Everything changed for Ambrose Bierce the day he was shot in the head. At least that’s one theory about how a bright young man from Horse Cave Creek in Ohio went on to become his generation’s leading cynic. This was the guy, after all, who gave us The Devil’s Dictionary, which defined “PEACE” as “a period of cheating between two periods of fighting” and “WAR” as “a by-product of the arts of peace.” People still snicker over “MARRIAGE, n.: The state or condition of a community consisting of a master, a mistress, and two slaves, making in all, two.”
The head wound came a day before his 22nd birthday, at Georgia’s Kennesaw Mountain in 1864, when Bierce was a soldier in the Union Army. He had volunteered to fight immediately after Fort Sumter’s fall and lived through the awfulness of Shiloh and Chickamauga. His skull, he said, had “broken like a walnut.” He went home to recuperate, split with his fiancée, and returned to active duty within three months. For most of the rest of his life, which ended mysteriously, he was a professional writer.