Four Days In Dixie by Ambrose Bierce, 1888
The magic trick:
Emphasizing the absurd nature of civil war
Here we have a good ol’ fashioned adventure story, full of twists and turns and dangerous chases through foreign lands. But wait. Hold on. Foreign lands? Alabama?
Our protagonist is running through the creeks and rivers of Alabama. He’s terrified of midnight-black cornfields. These should be beautiful, and more importantly familiar and friendly, scenery. Reading this in America, you just can’t help but feel dumbstruck at the pure stupidity that is civil war. And that’s quite a trick on Bierce’s part.
The next morning I was started off to the rear in custody of two mounted men, heavily armed. They had another prisoner, picked up in some raid beyond the river. He was a most offensive brute–a foreigner of some mongrel sort, with just sufficient command of our tongue to show that he could not control his own. We traveled all day, meeting occasional small bodies of cavalrymen, by whom, with one exception–a Texan officer–I was civilly treated. My guards said, however, that if we should chance to meet Jeff Gatewood he would probably take me from them and hang me to the nearest tree; and once or twice, hearing horsemen approach, they directed me to stand aside, concealed in the brush, one of them remaining near by to keep an eye on me, the other going forward with my fellow-prisoner, for whose neck they seemed to have less tenderness, and whom I heartily wished well hanged.
Jeff Gatewood was a “guerrilla” chief of local notoriety, who was a greater terror to his friends than to his other foes. My guards related almost incredible tales of his cruelties and infamies. By their account it was into his camp that I had blundered on Sunday night.