Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce (June 24, 1842 - c. 1914) was an American editorialist, journalist, short story writer, fabulist, and satirist. He wrote the story "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," and compiled a satirical lexicon, The Devil's Dictionary. His vehemence as a critic, his motto "Nothing matters," and the sardonic view of human nature that informed his work, all earned him the nickname "Bitter Bierce." Despite his reputation as a searing critic, Bierce was known to encourage younger writers. He employed a distinctive style of writing, especially in his stories. His style often embraced an abrupt beginning, dark imagery, vague references to time, limited descriptions, impossible events, and the theme of war.
In 1913, Bierce traveled to Mexico to gain first-hand experience of the Mexican Revolution. He was rumored to be traveling with rebel troops, but was not seen again.
Bierce was born in a log cabin in Meigs County, Ohio, on June 24, 1842, to Marcus Aurelius Bierce and Laura Sherwood. His mother was a descendant of William Bradford. His parents were a poor but literary couple who instilled in him a deep love for books and writing. He left home at 15 to become a printer's apprentice at a small Ohio newspaper. At the outset of the American Civil War, he enlisted in the Union Army's 9th Indiana Regiment and participated in the operations in Western Virginia in 1861. He received newspaper attention for his daring rescue, under fire, of a gravely wounded comrade at the Battle of Rich Mountain. He was soon promoted to Sergeant Major. He served as a topographical engineer after February 1862 and made maps of likely battlefields. Bierce fought at the Battle of Shiloh in April 1862, a terrifying experience that became a source for several later short stories and the memoir "What I Saw of Shiloh." In June 1864, he sustained a serious head wound at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain and was discharged from the army in January 1865. His military career resumed in mid-1866 when he joined an expedition to inspect military outposts across the Great Plains.
After the war, he lived in San Francisco for many years, eventually becoming famous as a contributor or editor of a number of local newspapers and periodicals. He lived and wrote in England from 1872 to 1875 and traveled to Rockerville and Deadwood in the Dakota Territory from 1879 to 1880, to try his hand as local manager for a New York mining company. When the company failed, he returned to San Francisco and resumed his career in journalism. From January 1, 1881 until September 11, 1885, he was editor of The Wasp magazine. He was also one of the first regular columnists and editorialists on William Randolph Hearst's newspaper, The San Francisco Examiner, becoming one of the most prominent and influential writers and journalists of the West Coast.
In January 1896, Bierce was dispatched to Washington D.C. to foil a railroad refinancing bill, which he succeeded in doing. His long newspaper career was often steeped in controversy, such as the accusation that him and Hearst had called for the assassination of William McKinley in 1901.
In October 1913, Bierce, then aged 71, departed from Washington D.C. and crossed into Mexico, which was in the throes of revolution. He joined Pancho Villa's army as an observer and wrote to a close friend on December 26, 1913 that he was leaving for an unknown destination. He vanished without a trace.
Bierce married Mary Ellen Day on December 25, 1871. Bierce separated from his wife in 1888, after discovering compromising letters to her from an admirer. They divorced officially in 1904, a year before her death.
- Day Bierce (1872-1889) - died young.
- Leigh Bierce
- Helen Bierce - m. (1) Samuel Judson Ballard (2) Harry Davenport Cowden (3) Francis Lynn Isgrigg