A Sympathetic Solider

Ambrose Gwinett Bierce was an American satirists, short-story writer, and journalist whose literary works were influenced by his experiences as an officer in the Civil War. Many of his literary peaces were cultivated and shaped by the time he spent during 1861 and 1865.

Born in Meigs County, Ohio in 1842, He was the youngest of a large brood of children, whom Marcus, for reasons unknown, anointed with names beginning with “A” (Curran, 295). Bierces family had a history in the military, and once the Civil War started, it was a perfect opportunity for him to make something of his life. He fought bravely in the war, until he was wounded at The Battle of Kennesaw Mountain (296). After the war, he had several jobs involving is unique talent for writing. And in 1871, he married Mary Ellen Day, and settled in England where he worked as a writer for a magazine called FUN. They had two sons (296).

The Civil War would prove to be the defining episode of his literary life. Some of his more famous works, such as An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, The Death of Grant, and The Confederate Flags, were all cultivated by his military experiences.

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, follows the story of a refuge soldier who is about to be executed. And upon his execution, the soldier is stricken with last-minute thoughts of escape, and memories of his happier days. It is documented that Ambrose was imprisoned in a confederate camp when he wrote this story. (Pesonen/Liukkonen, 3). He very well could have illustrated this story around his own imprisonment. But the story contrasts more than the time period he spent at the camp, it details his knowledge of military warfare. For example, in the story, the solider reenacts how he might escape if he were given the chance (3).

The Death of Grant is a poem that depicts the death of Ulysses S. Grant, who was a tyrant among other things. In the poem, it opens with his death as liberation, and concludes with the idea of war being corrupted (Pesonen/Liukkonen, 4). The death of Grant was a turning point for the union winning the war. Bierce may have seen this early on, and he may have created an image of what life was going to be like after Grant. For instance, Bierce may have thought, “now that we have been liberated we are still left with the curroptedness of war.” It is clear that at this point in Ambrose’s life he has seen that war is no way of settling disputes (4).

The Confederate Flags is a sympathetic poem written in the south’s favor. It did not phrase them for what they did, but it acknowledge that “everyone is entitled to mistakes, just as long as you intend to make them right” (Pesonen/Liukkonen, 5). In contrast, it condemned northerners for having feelings of hatred. The poem has a theme that can be summed up in one word- Unity. That is, “to make a better nation than yesterday, we all must work together for the greater good of everyone today” (5). Bierce was deeply affected by the anti-semitism that the southerners were experiencing. He’s thought “in order to gain anything we would have to work together” (5).

Bierce joined the Civil war with the intention of honoring his decedents. But he became something more than that. He used his logic to see though all the destruction to what was really intent in his mind. A small town Ohioan farm boy could see our nations own destruction, and he used his compassion for writing to express his feeling. Today he is known to be a great American author, back in his day he was just a solider, struggling with the inner turmoil to do what’s right.

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