And so the clumsy multitude dragged itself slowly and painfully along in hideous pantomime--moved forward down the slope like a swarm of great black beetles, with never a sound of going--in silence profound, absolute. Instead of darkening, the haunted landscape began to brighten.
`` Chickamauga `` By Ambrose Bierce Essay
Through the belt of trees beyond the brook shone a strange red light, the trunks and branches of the trees making a black lacework against it. It struck the creeping figures and gave them monstrous shadows, which caricatured their movements on the lit grass. It fell upon their faces, touching their whiteness with a ruddy tinge, accentuating the stains with which so many of them were freaked and maculated.
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It sparkled on buttons and bits of metal in their clothing. Instinctively the child turned toward the growing splendor and moved down the slope with his horrible companions; in a few moments had passed the foremost of the throng--not much of a feat, considering his advantages. He placed himself in the lead, his wooden sword still in hand, and solemnly directed the march, conforming his pace to theirs and occasionally turning as if to see that his forces did not straggle.
Surely such a leader never before had such a following.
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- Chickamauga. This essay is about Ambrose Bierce's dark short story, "Chickamauga."?
Scattered about upon the ground now slowly narrowing by the encroachment of this awful march to water, were certain articles to which, in the leader's mind, were coupled no significant associations: an occasional blanket tightly rolled lengthwise, doubled and the ends bound together with a string; a heavy knapsack here, and there a broken rifle--such things, in short, as are found in the rear of retreating troops, the "spoor" of men flying from their hunters.
Everywhere near the creek, which here had a margin of lowland, the earth was trodden into mud by the feet of men and horses. An observer of better experience in the use of his eyes would have noticed that these footprints pointed in both directions; the ground had been twice passed over--in advance and in retreat. A few hours before, these desperate, stricken men, with their more fortunate and now distant comrades, had penetrated the forest in thousands. Their successive battalions, breaking into swarms and reforming in lines, had passed the child on every side--had almost trodden on him as he slept.
The rustle and murmur of their march had not awakened him. Almost within a stone's throw of where he lay they had fought a battle; but all unheard by him were the roar of the musketry, the shock of the cannon, "the thunder of the captains and the shouting. The fire beyond the belt of woods on the farther side of the creek, reflected to earth from the canopy of its own smoke, was now suffusing the whole landscape.
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It transformed the sinuous line of mist to the vapor of gold. The water gleamed with dashes of red, and red, too, were many of the stones protruding above the surface. But that was blood; the less desperately wounded had stained them in crossing.
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On them, too, the child now crossed with eager steps; he was going to the fire. As he stood upon the farther bank he turned about to look at the companions of his march. The advance was arriving at the creek. The stronger had already drawn themselves to the brink and plunged their faces into the flood.
Three or four who lay without motion appeared to have no heads. At this the child's eyes expanded with wonder; even his hospitable understanding could not accept a phenomenon implying such vitality as that. After slaking their thirst these men had not had the strength to back away from the water, nor to keep their heads above it.
They were drowned. In rear of these, the open spaces of the forest showed the leader as many formless figures of his grim command as at first; but not nearly so many were in motion. He waved his cap for their encouragement and smilingly pointed with his weapon in the direction of the guiding light--a pillar of fire to this strange exodus. Confident of the fidelity of his forces, he now entered the belt of woods, passed through it easily in the red illumination, climbed a fence, ran across a field, turning now and again to coquet with his responsive shadow, and so approached the blazing ruin of a dwelling.
Desolation everywhere! In all the wide glare not a living thing was visible. He cared nothing for that; the spectacle pleased, and he danced with glee in imitation of the wavering flames. He ran about, collecting fuel, but every object that he found was too heavy for him to cast in from the distance to which the heat limited his approach. In despair he flung in his sword--a surrender to the superior forces of nature.
His military career was at an end. Shifting his position, his eyes fell upon some outbuildings which had an oddly familiar appearance, as if he had dreamed of them.
He stood considering them with wonder, when suddenly the entire plantation, with its inclosing forest, seemed to turn as if upon a pivot. His little world swung half around; the points of the compass were reversed. He recognized the blazing building as his own home! For a moment he stood stupefied by the power of the revelation, then ran with stumbling feet, making a half-circuit of the ruin.
There, conspicuous in the light of the conflagration, lay the dead body of a woman--the white face turned upward, the hands thrown out and clutched full of grass, the clothing deranged, the long dark hair in tangles and full of clotted blood. The greater part of the forehead was torn away, and from the jagged hole the brain protruded, overflowing the temple, a frothy mass of gray, crowned with clusters of crimson bubbles--the work of a shell. The child moved his little hands, making wild, uncertain gestures.
He uttered a series of inarticulate and indescribable cries--something between the chattering of an ape and the gobbling of a turkey--a startling, soulless, unholy sound, the language of a devil. The child was a deaf mute. Then he stood motionless, with quivering lips, looking down upon the wreck. Chickamauga One sunny autumn afternoon a child strayed away from its rude home in a small field and entered a forest unobserved.
Ambrose Bierce. Cobwebs From an Empty Skull. The Fiend's Delight. A Cynic Looks at Life. The Devil's Dictionary. Write It Right. Black Beetles in Amber.
A Baby Tramp. A Baffled Ambuscade. A Bivouac of the Dead.
Some more thoughts on “Chickamauga” | The Bohemian Rock Star's "Untitled Project"
A Cold Greeting. A Diagnosis of Death. Ambrose bierce biography essay Ambrose Bierce Poetry Foundation " from the assassination of ambrose bierce: a love story by don swaim, hippocampus press, new york. Ambrose Bierce - Biography and Works. Ambrose Bierce American author this site has four bierce stories in mp3 audio: the damned thing, man and snake, middle toe, and staley fleming's hallucination. Free Ambrose Bierce Essays and Papers the stories of this one collection, with their bizarre, frequently supernatural, violent, and ironic nature, are what has earned bierce his place in american literature.
Ambrose Bierce bierce used incredibly precise detail and everyday diction to depict unidealized life events to their most validity. And yet he shows true, genuine terror only once: when he sees a rabbit sitting upright in the path before. This sight—quite literally the most benevolent image in the entire story—induces such horror in him that he runs screaming at such a high pitch of panic that the experience has the effect of lulling him into sleep.
Contextually, then, the rabbit becomes one of the most important elements of the story when juxtaposed against the imagery that the reader expects the boy should find horrifying. His emotional responses are always at odds against that which would be expected; thus the rabbit becomes a metaphor of how emotional reaction to reality is often shaped by how one is taught to react. The boy fails to react properly to scenes of war because he has been taught that war is a glorious fantasy. By contrast, the rabbit is evidently something he has not yet been taught about and so appears as alien and, with its long ears, threatening.
The portrait of a young boy sleeping soundly while cannon fire explodes over him and soldiers stealthily seek out positions all around him becomes an intensely powerful symbol of how each successive generation of children are willingly made deaf to the reality of war by writers telling stories that only highlight the glory and refuse to demonstrate the ugly truth of the battlefield.
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