HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Civil War Stories
Author: Ambrose Bierce
Publisher: Dover Publications Inc., 1994
Related website: http://www.doverpublications.com (publisher)
Language level: 3
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Reading level: Teens and adults
Rating: *** 3 stars (FAIR)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Bierce, Ambrose. Civil War Stories (published in 1994 by Dover Publications Inc., 31 E. 2nd St., Mineola, NY 11501). I was born and raised in Ohio, where we studied Ohio History in eighth grade at that time. Because of my interest in the subject, the teacher gave a used copy of an older edition of our textbook, which I still have. In the chapter on “Literature and the Arts,” there was a section on “Later Ohio fiction writers” which said, “Ohio has continued to produce its full share of famous authors,” one of whom was Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914). The following was written about Bierce. “Ambrose Bierce is the author of a limited number of short stories, among which are some of the best ever written by an American. After fighting in the Union Army, Bierce went to San Francisco and became a newspaper editor. He was noted for his biting comments on anything that seemed to him insincere. His column, which won for him the title of ‘Bitter Bierce,’ has had many imitators in modern newspapers.”
Thus, when I saw this book of Civil War Stories by Bierce at the Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield Park gift shop in Missouri, I picked it up. It contains sixteen short stories about the Civil War taken from The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce, Volumes I and II, published in 1909, most of which come from his book Tales of Soldiers and Civilians of 1891. Some of the titles include “A Horseman in the Sky,” “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” “Chickamauga,” “A Son of the Gods,” “What I Saw of Shiloh,” “Four Days in Dixie,” and “One of the Missing,” plus nine more. It does not have one of his most famous Civil War stories, “A Bivouac for the Dead.” All of them are filled with the vitriolic wit and biting satire that earned Bierce his nickname. Most of them involve some kind of irony, often with a surprise ending, and a few of them might fall into the category of the macabre, ala Alfred Hitchcock.
Many of the descriptions of the battles are rather graphic, and one story involves a suicide. The “d” and “h” words are use occasionally, along with some taking the Lord’s name in vain (e.g., “my God,” “by God,” “good God”). There is one reference to drinking wine. These dark and vivid tales are not for young children, but teens and adults who are Civil War buffs might appreciate them. A lot of the stories I found interesting, but a few just did not make a great deal of sense to me. In 1913, Bierce, who had become increasingly disenchanted with his own life due to the divorce from his wife and the deaths of his two sons, went to Mexico to meet the revolutionary leader Pancho Villa and to observe firsthand the Civil War there. After a “farewell letter,” nothing more was heard from or about Bierce, and the circumstances of his death remain a mystery. It is generally assumed that he died at the siege of Ojinaga in January of 1914.