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Ambrose Bierce


Writer Ambrose Bierce found the setting for some of his famous short stories in the mountains of Western Virginia. Arising like other writing of his from Civil War battles and the lives of the soldiers, they often concentrated on death in shocking form.

Born June 24, 1842, in Ohio, Bierce enlisted at age 18 in Company C, 9th Regiment of Indiana Volunteers, which came into Western Virginia during the first year of the Civil War. Many of his writings were influenced by his observations of the war in the Tygart Valley, as the war’s first battles and skirmishes occurred from Philippi to the Cheat and Allegheny mountains in Randolph and Pocahontas counties. An 1891 collection of his stories, Tales of Soldiers and Civilians (later also published as In the Midst of Life), depicts the dark side of the Civil War. One of its stories, ‘‘Horseman in the Sky,’’ had as its locale the mountains of Western Virginia. This story, like most of his writings, had an unusual ending: A son, in a dream-like state, shoots his father from a horse posed on a cliff in the rugged mountain area.

In 1903, Bierce returned to Randolph and Pocahontas counties to revisit the locations where he had served in 1861–62. While staying at Travelers’ Repose in Pocahontas County, he wrote ‘‘A Bivouac of the Dead,’’ which touched upon the neglected graves of the Confederate dead on the old Battle of the Greenbrier battlefield near Bartow.

Ambrose Bierce, who spoke of the Allegheny Mountains as the ‘‘Delectable Mountains’’ and Western Virginia as an enchanted land, disappeared under mysterious circumstances during a 1913–14 trip to revolution-torn Mexico.

Written by Donald L. Rice


  1. Faust, Patricia L., ed. Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War. New York: Harper Collins, 1986.

  2. McCann, William, ed. Ambrose Bierce's Civil War. Washington: Regnery Gateway, 1956.

  3. Carpenter, Charles. "West Virginia People and Places," in Comstock, Jim, ed, West Virginia Heritage Encyclopedia. vol. 22. Richwood: Jim Comstock, 1974.