An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge

Ambrose Bierce

Highlights of American Literature

edited by Dean Curry, based on a core manuscript by Carl Bode

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge takes place during the American Civil War, which was fought in the USA between 1861 and 1865.

The country had become divided over the issue of slavery: the Northern states (known as "abolitionists" and/or "federalists") wanted to end black slavery and keep the country together, while the Southern states (known as the "secessionists") wanted to keep the institution of slavery alive to ensure low labor and production costs for cotton, tobacco and other crops.

They were prepared to secede, or divorce themselves, politically from the rest of the country. The Union Army fought on behalf of the North (the Yankees), while the Confederate Army fought for the South (the Rebels). The North eventually won, the country was reunited and the black slaves in the South were eventually freed.

Civil wars in recent history

Discuss these ideas in class or with a friend. Alternatively you might like to just think about them yourself.

  • What is a civil war and why do people fight within their own country?
  • Can you think of any other civil wars from recent history?
  • Has there ever been a civil war in your country?
  • How did it start?
  • Could such a conflict have been averted?
  • What concessions could each side have made in order to prevent the conflict?
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