An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge HTML version

An Affair of Outposts
Concerning the Wish to be Dead
Two men sat in conversation. One was the Governor of the State. The year was 1861; the
war was on and the Governor already famous for the intelligence and zeal with which he
directed all the powers and resources of his State to the service of the Union.
"What! you?" the Governor was saying in evident surprise--"you too want a military
commission? Really, the fifing and drumming must have effected a profound alteration in
your convictions. In my character of recruiting sergeant I suppose I ought not to be
fastidious, but"--there was a touch of irony in his manner--"well, have you forgotten that
an oath of allegiance is required?"
"I have altered neither my convictions nor my sympathies," said the other, tranquilly.
"While my sympathies are with the South, as you do me the honor to recollect, I have
never doubted that the North was in the right. I am a Southerner in fact and in feeling, but
it is my habit in matters of importance to act as I think, not as I feel."
The Governor was absently tapping his desk with a pencil; he did not immediately reply.
After a while he said: "I have heard that there are all kinds of men in the world, so I
suppose there are some like that, and doubtless you think yourself one. I've known you a
long time and--pardon me--I don't think so."
"Then I am to understand that my application is denied?"
"Unless you can remove my belief that your Southern sympathies are in some degree a
disqualification, yes. I do not doubt your good faith, and I know you to be abundantly
fitted by intelligence and special training for the duties of an officer. Your convictions,
you say, favor the Union cause, but I prefer a man with his heart in it. The heart is what
men fight with."
"Look here, Governor," said the younger man, with a smile that had more light than
warmth: "I have something up my sleeve--a qualification which I had hoped it would not
be necessary to mention. A great military authority has given a simple recipe for being a
good soldier: ‘Try always to get yourself killed.' It is with that purpose that I wish to
enter the service. I am not, perhaps, much of a patriot, but I wish to be dead."
The Governor looked at him rather sharply, then a little coldly. "There is a simpler and
franker way," he said.
"In my family, sir," was the reply, "we do not do that--no Armisted has ever done that."