“Our brave color-bearers were now all in the forefront of battle in the open, for the enemy had cleared a space in front of his breastworks. They held the colors erect, shook out their glories, waved them forward and back to keep them spread, for there was no wind. From where I stood, at the right of the line—we had “halted and formed,” indeed—I could see six of our flags at one time. Occasionally one would go down, only to be instantly lifted by other hands.” Bierce goes on to describe the battle. “The Federal troops approached within a few yards of the Confederates, but at last were forced to give way by their storm of well-directed bullets, and fell back to the shelter of a hollow near and behind them. They left hundreds of corpses within twenty paces of the Confederate line. When the United States troops paused in their advance within fifteen paces of the Texan front rank one of their color-bearers planted his colors eight or ten feet in front of his regiment, and was instantly shot dead. A soldier sprang forward to his place and fell also as he grasped the color-staff. A second and third followed successively, and each received death as speedily as his predecessors. A fourth, however, seized and bore back the object of soldierly devotion.”
Later, at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain Georgia, Bierce was wounded in the head by a Confederate sniper. He recovered and rejoined his unit in September 1864 in time for Sherman’s March to the Sea.
After his military career Bierce became a journalist, writer and satirist in San Francisco. During this time Bierce began writing what would later become his Cynic’s Word Book or his “Devil’s Dictionary,” a satirical dictionary of English words published in 1906. And after what Bierce experienced first hand during the Civil War we can forgive him for his definitions of certain words like “symbol” and “flag?” In his Devil’s Dictionary Bierce defines the word symbol as “something that is supposed to typify or stand for something else. Many symbols are mere "survivals" -- things which having no longer any utility continue to exist because we have inherited the tendency to make them; as funereal urns carved on memorial monuments. They were once real urns holding the ashes of the dead. We cannot stop making them, but we can give them a name that conceals our helplessness.” Bierce defines the word “flag” as “a colored rag borne above troops and hoisted on forts and ships. It appears to serve the same purpose as certain signs that one sees on vacant lots in London -- "Rubbish may be shot here." Bitter Bierce, indeed.
Bierce's story "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" or "A Dead Man's Dream" is considered by some the greatest short story ever written. It can be seen interpreted to film in the 25 minute Youtube link below from a 1964 broadcast of The Twilight Zone. Happy birthday Ambrose Bierce.