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An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge

by Ambrose Bierce

Justice and Judgment Quotes

How we cite our quotes:

Quote #1

Some loose boards laid upon the ties supporting the rails of the railway supplied a footing for him and his executioners—two private soldiers of the Federal army, directed by a sergeant who in civil life may have been a deputy sheriff. At a short remove upon the same temporary platform was an officer in the uniform of his rank, armed. (1.1)

It is unclear if the sergeant was a deputy sheriff in civilian life, or if he just has characteristics typical of a sheriff. His uncertain identity reminds us that this execution takes place without a trial and under the auspices of military law.

Quote #2

Midway up the slope between the bridge and fort were the spectators -- a single company of infantry in line, at "parade rest," the butts of their rifles on the ground, the barrels inclining slightly backward against the right shoulder, the hands crossed upon the stock. A lieutenant stood at the right of the line, the point of his sword upon the ground, his left hand resting upon his right. Excepting the group of four at the center of the bridge, not a man moved. The company faced the bridge, staring stonily, motionless. The sentinels, facing the banks of the stream, might have been statues to adorn the bridge. The captain stood with folded arms, silent, observing the work of his subordinates, but making no sign. (1.2)

The execution of one civilian is a well-attended and highly regimented affair. Despite the large number of spectators, there is very little variation in outward appearance. Embodying military justice, each soldier lacks an individual identity and might as well be a statue. What might this tell us about this form of justice?

Quote #3

Evidently this was no vulgar assassin. The liberal military code makes provision for hanging many kinds of persons, and gentlemen are not excluded. (1.3)

Evidently, the military code pays no attention to class or social status. The word vulgar comes from the Latin vulgus, which means common people.

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