AMBROSE BIERCE, OOPS

This nineteenth century person is known in California and in journalism and by dictionary readers. When a Library of America volume of his writings came my way, I bought and read.

Bierce (mostly revised and published in 1909) cherishes Nineteenth Century expression eschewing advances in the language and literature by Melville, Twain and others. He wasn’t  journalistic, using excess words per sentence and attempting to create structures, possibly parallel to one another within a sentence. That today is eliminated by using the correct verb. (It’s his style, right?) When writing a Memoir, what sort of author has the parenthetical, If memory serves me correct?

Having read books about the Battle of Shiloh, Easter Sunday, 1862, I was interested in Bierce’s first-hand account. A lot of men died at Shiloh. For a reader of a battle it is important to know direction – north, east, south, west, or ahead, left, right, behind, or the time on the dial of a clock. Bierce tell little of that or the intensity of the fighting – I never learned whether 20 bodies were piled up before Bierce or whether he looked out and saw 50 bodies covering a field. Where did the shooting come from? Was anyone in command?

Anyone writing about battles, military maneuvers and placement of men and armies runs into the excellent Autobiography of US Grant (1885)  There is no nonsense on any battlefield; there is none on paper. Straightforward facts allow irony, humor, social commentary to rend the reader’s imagination. Grant conveys, A Union unit of African-American teamsters and cooks were ordered to do something by their general in early May 1864. The General left. Grant conveyed further, that General did not see those teamsters and cooks until July 1864. What happened to that unit seems obvious. Any officer of rank came across them and gave a new order, or countermanded orders, and the Unit was under his command. An entire story can be told of that unit, while the Union Army fought from Northern Virginia to the James River.

If anything like Grant’s few sentences every appears in Bierce, it is hard to find.

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