Short Story #275: The Coup De Grace by Ambrose Bierce

Title: The Coup De Grace

Author: Ambrose Bierce


Book cover: Complete Short Stories of Ambrose BierceAfter a battle, the dead are gathered and the wounded are tended to.  Some of the challenges during this process is identifying the dead.  Near a pile of the dead bodies, Captain Downing Madwell is positioned in a relaxing position but is anything but.  He walks into the woods to recover himself a bit more.  While deeper in the woods, he hears a moan from somewhere.  In a ravine, he finds more injured soldiers.  Many appear to be dead but one is clearly alive.  The man is a childhood friend of his whom he had been with during the war.  The man, Creede, had a brother, Caffal who was a major and jealous of the close friendship between the two.  The major had purposely placed Madwell in unnecessary danger and the result in part was the pile of dead bodies he was looking at now.  Though Creede was still alive, it was clear that he was mortally wounded.  Madwell contemplates what to do with his friend's increasing suffer and finally decides to end his friend's suffering.  However, just as he is doing this, other soldiers show up, including the Major. 


I was a bit surprised because I expected something more crazy from a protagonist named "Madwell."  Like many of the stories that Bierce writes about war, there is a recognized disgust of the costs of war, the challenge of morality, and the pettiness of men.  

Short Story #275 out of 365
Rating: 2 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read8/26/2014
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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