In secondary English we read a short story entitled An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge. It’s a story about Peyton Farquhar, a family man, a planter and Confederate sympathizer, who stands on the Owl Creek Bridge in Alabama waiting to be hung by Union soldiers. The story takes some unusual turns and ends with a surprise twist.
The author of this story was Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce, born June 24, 1842 in Ohio. His parents were Marcus and Laura Sherwood. Even though they were poor, they instilled a love of reading in their 13 children whose first names all began with an A.
His parents moved across the border to Indiana where Ambrose attended high school in Warsaw. At the beginning of the Civil War, the teenager joined the 9th Indiana Infantry Regiment (Union). His war experiences became the source for his short stories and his personal memoir.
It was in San Francisco after resigning from the army that his journalistic career rocketed. In the early 1870s he spent time in England where he continued to hone his craft. In the late 1880s he became a columnist for the San Francisco Examiner and became widely known.
Of course he was involved in some controversies. A good newspaper person is always in the heart of controversy if the job is being done right.
In addition to being a journalist Ambrose was an abolitionist, a poet, satirist, fiction writer, fabulist, adventurer, and critic. He wrote from his personal experiences.
At the age of 71 Ambrose wandered the battlefields of his youth and eventually found his way to Mexico and joined Pancho Villa. The joining with Pancho Villa is speculative at best, but what is not speculative is that Ambrose disappeared in 1913 on his jaunt South.
What happened to Ambrose? He disappeared into history. There have been those who have written about this disappearance, but theirs is just a flight of fancy concerning this interesting man of the 19th and early 20th century.
Whatever became of Ambrose will always be a mystery. However, did he live well on this planet traversing the cosmos? His life testifies to that fact—a Civil War hero and veteran, journalist and fellow traveller on the road of life.
His words still capture those rare moments of experience. Listed below are the final words from his short story, What I Saw Of Shiloh. It was at Shiloh where war became the hell which so many have experienced on this earth. It affected Ambrose deeply.
For it is in the horror of war one’s innocence is lost. The heat of battle sears the soul with its own mark of agony, a wound which does not heal with the passing of time.
G. D. Williams © 2011
The Literature Network
WHAT I SAW OF SHILOH
“O days when all the world was beautiful and strange; when unfamiliar constellations burned in the Southern midnights, and the mocking-bird poured out his heart in the moon-gilded magnolia; when there was something new under a new sun; will your fine, far memories ever cease to lay contrasting pictures athwart the harsher features of this later world, accentuating the ugliness of the longer and tamer life? Is it not strange that the phantoms of a blood-stained period have so airy a grace and look with so tender eyes? – that I recall with difficulty the danger and death and horrors of the time, and without effort all that was gracious and picturesque? Ah, Youth, there is no such wizard as thou! Give me but one touch of thine artist hand upon the dull canvas of the Present; gild for but one moment the drear and somber scenes of to-day, and I will willingly surrender an other life than the one that I should have thrown away at Shiloh.”
The Ambrose Bierce Site
The Ambrose Bierce Appreciation Society
The Ambrose Bierce Project
The Devil’s Dictionary
A Hanging at Owl Creek Bridge video
The Mockingbird video
Ambrose Bierce featured in films
Dusk To Dawn III: The Hangman’s Daughter
The Old Gringo