An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge HTML version
The Affair at Coulter
"Do you think, colonel, that your brave Coulter would like to put one of his guns in
here!" the general asked.
He was apparently not altogether serious; it certainly did not seem a place where any
artillerist, however brave, would like to put a gun. The colonel thought that possibly his
division commander meant good-humouredly to intimate that Captain Coulter's courage
had been too highly extolled in a recent conversation between them.
"General," he replied warmly, "Coulter would like to put a gun anywhere within reach of
those people," with a motion of his hand in the direction of the enemy.
"It is the only place," said the general. He was serious, then.
The place was a depression, a "notch," in the sharp crest of a hill. It was a pass, and
through it ran a turnpike, which, reaching this highest point in its course by a sinuous
ascent through a thin forest, made a similar, though less steep, descent toward the enemy.
For a mile to the left and a mile to the right the ridge, though occupied by Federal
infantry lying close behind the sharp crest, and appearing as if held in place by
atmospheric pressure, was inaccessible to artillery. There was no place but the bottom of
the notch, and that was barely wide enough for the roadbed. From the Confederate side
this point was commanded by two batteries posted on a slightly lower elevation beyond a
creek, and a half-mile away. All the guns but one were masked by the trees of an orchard;
that one--it seemed a bit of impudence--was directly in front of a rather grandiose
building, the planter's dwelling. The gun was safe enough in its exposure--but only
because the Federal infantry had been forbidden to fire. Coulter's Notch--it came to be
called so--was not, that pleasant summer afternoon, a place where one would "like to put
Three or four dead horses lay there, sprawling in the road, three or four dead men in a
trim row at one side of it, and a little back, down the hill. All but one were cavalrymen
belonging to the Federal advance. One was a quartermaster. The general commanding the
division and the colonel commanding the brigade, with their staffs and escorts, had
ridden into the notch to have a look at the enemy's guns--which had straightway obscured
themselves in towering clouds of smoke. It was hardly profitable to be curious about guns
which had the trick of the cuttlefish, and the season of observation was brief. At its
conclusion--a short remove backward from where it began--occurred the conversation
already partly reported. "It is the only place," the general repeated thoughtfully, "to get at
The colonel looked at him gravely. "There is room for but one gun, General--one against