Ambrose Bierce, considered a straight forward yet descriptive writer, shows his strong opinion about war while keeping the reader in tuned with his short stories. In his book The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce Vol.2: Tales of Soldiers and Civilians the author describes to the reader the not so glorious truths about war behind several soldiers eyes. By illustrating the gruesome battles, the dangerous scenarios, the emotional traumas, and the unfortunate death defying endings; the author communicates that the brave men who fight and die honorably for their country experience horrifying and not so glorious sides of war.
Bierce demonstrates the inglorious horrors of war by illustrating the gruesome battles that go on in his short stories. For instance, a mother was caught between a battle going on. The mother was dead, laying on the ground with her clothes deranged and her body covered in blood. The forehead was slashed and the poor woman had a hole on her head, seeping with blood, were she was shot by a soldier (pg.24). In Parker Adderson, Philosopher, a mini war happened between three people. A captain was killed with a bowie knife that slit through his throat, a general, fighting against death, had bruises and two sword wounds deep into his thigh and shoulder, and an enemy spy, who caused these wounds, was shot to death (pg.65-66). Another example would be in the short story, One Kind of Officer, were Captain Ransome faced a cruel and painful death by feeling the bullets from a rifle tear through his heart while mentally accepting the fact that this is the end of his live (pg.90). These examples portray a few of the gory battles that happen in his stories.
Bierce demonstrates the inglorious horrors of war by narrating the dangerous scenarios soldiers and officers face by being part of the military. For instance, a soldier named Thurston was separated from Captain Burlings army while fighting the Confederates. Later, his army found him severely wounded from taking the enemies final defense (pg.99). For another example, a spy was sent to the Confederate army to gather useful information for the Unions. In the end the spy ends up getting caught, not being able to escape, and gets shot to death by 20 men (pg.66). This shows how risky the duties of a spy really can be. Another example of dangerous scenarios would be when Private Grayrock of the Federal Army was on the look out for enemies near by (pg.102). As it got darker, the Private was no longer able to see a thing in sight. Everything was a blur of unknown objects and saw nothing in detail. At this point he lost his bearings and was unable to say which direction an enemy’s approach might be, making not only his own safety and life in jeopardy, but also the safety and lives of other soldiers he was supposed to protect as well (pg.103).
Bierce demonstrates the inglorious horrors of war by showing emotional and heart breaking trauma that goes on through out his book. For example, in Chickamauga, a young boy gets lost in the woods and stumbles into a group of soldiers wounded and bloody. Being scared, the boy runs away impulsively into a battlefield where he witnesses rivers stained from the ridiculous amount of blood and soldiers drowned and dead from over exhaustion. He also experiences the air filled with smoke, dashes of blood covering the surfaces, and seeing not a single living thing (pg.23). This scared him emotionally away from his dream of becoming a soldier. Later on the story, the boy finds his way back home and sees his mother dead and covered in blood. The boy becomes motionless and cries horrifically from the heart breaking moment (pg.24). Another example of emotional trauma from the war would be in Killed at Resaca. In this chapter, it explains the face to face encounters the soldiers experience with hours and hours of killing your own species and watching them die as well.
This life style is “not a happy one,” because of the emotional distress it puts on a soldier (pg.42). In the Coupe De Grace, the story talks about two friends, Captain Madwell and Creed Halcrow, who have grown up together since childhood and share a strong bonded friendship. Captain Madwell joined the army and since Creed Halcrow was so attached to his friend and he decided to follow, despite his lack of interest in being in the military (pg.56). He could not fathom the emotional separation the army would have put him through.The short story, the Horseman in the Sky, Bierce explains the abandoned relationship between a father and son. The son, Carter Druse, left his family to fight in the army with the disapproval from his father (pg.5). Later on the story, Druse reunites with his father, yet this time behind a rifle. Druse was forced to decide between his duties as a soldier and the emotional bond between him and his father. In the end, Druse’s emotions take over and he shoots a horse instead (pg.9).
Bierce demonstrates the inglorious horrors of war by making every short story end with an unfortunate fate. For example, in An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, Peyton Farquhar was killed by being hanged by his enemy. Farquhar’s neck was broken and his body was swinging back and forth, dead, above the Owl Creek Bridge (pg.18). In The Sons of God, many bodies of great men were dead, lying all over the ground with not a single spare of life (pg.30) In One Officer, One Man, the federal army had the honor to report that the enemy has withdrawn, but still a loss was included. Killed, was one officer and one man (pg.96). In The Story of Conscience, Captain Hartroy ordered an officer that Captain Graham is to be shot for the accusation of being a spy and a deserter. After being shot, Graham was buried, like a spy and deserter, granted with no military honors, and rested in death in a long forgotten grave (pg.81). In An Affair of Outposts, the Governor asked for Captain Armisted, a great and noble man, and found his dead body in the row of death, discreetly covered in handkerchiefs (pg.75). All these short stories end with despairing deaths.
Ambrose Bierce portrays a bitter ending in all his short stories because he interprets war as a horrific thing. Through out the book, Bierce gives numerous examples about gruesome battles rivalries participate in, dangerous scenarios soldiers face, emotional traumas, and death defying fates to back up the message that the brave men who fight and die honorably for their country is horrifying and denouncing to the glory of war.
Bierce, Ambrose. The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce Vol 2: In the Midst of Life: Tales of Soldiers and Civilians. SAN FRANCISCO: Mr. E. L. G. Steele, 1891.