He participated in the operations in Western Virginiawas present at the Battle of Philippi the first organized land action of the warand received newspaper attention for his daring rescue, under fire, of a gravely wounded comrade at the Battle of Rich Mountain.
Plot summary[ edit ] Peyton Farquhar, a civilian and plantation owner, is being prepared for execution by hanging from an Alabama railroad bridge during the American Civil War. Six military men and a company of infantrymen are present, guarding the bridge and carrying out the sentence.
Farquhar thinks of his wife and children and is then distracted by a noise that, to him, sounds like an unbearably loud clanging; it is actually the ticking of his watch. He considers the possibility of jumping off the bridge and swimming to safety if he can free his tied hands, but the soldiers drop him from the bridge before he can act on the idea.
In a flashback, Farquhar and his wife are relaxing at home one evening when a soldier rides up to the gate. Farquhar, a supporter of the Confederacylearns from him that Union troops have seized the Owl Creek railroad bridge and repaired it. The soldier suggests that Farquhar might be able to burn the bridge down if he can slip past its guards.
He then leaves, but doubles back after nightfall to return north the way he came. The soldier is actually a disguised Union scout who has lured Farquhar into a trap as any civilian caught interfering with the railroads will be hanged.
The story returns to the present, and the rope around Farquhar's neck breaks when he falls from the bridge into the creek. He frees his hands, pulls the noose away, and rises to the surface to begin his escape. His senses now greatly sharpened, he dives and swims downstream to avoid rifle and cannon fire.
Once he is out of range, he leaves the creek to begin the journey to his home, 30 miles away. Farquhar walks all day long through a seemingly endless forest, and that night he begins to hallucinate, seeing strange constellations and hearing whispered voices in an unknown language.
He travels on, urged by the thought of his wife and children despite the pains caused by his ordeal. The next morning, after having apparently fallen asleep while walking, he finds himself at the gate to his plantation.
He rushes to embrace his wife, but before he can do so, he feels a heavy blow upon the back of his neck; there is a loud noise and a flash of white, and "then all is darkness and silence". It is revealed that Farquhar never escaped at all; he imagined the entire third part of the story during the time between falling through the bridge and the noose breaking his neck.
Ambrose Biercec. The word "occurrence" in the title of the story demonstrates how common the loss of life is within war, lessening the perceived value of those human lives.
Farquhar's fantasy demonstrates the danger of having illusions about war, because war is not a love story that ends with running to one's wife's arms; it has ruthless and pitiless punishment. Another theme present is that of "dying with dignity". The story shows the reader that the perception of "dignity" provides no mitigation for the deaths that occur in warfare.
The final idea is the idea of psychological escape right before death.
Farquhar experiences an intense delusion to distract him from his inevitable death. The moment of horror that the readers experience at the end of the piece, when they realize that he dies, reflects the distortion of reality that Farquhar encounters.
As he himself once put it, bitter Bierce detested " Instead, they only witness the hallucination of such an escape taking place in the character's unconscious mind which is governed by the instinct of self-preservation.
In retrospect we see that the title—if taken literally—from the outset provides the readers with the information that there will not be any change of scenery at all because simply an occurrence at that bridge is announced. The entire story might well be read as a parable: We are all doomed, and whatever frantic attempts we make to gain our personal salvation—in our final moment there will be no epiphany but only its absolute opposite and negation, just "darkness and silence".
This is Bierce's rejection of the Christian thesis of man's final redemption, and it is the ultimate symbol of the futility of human aspiration.
T. J. Stiles is the author of The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt, winner of the National Book Award in Nonfiction and the Pulitzer Prize in Biography, and Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War.A member of the Society of American Historians and a former Guggenheim fellow, he lives in Berkeley, California, with his wife and two children. CAN SUCH THINGS BE? The Riddle of the Orion Williamson & the Strange Mystery of Ambrose Bierce. "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" () is a short story by the American writer and Civil War veteran Ambrose Bierce. Regarded as "one of the most famous and frequently anthologized stories in American literature", it was originally published by The San Francisco Examiner on July 13, , and was first collected in Bierce's book Tales of Soldiers and Civilians ().
Farquhar's miserable end illustrates a most extreme discrepancy between aspiration and reality. Stories with similar structure[ edit ] The plot device of a long period of subjective time passing in an instant, such as the imagined experiences of Farquhar while falling, has been explored by several authors.
Notable examples of this technique from the early-to-mid 20th century include H. John Shirley 's short story "Occurrence at Owl Street Ridge" about a depressed housewife is modeled after Bierce's story and Bierce plays a minor role in it.S. T. Joshi (b. ) is a leading authority on H. P. Lovecraft, Ambrose Bierce, H.
L. Mencken, and other writers, mostly in the realms of supernatural and fantasy fiction. Don Swaim writes of Bierce's life and disappearance in The Assassination of Ambrose Bierce: A Love Story ().  Ambrose Bierce features as a character in Winston Groom 's novel El Paso. The night of my visit to him was stormy.
The Californian winter was on, and the incessant rain splashed in the deserted streets, or, lifted by irregular gusts of wind, was . Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce was born on June 24, in the settlement of Horse Cave, Ohio. He was the tenth of thirteen children born to Marcus Aurelius and Laura Sherwood Bierce.
The Bierces moved to Indiana during Ambrose's childhood, settling in Warsaw and then Elkhart. "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" () is a short story by the American writer and Civil War veteran Ambrose Bierce.
Regarded as "one of the most famous and frequently anthologized stories in American literature", it was originally published by The San Francisco Examiner on July 13, , and was first collected in Bierce's book Tales of Soldiers and Civilians ().
THE DEVIL'S DICTIONARY. AUTHOR'S PREFACE. The Devil's Dictionary was begun in a weekly paper in , and was continued in a desultory way at long intervals until In that year a large part of it was published in covers with the title The Cynic's Word Book, a name which the author had not the power to reject or happiness to approve.