"Phantoms of a Blood-Stained Period: The Complete Civil War Writings of Ambrose Bierce," a book co-edited by Dr. David Klooster of the Hope College English faculty, has just been published by the University of Massachusetts Press.
The idea for the book grew out of a course on "Literature of the American Civil War" that Klooster and co- editor Russell Duncan, now of the University of Copenhagen, taught together at John Carroll University when both were faculty members there. As they read and studied a wide range of books about the war, they realized that Bierce wrote with unusual insight and with astonishing power about the battlefield.
"Because he's the only writer who actually fought in the war, his works deserve to be better known," Klooster said.
The book gathers for the first time virtually everything Bierce wrote about the war, from the battlefield maps he drew as a topographical officer for the Union to his masterful short stories, from the detailed memoirs of specific battles to his final bittersweet ruminations before he disappeared into Mexico in 1914. It also includes a detailed 25-page introduction that is valuable in placing Bierce in historical context.
The collection is organized chronologically, following Bierce's participation in a wide range of battles, from the early skirmishes in the West Virginia mountains to the bloodbaths at Shiloh and Chickamauga and his near-fatal wounding at Kennesaw Mountain. His overlapping accounts of the events provide a record of the sights and sounds of the battlefield, the psychological traumas the war induced in its soldiers, and the memories that would haunt survivors for the rest of their lives.
Writing in the 1880s and 1890s, at a time when both the North and the South were erecting monuments to the heroes and glories of the war, Bierce insisted that his readers confront what really happened. Rather than celebrate causes and comrades, Bierce's fiction and memoirs describe the brutal realities of the Civil War battlefield.
Michael W. Schaefer, author of "Just What War Is: The Civil War Writings of De Forest and Bierce," says of the book, "The main argument, that Bierce's Civil War writings are undeservedly unknown to all but a small group of specialists, is powerfully borne out by this excellent collection of his work and by the editors' own fine work in placing these pieces in their historical, cultural, and literary contexts. This book makes a highly significant contribution to American literary studies."
Pulitzer-Prize winning historian William S. McFeely notes, "Bierce writes with great strength and never hides from us the ugliness of war. This book will stand beside such equally powerful works as 'All Quiet on the Western Front' and 'The Things They Carried' in the canon on modern war."
Klooster has been a member of the Hope College English faculty since the fall of 2000. He was previously a faculty member at DePauw University in Indiana and, most recently, at John Carroll University in Ohio.
He is co-author of "The Writer's Community" (1995) and co-editor of "Ideas without Boundaries: International Education Reform through Reading and Writing for Critical Thinking" (2001). He earned his B.A. from Calvin College, his M.A. from the University of Chicago, and his Ph.D. from Boston College.