Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Killed at Resaca” displays both Bierce’s realistic descriptive powers and his cynical, sarcastic language. His narrator photographically describes the area into which Brayle rides and in which he is then killed: enemy earthworks, slight crest, woods, curving fringe of forest, and an open field with its sinuous gully. For naturalistic irony, Bierce also notes that the ensuing firefight occurs under a sunny sky.

Bierce’s bitter diction regularly seeps into his more neutral passages. Examples abound: men with gray-blue eyes associate courage with men similarly “gifted”; the general’s mind is too preoccupied to consider his staff officers’ lives, “or those of his [enlisted] men, for that matter”; bold dispatch riders are the “object . . . of admiring marksmen.” Bierce is almost vitriolic when he says that soldiers’ lives are “precious to their country.” Occasionally, when Brayle returns from another reckless display of bravado, he is “about as good as new”—that is, wounded only slightly. When the captain to whom Brayle jocosely whispers is himself killed, Brayle adjusts the corpse’s limbs “with needless care.” When Brayle stands erect near the end, “death . . . did not keep him long waiting.” A splendid bit of understatement comes at the end of “Killed at Resaca.” Asked by Miss Mendenhall how Brayle died, the narrator closes his account thus: “’He was bitten by a snake,’ I replied.” The final pair of words conceal, rather than reveal, the narrator’s seething disgust.

Bierce lets his readers complete the closure of this narration. Why this reply? The narrator does not want the “detestable” woman—whose love bite was indeed venomous—to feel proud that she armed her lover with courage and be able to remember that he died for her. Curiously, the narrator concludes earlier in his account that Miss Mendenhall’s letter caused the death of a hundred men, and adds, “Is woman weak?” This is Bierce the misogynist writing, not Bierce the former soldier. If those hundred men had not been killed then at Resaca, most would certainly have been killed later that day or soon thereafter. After all, historical casualties during the furor at Resaca included roughly six thousand Union men and five thousand Confederates killed, wounded, or missing. Given such figures, who could much care about a lone casualty named Brayle?

Killed at Resaca Bibliography

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Berkove, Lawrence I. A Prescription for Adversity: The Moral Art of Ambrose Bierce. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2002.

Blume, Donald T. Ambrose Bierce’s “Civilians and Soldiers” in Context: A Critical Study. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 2004.

Davidson, Cathy N. The Experimental Fictions of Ambrose Bierce: Structuring the Ineffable. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1984.

Davidson, Cathy N., ed. Critical Essays on Ambrose Bierce. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1982.

Fatout, Paul. Ambrose Bierce, the Devil’s Lexicographer. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1951.

Gale, Robert L. An Ambrose Bierce Companion. New York: Greenwood Press, 2001.

Grenander, Mary Elizabeth. Ambrose Bierce. New York: Twayne, 1971.

Hoppenstand, Gary. “Ambrose Bierce and the Transformation of the Gothic Tale in the Nineteenth-Century American Periodical.” In Periodical Literature in Nineteenth-Century America, edited by Kenneth M. Price and Susan Belasco Smith. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1995.

McWilliams, Carey. Ambrose Bierce: A Biography. 1929. Reprint. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1967.

Morris, Roy, Jr. Ambrose Bierce: Alone in Bad Company. New York: Crown, 1996.

O’Connor, Richard. Ambrose Bierce: A Bibliography and a Biography. Boston: Little, Brown, 1967.

Schaefer, Michael W. Just What War Is: The Civil War Writings of De Forest and Bierce. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1997.

West, Richard. The San Francisco Wasp: An Illustrated History. Easthampton, Mass.: Periodyssey Press, 2004.