Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

This story has such important autobiographical touches that it is worthwhile to outline Ambrose Bierce’s wartime activities. Bierce was born in Ohio and was living in Indiana when the Civil War began. Within days of the war’s outbreak, he volunteered as a private in an Indiana infantry company. Two months later, he was in combat. Assigned to the brigade of General William Babcock Hazen in March, 1862, he fought in several high-casualty engagements—including Shiloh, Stone River, and elsewhere. In April, 1863, he became a topographical engineer and saw more action at Chickamauga and Chattanooga. He was shot in the head at Kenesaw Mountain. After returning to duty three months later, he participated in engagements through Georgia, including one at Resaca, which he mapped for General Hazen. Because of his courage and efficiency, he steadily rose in rank.

It is also relevant to note that Bierce was disappointed in love at least twice. While recuperating from his head wound in Indiana, he argued ruinously with his fiancé for her flirtatiousness. In 1871 he married another woman and had three children by her but later left her after finding a love letter to her from another man.

Bierce’s purpose in “Killed at Resaca” is to dramatize the meaninglessness of military heroism, the occasional valor of wartime opponents, and the folly of love. To satisfy his lover’s needs, poor Brayle makes it the business of his life to die heroically. With...

(The entire section is 406 words.)