In ‘The Crime at Pickett’s Mill’ Ambrose Bierce, the celebrated satirist who fought there as a young Union lieutenant, describes, caustically, its blood-drenched futility. After a delay of ‘seven hours… to acquaint the enemy of our intention to surprise him’, Bierce recounts General Wood volunteering ‘We will send in Hazen and see what success he has’. Hazen, Bierce’s cantankerous commanding officer, well understood the asininity of ‘one shrunken brigade’ assaulting the well-entrenched batteries and rifles of the Confederate army across open, broken ground. As they advanced ‘the air was sibilant with the sheets and streams of missiles’ and ‘the gusts of grape… screaming among the trees’. Bierce quotes the dispatches of Confederate Generals Hood and Johnston who describe ‘the very stubborn assault… upon Cleburne’, which ‘left hundreds of corpses within twenty paces of the Confederate line’. In less than an hour, Hazen’s brigade suffered 50 per cent casualties: the attack was repulsed – a decisive Confederate victory.
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