A Tough Tussle

"A Tough Tussle" is a short story by American Civil War soldier, wit, and writer Ambrose Bierce. It was published on the first page of the Sunday supplement to The San Francisco Examiner on September 30, 1888 and was reprinted in Tales of Soldiers and Civilians (1891).[1]

Plot summary

The story is set in the American Civil War. Second-Lieutenant Brainerd Byring sits on patrol at night with the Confederates near. He leads a squadron of men positioned in a holding position as the first line. During his four-hour vigil Byring takes a moment to rest by removing his sword and gun. He slips into deep contemplation about the world around him and contrasts the dark night of nature to his own world of war.

Byring realizes shortly that he is in the presence of what he assumes to be a dead body. Though Byring has proven himself in war, he is utterly disgusted by the presence of a corpse. He realizes that he has to sit with the dead body and this leads him to contemplate where the repulsion towards the dead comes from.

As the moonlight and clouds shift, Byring realizes the body belongs to a Confederate soldier. The twisted repose of the body further discomforts him and he stands to move but then changes his mind for fear of being perceived as weak. He doesn't leave but without conscious thought, finds himself standing in an offensive position ready to strike, which makes him laugh.

Byring then begins to see (or believes he sees) the corpse moving, but before anything more can happen, a gunshot rings out which brings him out of his mind. The fighting starts and continues into the early morning.

The next day, a Federal captain is exploring the damage and comes across two bodies, Byring and a dead Confederate soldier. It is clear that Byring inflicted wounds upon the enemy but died of a sword wound to the heart. However, the sword was Byring's own and the Confederate soldier's body had long been dead.


The "tough tussle" of the title is, ironically, the one with a dead body, or rather, the young officer's struggle with himself, with his irrational fear of death and dead bodies. The story presents this "mad struggle with a corpse" as a symptom of war trauma. As in so many of his stories, Bierce highlights "a power of the mind to shape perception", anticipating Freud's discovery of death drive (during his treatment of shell-shocked World War I veterans).[2]

As Byring's generalized anxiety gradually becomes fixated on the corpse, the young officer envisions the dead body as animate and attacks it.[3] According to Sharon Talley, "Bierce anticipates current psychological thinking in his appreciation of the incapacitating consequences of war trauma on the human psyche... that can lead individuals to choose suicide as a solution when anxiety becomes overwhelming".[3]


  1. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-08-22. Retrieved 2016-03-20.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  2. ^ Transnational Gothic: Literary and Social Exchanges in the Long Nineteenth Century (eds. Monika Elbert, Bridget M. Marshall). Routledge, 2016. ISBN 9781317006886. P. 182.
  3. ^ a b Talley, Sharon. Ambrose Bierce and the Dance of Death. University of Tennessee Press, 2009. P. 99-100.
Ambrose Bierce

Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce (June 24, 1842 – circa 1914) was an American short story writer, journalist, poet, and Civil War veteran.

Bierce's book The Devil's Dictionary was named as one of "The 100 Greatest Masterpieces of American Literature" by the American Revolution Bicentennial Administration. His story "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" has been described as "one of the most famous and frequently anthologized stories in American literature"; and his book Tales of Soldiers and Civilians (also published as In the Midst of Life) was named by the Grolier Club as one of the 100 most influential American books printed before 1900.A prolific and versatile writer, Bierce was regarded as one of the most influential journalists in the United States, and as a pioneering writer of realist fiction. For his horror writing, Michael Dirda ranked him alongside Edgar Allan Poe and H. P. Lovecraft. His war stories influenced Stephen Crane, Ernest Hemingway, and others, and he was considered an influential and feared literary critic. In recent decades Bierce has gained wider respect as a fabulist and for his poetry.In December 1913, Bierce traveled to Chihuahua, Mexico, to gain first-hand experience of the Mexican Revolution. He disappeared, and was rumored to be traveling with rebel troops. He was never seen again.

Mutula Kilonzo Jnr

Mutula Kilonzo Jnr. (born in 1975), is the current Senator of Makueni County government, Kenya. He is a member and vice chair of the Wiper Democratic Movement, Kenya and was elected as the second Senator of Makueni County Government on the WDM-K ticket in a by-election in July 2013, after the demise of his father Mutula Kilonzo and is currently serving his second term since his election in August 2017.

Tales of Soldiers and Civilians

Tales of Soldiers and Civilians is a collection of short stories by American Civil War soldier, wit, and writer Ambrose Bierce, also published under the title In the Midst of Life. With a stated publication date of 1891 (but actually published in early 1892), the stories describe unusual incidents in the lives of soldiers and civilians during the American Civil War. Tales of Soldiers and Civilians was named by the Grolier Club as one of the 100 most influential American books printed before 1900, stating "These short stories are among the finest, and best known, in American literature. . . . Written in a clear simple style, with each phrase contributing to the total effect, Bierce's tales pointed the way for the American short-story writer." Bierce's famous story "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" is included in this collection.

Waves (festival)

Waves is the annual cultural festival of BITS Pilani, K K Birla Goa Campus. It is a three-day-long festival held in the late October – early November period. The first edition was in 2006, and in spite of being a relatively new festival, it has attracted considerable media attention and many prominent sponsors over the years. The fest, very much in the spirits of Goa, holds a spectacular bonanza with a blend of fun and frolic, devotion, dedication and lots of happiness. The special events that Waves, BITS Pilani, Goa offers include Natyanjali, Fashion Parade and Mr. and Ms. Waves. Sea Rock, their semi-professional rock band competition has gone on to become a national event with several elimination rounds held in major cities across the country. The Pro nights are a major attraction, with every night in the three night festival dedicated to a different genre. The workshops organised include classes on Mocktail Making, Siporex Art, Graffiti Making, Hip-Hop Dancing and other such creative arts. Waves celebrates talent, creativity and the spirit to party. This fest is a meeting of all the talent in the country which comes together not only to compete but also to lose itself in the atmosphere of the fest. The 2016 edition of the festival, with the tagline "Tides of Time" received a footfall of more than 45,000 students from 180 colleges all over the country. Waves, BITS Goa has grown really fast since its inception and has become one of India's leading college fests in less than a decade.

Short stories

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