A Resumed Identity by Ambrose Bierce
- The Review as a Form of Welcome
ONE summer night a man stood on a low hill overlooking
a wide expanse of forest and field. By the
full moon hanging low in the west he knew what
he might not have known otherwise: that it was
near the hour of dawn. A light mist lay along the
earth, partly veiling the lower features of the landscape,
but above it the taller trees showed in welldefined
masses against a clear sky. Two or three
farmhouses were visible through the haze, but in
none of them, naturally, was a light. Nowhere, indeed,
was any sign or suggestion of life except the
barking of a distant dog, which, repeated with mechanical
iteration, served rather to accentuate than
dispel the loneliness of the scene.
The man looked curiously about him on all sides,
as one who among familiar surroundings is unable
to determine his exact place and part in the scheme
of things. It is so, perhaps, that we shall act when,
risen from the dead, we await the call to judgment.
A hundred yards away was a straight road, showing
white in the moonlight. Endeavouring to orient
himself, as a surveyor or navigator might say, the
man moved his eyes slowly along its visible length
and at a distance of a quarter-mile to the south of
his station saw, dim and grey in the haze, a group
of horsemen riding to the north. Behind them were
men afoot, marching in column, with dimly gleaming
rifles aslant above their shoulders. They moved
slowly and in silence. Another group of horsemen,
another regiment of infantry, another and another
--all in unceasing motion toward the man's point
of view, past it, and beyond. A battery of artillery
followed, the cannoneers riding with folded arms
on limber and caisson. And still the interminable
procession came out of the obscurity to south and
passed into the obscurity to north, with never a
sound of voice, nor hoof, nor wheel.
The man could not rightly understand: he thought
himself deaf; said so, and heard his own voice, although
it had an unfamiliar quality that almost
alarmed him; it disappointed his ear's expectancy in
the matter of timbre and resonance. But he was not
deaf, and that for the moment sufficed.
Then he remembered that there are natural phenomena
to which some one has given the name
'acoustic shadows.' If you stand in an acoustic
shadow there is one direction from which you will
hear nothing. At the battle of Gaines's Mill, one of
the fiercest conflicts of the Civil War, with a
hundred guns in play, spectators a mile and a half
away on the opposite side of the Chickahominy Valley
heard nothing of what they clearly saw. The
bombardment of Port Royal, heard and felt at St.
Augustine, a hundred and fifty miles to the south,
was inaudible two miles to the north in a still atmosphere.
A few days before the surrender at Appomattox
a thunderous engagement between the
commands of Sheridan and Pickett was unknown to
the latter commander, a mile in the rear of his own
These instances were not known to the man of
whom we write, but less striking ones of the same
character had not escaped his observation. He was
profoundly disquieted, but for another reason than
the uncanny silence of that moonlight march.
'Good Lord! ' he said to himself--and again it
was as if another had spoken his thought--'if those
people are what I take them to be we have lost the
battle and they are moving on Nashville!'
Then came a thought of self--an apprehension
--a strong sense of personal peril, such as in another
we call fear. He stepped quickly into the
shadow of a tree. And still the silent battalions
moved slowly forward in the haze.
The chill of a sudden breeze upon the back of
his neck drew his attention to the quarter whence
it came, and turning to the east he saw a faint grey
light along the horizon--the first sign of returning
day. This increased his apprehension.
'I must get away from here,' he thought, 'or I
shall be discovered and taken.'
He moved out of the shadow, walking rapidly
toward the greying east. From the safer seclusion of
a clump of cedars he looked back. The entire column
had passed out of sight: the straight white road lay
bare and desolate in the moonlight!
Puzzled before, he was now inexpressibly astonished.
So swift a passing of so slow an army!--he
could not comprehend it. Minute after minute
passed unnoted; he had lost his sense of time. He
sought with a terrible earnestness a solution of the
mystery, but sought in vain. When at last he roused
himself from his abstraction the sun's rim was visible
above the hills, but in the new conditions he
found no other light than that of day; his understanding
was involved as darkly in doubt as before.
On every side lay cultivated fields showing no
sign of war and war's ravages. From the chimneys
of the farmhouses thin ascensions of blue smoke
signalled preparations for a day's peaceful toil. Having
stilled its immemorial allocution to the moon, the
watch-dog was assisting a negro who, prefixing a
team of mules to the plough, was flatting and sharping
contentedly at his task. The hero of this tale
stared stupidly at the pastoral picture as if he had
never seen such a thing in all his life; then he put his
hand to his head, passed it through his hair and,
withdrawing it, attentively considered the palm--a
singular thing to do. Apparently reassured by the
act, he walked confidently toward the road.
