Ambrose Bierce's views of the war as reflected in “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge ” appear to be that war should not be romanticized. He seems to understand the futility of war and the insanity of people killing one another. Nevertheless, he also seems to understand the...
Ambrose Bierce's views of the war as reflected in “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” appear to be that war should not be romanticized. He seems to understand the futility of war and the insanity of people killing one another. Nevertheless, he also seems to understand the importance of fighting for a just cause, even while he recognizes that the other side feels equally impassioned about their views and retains their humanity even though the opposing side views them as the enemy. This is evident in the description of Peyton Farquhar, who spends his last dying moments thinking about his family, hoping his wife and children know how much he loves them and wishing he could bid them a tearful and loving goodbye. It would also seem that this shows Bierce’s views about the futility of war.
In fact, Bierce himself was a soldier during the Civil War. The violence that he witnessed and experienced first-hand made him think twice about the nobility of war. According to the New York Times, he enlisted in the Union Army and participated in “some of its bloodiest battles,” and he “was shocked by the carnage.” He subsequently wrote essays about one of the battles titled, “What I Saw of Shiloh.” In the short story, “The Coup de Grace,” he also described the horrific sights he witnessed, which included men being burned alive in brush fires.
Bierce experienced “almost constant harassment from Southern guerrillas determined to sabotage Union supply and communication lines,” according to the New York Times. In turn, this led him to write “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.” Although he condemned the southern sabotage efforts, he nevertheless displays some sympathy for Peyton, while simultaneously showing how one dimensional Peyton's view of war is. Peyton is disappointed that he is ineligible for active duty as a Confederate soldier. He longs for “the larger life of the soldier,” romanticizing it and thinking of the honor of serving a cause in which he believes, and the glory of being a military man. Bierce is telling us with this story that there is no glory, nor romanticism behind war—just bloody, dehumanizing combat.