Short Story #206: The Affair at Coulter's Notch by Ambrose Bierce

Title: The Affair at Coulter's Notch

Author: Ambrose Bierce


Book cover: Complete Short Stories of Ambrose BierceThe Federal army is positioned in such a way that it can attack an already retreating group of Confederate soldiers.  The General, upon hearing of the brave Captain Coulter decides that he would make the obvious choice to arm a gun station that is in a vulnerable position (taking up about 12 of the Confederate gun stations).  Coulter is shown the notch he is to take and asked if he is ready to take it.  Coulter asks to clarify that he is to fire upon the house and shows reluctance in assuming his duties but does go forward.  The general withdraws and watches the battle play out, continually waiting for the gun notch to become undone.  Despite the odds, the gun continues to shoot.  While observing the battle, an aide attempts to explain Coulter's background and how he was originally from the South and somehow sent back into the region in which he originally came from.  The General barely listens but continues to watch the battle.  When he returns to examine the continued actions of the gun notch, he witnesses a scene of both terror and awe.  The soldiers continue to feed the gun against the onslaught and chaos.  Dead bodies are cast aside and soldiers are doing whatever they can to keep the gun up despite the casualties.  Leading this heroic battle is Captain Coulter.  After the Confederate troops have retreated, the Federal army takes over the house that was at center of the attack.  During dinner, the General is told there is an issue in the basement.  When they go downstairs, they find a man huddled over the body of a dead woman and child.  The man unrecognizable because he had not quite cleaned himself up is Coulter and he explains that the woman and child were he family.  


There are elements of this that remind me of Chickamauga during the battle scene and the grotesque nature of the fight wherein in order to wet the gun, they used dead soldiers' blood.  I anticipated that Coulter was likely somehow connected to the area as soon as he showed reluctance in fighting.  The idea that the man would need to choose family over country to the degree in which he killed his own family marks a powerful question about the nature of war and the sacrifice of the individual.

Short Story #206 out of 365
Rating: 3 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read: 7/25/2014
Source:  The Complete Short Stories of Ambrose Bierce, compiled by Ernest Jerome Hopkins.  Bison Books, 1984.  The full works of Ambrose Bierce, including this story can be found here on

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.

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