiers. (Our ages, if equalized, would, I fancy, have given about twenty years to each man.) We gave ourselves, this aristocracy of service, no end of military airs; some of us even going to the extreme of keeping our jackets buttoned and our hair combed. We had been in action, too; had shot off a Confederate leg at Philippi, the first battle of the war, and had lost as many as a dozen men at Laurel Hill and Carriers Ford, whither the enemy had fled in trying, Heaven knows why, to get away from us. We now brought to the task of subduing the Rebellion a patriotism which never for a moment doubted that a rebel was a fiend accursed of God and the angels—one for whose extirpation by force and arms each youth of us considered himself specially raised up.

It was a strange country. Nine in ten of us had never seen a mountain, nor a hill as high as a church spire, until we had crossed the Ohio River. In power upon the emotions nothing, I think, is comparable to a first sight of mountains. To a member of a plains-tribe, born and reared on the flats of Ohio or Indiana, a mountain region was a perpetual miracle. Space seemed to have taken on a new dimension; areas to have not only length and breadth, but thickness.

Modem literature is full of evidence that our great grandfathers looked upon mountains with aversion and horror. The poets of even the seventeenth century never tire of damning them in good, set terms. If they had had the unhappiness to read the opening lines of The Pleasures of Hope, they would assuredly have thought Master Campbell had gone funny and should be shut up lest he do himself an injury.

The flatlanders who invaded the Cheat Mountain country had been suckled in another creed, and to them western Virginia—there was, as yet, no West Virginia—was an enchanted land. How we reveled in its savage beauties! With what pure delight we inhaled its fragrances of spruce and pine! How we stared with something like awe at its clumps of laurel—real laurel, as we understood the matter, whose foliage had been once accounted excellent for the heads of illustrious Romans and such—-mayhap to reduce the swelling. We carved its roots into finger-rings and pipes. We gathered spruce-gum and sent it to our sweethearts in letters. We ascended every hill within our picket-lines and called it a peak.

And, by the way, during those halcyon days (the halcyon was there, too, chattering above every creek, as he is all over the world) we fought another battle. It has not got into history, but it had a real objective existence, although by a felicitous afterthought called by us who were defeated a reconnaissance in force. Its short and simple annals are that we marched a long way and lay down before a fortified camp of the enemy at the farther edge of the valley. Our commander had the forethought to see that we lay well out of range of the small-arms of the period. A disadvantage of this arrangement was that the enemy was out of reach of us as well, for our rifles were no better than his. Unfortunately—one might almost say unfairly—he had a few pieces of artillery very well protected, and with those he mauled us to the eminent satisfaction of his mind and heart. So we parted from him in anger and returned to our own place, leaving our dead—not many.

Among them was a chap belonging to my company, named Abbott; it is not odd that I recollect it, for there was something unusual in the manner of Abbott’s taking off. He was lying flat upon his stomach and was killed by being struck in the side by a nearly spent cannon-shot that came rolling in among us. The shot remained in him until removed. It was a solid round-shot, evidently cast in some private foundry, whose proprietor, setting the laws of thrift above those of ballistics, had put his imprint upon it: it bore, in slightly sunken letters, the name Abbott. That is what I was told—I was not present.

It was after this, when the nights had acquired a trick of biting and the morning sun appeared to shiver with cold, that we moved up to the summit of Cheat Mountain to guard the pass through which nobody wanted to go. Here we slew the forest and builded us giant habitations (astride the road from Nowhere

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  • (4/5)
    Mr. Bierce is one of the jewels of American Literature . These are the short stories and some of his journalism on the topic of the great American Trauma. More romantic than the man revealed in the "Devil's Dictionary".
  • (5/5)
    This is a compilation of macabre short stories about the Civil War by the inimitable Ambrose Bierce, himself a veteran of the conflict. The most famous of these is undoubtedly "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge". This was made into a French film which won first prize for short subjects at the 1962 Cannes Film Festival and appeared as the very last episode of The Twilight Zone on 2/28/64. It also won the 1964 Oscar for best short subject. Another story which may be familiar is "Parker Adderson, Philosopher", which was filmed in 1974.