Friday, July 01, 2011

Feliz cumpleaños, Ambrose Bierce

“Insurance: An ingenious modern game of chance in which the player is permitted to enjoy the comfortable conviction that he is beating the man who keeps the table.”


"On the outbreak of the Civil War Lucius Bierce organized and equipped two companies of marines. [Ambrose Bierce] joined one of these on 19th April, 1861, and two months later became part of the invasion force led by George McClellan in West Virginia.

On 6th April, 1862, Albert S. Johnson and Pierre T. Beauregard and 55,000 members of the Confederate Army attacked Grant's army near Shiloh Church, in Hardin, Tennessee. Taken by surprise, Grant's army suffered heavy losses. Bierce was a member of the force led by General Don Carlos Buell that forced the Confederate to retreat. Bierce was deeply shocked by what he saw at Shiloh and after the war wrote several short stories based on this experience."

"Bierce was promoted to the rank of second lieutenant in November, 1862. Two months later he fought at Murfreesboro where he saved the life of his commanding officer, Major Braden, by carrying his to safety and he had been seriously wounded in the fighting.

In February, 1862 Bierce was commissioned first lieutenant of Company C of the Ninth Indiana. He fought at Chickamuga (September, 1863) under General William Hazen. The sight of so many senior officers, including William Rosecrans, fleeing from the battlefield, deeply shocked Bierce. It is said that Bierce's idealism died that day and was replaced by cynicism. He later wrote that during the war he entered "a world of fools and rogues, blind with superstition, tormented with envy, consumed with vanity, selfish, false, cruel, cursed with illusions - frothing mad!"

Bierce served under General William Sherman during his Atlanta Campaign. At Resaca on 14th May, 1864, Bierce's close friend, Lieutenant Brayle was killed. Two weeks later his regiment suffered heavy losses when attacked by General Joseph Johnson at Pickett's Mill. Bierce was badly wounded at Kennesaw Mountain when he was shot in the head by a musket ball on 23rd June.

After being treated in hospital he returned to the front-line on 30th September, 1864. The injury caused him long-term problems for the rest of his life. He later wrote: "for many years afterward, subject to fits of fainting, sometimes without assignable immediate cause, but mostly when suffering from exposure, excitement or excessive fatigue."

Lt. Bierce caught a rebel musket-ball in the head at Kennesaw Mountain--that explains somethin' about "El Gringo Viejo".

More AB


Moriarty said...

The biblethumpers' civil war nostalgia tends to focus on the good ol' boys--Lee, Jefferson Davis, Longstreet, Stonewall, Hood, etc. Beauregard, a french catholic is ignored, or considered a villain. In reality, Borey was the brains behind the South, and though reckless at times, IMO a better general than Granny Lee--peruse the last battles, Cold Harbor, etc. The Creole and his men took out a few thousand bluecoats, arguably saving Lee.

The neo-confederates forget that most of the CSA officers were Episcopalian as well (Lee, Polk, Hardee, IIRC). Post bellum, Davis became a fire-breathing baptist-klansman sort (and grew more foolish each year), but was initially Episcopalian, IIRC. There may have been some biblethumping baptist or calvinist sorts, but the officers were episcopalian for the most part, aka Fruitcakes.

Part of Bierce's skepticism might have been caused by having to fight bloody battles alongside the supposed Christians (and the freethinkers, were usually..Union Grant himself). The redneck morons flying their stars and bars and praising an idiot such as Jefferson Davis (some to be noted even in SoCal) ought to be required to read Bierce's accounts of Shiloh and Chickamauga, or at least Bruce Catton 101.

J said...

Grazi for comment Mor. Re Jefferson Davis, I agree and would include all the CSA brass among the villains of the South (or rate them as reckless, stupid gamblers): Lee, Beau., Longstreet, Johnston, Breckinridge--sort of the Limbaugh of the secession movement--though Breck. and his "Orphans" fought hard at times. The pardons were dubious as well.

You still read a few history-hicks complaining that Davis was in prison for what 2-3 years. He should have been hanged, even by southerners--he insisted the South go to war, when they are outgunned, little ammo (nearly..nada once Buell & Co shut down the Tennessee copper mines), no navy (so long Miss. and coasts), and inexperienced officers. At times, they have no rations (at Vicksburg, IIRC, the Union seizes their cattle, grain and chow for the thousands). Davis couldn't count--that didn't stop him from making outrageous claims and promises which he never kept.

I've been reading Swinton's "Decisive Battles of the Civil War" ...quite succinct, and objective--Swinton does not exactly root for the Federals, but he does hint at the CSA incompetence.

Most of Bierce's civil war writing reads like mere reportage (though...detailed and grisly), but a few stand out-- Chickamauga. The "Owl Creek" klassic ..Serling used it for a Twilight zone episode...quaint but sort of entertaining. War is Hell, as Bierce's one-time CO Uncle Billy said.

Some of Bierce's best writing may have been his attacks on the railroad barons such as Huntington and $tanford (AB's spelling), written while employed for the young Willie Hearst. He considered them not merely scoundrels but...perps--murderers, actually.

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