2: When You have Lost Your Life Consult a Physician
Dr. Stilling Malson, of Murfreesboro, having visited
a patient six or seven miles away, on the Nashville
road, had remained with him all night. At daybreak
he set out for home on horseback, as was the
custom of doctors of the time and region. He had
passed into the neighbourhood of Stone's River battlefield
when a man approached him from the roadside
and saluted in the military fashion, with a
movement of the right hand to the hat-brim. But the
hat was not a military hat, the man was not in uniform
and had not a martial bearing. The doctor
nodded civilly, half thinking that the stranger's uncommon
greeting was perhaps in deference to the
historic surroundings. As the stranger evidently desired
speech with him he courteously reined in his
horse and waited.
'Sir,' said the stranger, 'although a civilian, you
are perhaps an enemy.'
'I am a physician,' was the non-committal reply.
'Thank you,' said the other. 'I am a lieutenant,
of the staff of General Hazen.' He paused a moment
and looked sharply at the person whom he was
addressing, then added, 'Of the Federal army.'
The physician merely nodded.
'Kindly tell me,' continued the other, 'what has
happened here. Where are the armies? Which has
won the battle?'
The physician regarded his questioner curiously
with half-shut eyes. After a professional scrutiny,
prolonged to the limit of politeness, 'Pardon
me,' he said; 'one asking information should be
willing to impart it. Are you wounded?' he added,
'Not seriously--it seems.'
The man removed the unmilitary hat, put his
hand to his head, passed it through his hair and,
withdrawing it, attentively considered the palm.
'I was struck by a bullet and have been unconscious.
It must have been a light, glancing blow: I
find no blood and feel no pain. I will not trouble you
for treatment, but will you kindly direct me to my
command--to any part of the Federal army--if
Again the doctor did not immediately reply: he
was recalling much that is recorded in the books of
his profession--something about lost identity and
the effect of familiar scenes in restoring it. At length
he looked the man in the face, smiled, and said:
'Lieutenant, you are not wearing the uniform of
your rank and service.'
At this the man glanced down at his civilian attire,
lifted his eyes, and said with hesitation:
'That is true. I--I don't quite understand.'
Still regarding him sharply but not unsympathetically,
the man of science bluntly inquired:
'How old are you?'
'Twenty-three--if that has anything to do
'You don't look it; I should hardly have guessed
you to be just that.'
The man was growing impatient. 'We need not
discuss that,' he said: 'I want to know about the
army. Not two hours ago I saw a column of troops
moving northward on this road. You must have met
them. Be good enough to tell me the colour of their
clothing, which I was unable to make out, and I'll
trouble you no more.'
'You are quite sure that you saw them?'
'Sure? My God, sir, I could have counted them!'
'Why, really,' said the physician, with an amusing
consciousness of his own resemblance to the loquacious
barber of the Arabian Nights, 'this is very interesting.
I met no troops.'
The man looked at him coldly, as if he had himself
observed the likeness to the barber. 'It is plain,' he
said, 'that you do not care to assist me. Sir, you
may go to the devil!'
He turned and strode away, very much at random,
across the dewy fields, his half-penitent tormentor
quietly watching him from his point of vantage
in the saddle till he disappeared beyond an
array of trees.
3: The Danger of Looking into a Pool of Water
After leaving the road the man slackened his pace,
and now went forward, rather deviously, with a distinct
feeling of fatigue. He could not account for
this, though truly the interminable loquacity of that
country doctor offered itself in explanation. Seating
himself upon a rock, he laid one hand upon his
knee, back upward, and casually looked at it. It was
lean and withered. He lifted both hands to his face.
It was seamed and furrowed; he could trace the lines
with the tips of his fingers. How strange!--a mere
bullet-stroke and a brief unconsciousness should not
make one a physical wreck.
'I must have been a long time in hospital,' he
said aloud. 'Why, what a fool I am! The battle was
in December, and it is now summer!' He laughed.
'No wonder that fellow thought me an escaped lunatic.
He was wrong: I am only an escaped patient.'
At a little distance a small plot of ground enclosed
by a stone wall caught his attention. With no very
definite intent he rose and went to it. In the centre
was a square, solid monument of hewn stone. It
was brown with age, weather-worn at the angles,
spotted with moss and lichen. Between the massive
blocks were strips of grass the leverage of whose roots
had pushed them apart. In answer to the challenge of
this ambitious structure Time had laid his destroying
hand upon it, and it would soon be 'one with
Nineveh and Tyre.' In an inscription on one side
his eye caught a familiar name. Shaking with excitement,
he craned his body across the wall and
The Memory of Its Soldiers
who fell at
Stone River, Dec. 31, 1862.
The man fell back from the wall, faint and sick.
Almost within an arm's length was a little depression
in the earth; it had been filled by a recent rain--a
pool of clear water. He crept to it to revive himself,
lifted the upper part of his body on his trembling
arms, thrust forward his head and saw the reflection
of his face, as in a mirror. He uttered a terrible cry.
His arms gave way; he fell, face downward, into
the pool and yielded up the life that had spanned