In the short story "Chickamauga" by Ambrose Bierce, a six-year-old boy wanders away from his parents' farm, playing soldier as he brandishes a crude wooden sword. He wanders over a creek and into a forest, where he gets lost. Unable to find his way home, he falls asleep between two boulders. Although readers do not learn it until the story's end, the boy is a deaf mute, and so he cannot hear the arrival of soldiers and the sound of a battle while he sleeps. When he wakes up, he again comes upon the creek, where he discovers a horde of severely wounded men attempting to crawl towards the life-giving water of the creek. He does not understand that he has stumbled into the aftermath of a battle and takes it all as a game. However, in the end he comes upon the burning remains of the poor plantation of his parents and the dead body of his mother, and he realizes the true horror of the battle.
Literary realism is a movement that began in France in the mid-19th century. Its aim was to do away with the romantic and fantastic in literature and instead emphasize actual human experience in characters, setting, themes, and story. Critics attribute the beginning of the realist narrative style to the French novelist Balzac. In the United States, Samuel Clemens, who wrote under the name Mark Twain, was one of the first writers to adopt realism in his prose.
"Chickamauga" is considered an example of realism because of its stark depiction of the horrors of war. In fact, it is based on an actual battle that took place on September 19-20, 1863, during the American Civil War. Over 30,000 Union and Southern troops died in the battle, making it one of the costliest of the war. The story "Chickamauga" begins with the boy playing in his own fantasy world, but he is eventually brought back to reality by the terrifying loss of his home and his parents.