The soldier: At age nineteen, Bierce became the second man in his county to enlist in 1861.
The survivor: Bierce in 1866, one year after the war ended. His expression hints at the haunting effects of war memory that would take more than twenty years to find their voice.
The author: At the time this photo was taken in 1892, Ambrose had just finished his remarkable three-year creative burst, drawing on his war experiences to produce his best work.
An undated photograph, circa 1880s-1890s.
Company A of Bierce’s regiment, the 9th Indiana. The 9th fought in twenty battles between 1861 and 1865, suffering heavy losses in the process.
Another wartime photo of the 9th Indiana.
Map of the Western theater of the Civil War.
Steamboats like these ferried the men of the 9th Indiana into battle at the end of the first day at Shiloh. “Before us ran the turbulent river, vexed with plunging shells and obscured in spots by blue sheets of low-lying smoke.”
Today, the battlefield of Shiloh is a national park, and is a much tidier place than it was in 1862. “A few inaudible commands from an invisible leader had placed us in order of battle. But where was the enemy? What protected our right? Why lay upon our left? Was there really anything in our front?”
The Round Forest at Stone’s River, dubbed “Hell’s Half-Acre” by the men of Hazen’s brigade.
The Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, where, on July 27, 1864, Bierce had his skull “broken like a walnut” by a Confederate bullet.
Few images of the graphic reality of battle filtered back to the American public. A rare exception was Matthew Brady’s photographs of the aftermath of battles like Antietam.
Another one of Brady’s photographs of the dead at Antietam.
Death loomed large in the lives of Civil War soldiers. Above, a burial party at Cold Harbor, Virginia, 1864.
Civilians survey the carnage at Antietam, 1862.
Everyday acts of violence and mayhem in San Francisco (shown here in 1878) provided fodder for Bierce’s newspaper columns.
Ambrose did his best to neglect and ignore his long-suffering wife, Mary Ellen (“Mollie”) Day Bierce. This photograph is undated, but probably taken around the time of their wedding in 1871.
A gentleman roasts a baby over a fire on the title page of “The Fiend’s Delight” (1872), one of Bierce’s published collections. “I think I have killed a good many people in one way or another; but the reader will please to observe that they were not people worth the trouble of leaving alive.”
Lyrics to “The Dying Soldier to His Mother,” a prime example of the sentimentality surrounding wartime death.
George Lambdin’s “The Consecration” (1861). A young officer receives his benediction from his sweetheart (or is she his sister? cousin? friend?), leaving the comfort of home for the front.
“The Attack on Fort Donelson” (1897), a typical postwar portrayal of Civil War combat. Bloodless wounds, clear direction from officers, and a conspicuous flag inspire a thrill of patriotism and excitement.
The mutual valor of “The Blue and The Grey” was a favorite topic of postwar reconciliation. In this 1890 depiction of Chickamauga, the symmetry of opposing soldiers, flags, and officers enhances their shared bravery and the validity of both causes.
Walt Whitman served in Union hospitals, tending to the wounded and dying. He predicted that “the real war will never get in the books. In the mushy influences of current times, too, the fervid atmosphere and typical events of those years are in danger of being totally forgotten… Its interior history will never be written.”
In a Memorial Day speech to the graduating class of Harvard, Oliver Wendell Holmes offered “the soldier’s faith” as the ultimate calling for young men in a time of uncertainty. “We have shared the incommunicable experience of war … when time has passed you see its message was divine.”
Theodore Roosevelt, scion of American militarism at the end of the 19th century. “When men fear work or fear righteous war, when women fear motherhood, they tremble on the brink of doom; and well it is that they should vanish from the earth.”
Regimentation in the workplace: the enormous new workforces in railroads and factories (like this collar factory in Troy, NY) required new kinds of management based on military principles.
Class war: Strikers battle Pinkerton detectives at Homestead, PA, 1892.
At the fiftieth anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, Woodrow Wilson gave the ultimate sermon on the reconciliation of North and South. We shall not forget the splendid valor, the manly devotion of the men then arrayed against one another, now grasping hands and smiling into each other’s eyes.”
“Shaking hands across the bloody chasm” was a common metaphor in the postwar nation for the process of healing and reconciliation. Here, aging veterans perform a literal enactment at the Gettysburg reunion, July 1913.
The memorial to the soldiers of Hazen’s brigade at Stone’s River, Tennessee, which figures prominently in “A Resumed Identity.”
Pancho Villa, Mexican guerilla leader and possibly Bierce’s final host in 1913-14.