‘Soldiers’ Review

Michael Parke, Staff Writer

Soldiers is the first of two collections of short stories creating In the Midst of Life* concerning the Civil War and its participants by wit and writer Ambrose Bierce.

Most of the stories are in the third person omniscient and some are from the first person, like George Thurston: Three Incidents in the Life of a Man and Killed at Resaca. Included are the famous An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, a story about a hanging, and Chickamauga, a story about a boy who acts like a soldier and is then brought down by what happens at home. The Story of a Conscience and The Mocking-Bird are about friends who happen to be on opposite sides; the rest of the fifteen are just as enthralling as the six mentioned above. A common theme throughout is death, whether it be suicide by saber or a great height or enemy fire.

It’s a good collection for those who seek the horrors of Poe, the length of a short story and the witty punch of Mark Twain. In my opinion Bierce surpasses Twain in the narrow field of sardonicism he operates in and is definitely more cruel, a great example being Chickamauga. Perhaps his tone stems from his time as the ninth child in a family led by a man who adamantly had all the kids’ names begin with “A,” or perhaps it’s from his time as a Union soldier in the Civil War.

Either way he stands in the face of optimism with these tales, death being the spearhead.”

Soldiers stands alone in my opinion. There’s nothing that has quite the flavor this carries. Edgar Allan Poe’s work would perhaps stand beside Bierce’s, although I know not what. The writing feels similar to Twain’s although the subject matter is not about the Mississippi or Huck. No, as Clifton Fadiman remarked, “Death is a joke” to our beloved author, and he includes it with glee. I can only recommend The Devil’s Dictionary, by Bierce, with its slew of witty and honestly true definitions as a true comparison, for I’ve yet to read any of his other short stories nor those of another author like him.

In short Bierce was an interesting author. No one knows what happened to the man—in 1913, after divorcing and having both of his sons die, he ventured to Mexico where he disappeared. What he left behind was a scathing body of work against everything he hated. Other mediums have covered his work, like an episode of The Twilight Zone titled An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, which is episode twenty-two in season five of the television series. Knowing the show it’s probably good. Soldiers is a good start to the writer’s work and I would recommend it.

* from The Collected Writings of Ambrose Bierce (1947), printed by The Citadel Press. I found it for $9.95 at a fabulous used book store by the name of “Raven Used Books,” located in Cambridge, Massachusetts.