One of Ambrose Bierce"s many read stories, A Horseman in the skies (1889) is a lively account of an overwhelming ethical choices during wartime. Us hope this guide is specifically useful for students and teachers.

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Here"s the story: A Horseman in the Sky, Character evaluation & Summary, Genre & Themes, Literary tools & Vocabulary, historical Context, Quotes, conversation Questions, Paired analysis Recommendations, beneficial Links, and Notes/Teacher Comments

View native Seneca Rocks, phibìc Fork mountain near Grafton, West Virginia

Character Analysis

Carter Druse - The story"s protagonist, that is the just child of well-off Virginia parents who decides to sign up with the Union regiment the arrived in Grafton, Virginia, a couple of miles from your home. His activity makes the a traitor come Virginia (according to his father) and breaks his heart. The Union officers assign Carter to a remote outpost as sentinel since he to know the terrain and they room impressed by his "deeds that devotion and also daring." that betrays them by falling sleep on duty.

Carter"s dad - A affluent landowner in west Virginia whose just son announced he is joining the Union, come which he replied, "Well, go, sir, and also whatever may happen do what you develop to be your duty." His father guarantees they will certainly speak an ext of the matter should they both live to the finish of the battle (that to be prescient). The dad is both staunchly scheduled (does not display emotion), and reveres duty and family.

The Horseman - The identification of the rider is no revealed till the end of the story, when we learn it"s Druse"s father, a Confederate spy. Likened come a god, collosal in magnitude and seemingly having spiritual powers, Carter shoots him come avoid allowing him to reveal the Union regiment"s place he"s guarding in the valley below.

Carter"s mom - though she never shows up in the story, Carter"s father reminds him that she is critically ill and will dice in a few weeks. The young Druse does not announce his decision or speak goodbye come her, in ~ his father"s insistence, as result of her vulnerable condition.

The Officer - The only witness to the fatality of Druse"s father, whom he sees falling over a thousands foot upright cliff, showing up to fly together an apparition. He gave up searching for the body and also horse and also failed come report it.

Sargeant - The officer who hears the shot and interviews Druse, who confesses that the man he shot was his father, horrifying the sargeant.

The point of view - The unseen force that wakens Druse from his sentry slumber, just in time to spy the Confederate spy undetected.

Plot Summary

The story"s main character is Carter Druse, a personal who join the Union military in defiance that his Virginia heritage and family who live near where the fighting is around to commence. His father, despite broken-hearted, speak Carter to follow his feeling of duty and to no tell his dice mother. Since he thrived up in the terrain, Druse is appointed sentinel ~ above a high ridge overlooking a valley whereby his regiment is awaiting your surprise assault on the Confederates. He drops asleep, but is awakened by an angelic pressure just with time to angry a mysterious, statuesque horseman that has determined the Union regiments, however has not yet found Druse"s position. Druse has actually his hand ~ above his rifle all set to fire, lock look right into eachother"s eyes prior to Druse, after ~ hesitating, decides that is his duty to death the Confederate horseman spy to defend the Union"s position. One officer saw the falling horseman end the sheer cliff, appearing to fly, gives up his search for the human body below, and decides not to report it come his superior. A sargeant who heard the shot interviews Druse, that confesses that the male he killed was his father.

Man on Horseback, 1634


Civil War brief stories genre, historical fiction in that is seeming reality portrayal of actual events, soldiers, and battles, v a supernatural element of superordinary allegory. Due to the fact that Bierce offered in the War, he coupled his gifted creating abilities with his credible and dramatic stories that lugged the complexities of war to life for his readers.


Son vs. Dad - The war tore households apart; guys deciding come enlist in the civil War typically had a greater allegiance to their town, county, state, prior to their country. In this story, both father and also son decided to safeguard their duty over their family, but for the contrary sides, which renders Bierce"s story so poignant.

Treason - joining the Union as a Virginian was considered treason by his father, the knowingly dissapointed his parents, cursed a crime together sentinel (sleeping on watch). Many importantly, he committed treason against his family, death his very own father!

Hierarchy of Duties - The story explores the powerful concepts the allegiance to family, faith and also their sometimes-conflict with armed forces duty. No "spiritual preparation" to be needed, the "duty the the soldier to be plain: the male must it is in shot dead indigenous ambush."

Compassion, Conscience and also Reason - characteristics shared by both father and also son, yet each of their decisions, and also the irreversible consequences, leave the reader knowledge the War"s devastation in Bierce"s informing of the story.

Rules define Actions - Soldiers adhere come the military"s rules of conduct; your duty is to kill the enemy. Druse choose his duty come the Union by killing an foe spy who will expose their position, over his love and also allegiance to his father.

Judgement - how will Druse by judged and by whom? God? Family? The commonwealth Army? other soldiers? will certainly Druse be able to live with himself and his decision in the end?

The sleeping Sentinel, william Scott

Literary Devices

Bierce"s Hook

Bierce"s writing style always dives ideal in come details, start with the an initial sentence, totally engaging his readers from the get-go.

Metaphors and also Similes

Describing his father"s disappointment: " went back the salute v a stately courtesy that masking a break heart."Personified wake-up call (an angel?): "...some invisible messenger the fate touched v unsealing finger the eyes of his consciousness--whispered into the ear the his spirit the secret awakening word which no person lips ever before have spoken, no person memory ever before has recalled.""The file of the equine was reduced with the sharpness that a cameo"Bierce compare the rider to a "noble occupational of art""His nerves to be as peaceful as a resting babe"s"

Situational Irony

The story employs situational irony for the discrepancy between what we intend to happen and what actually happens.


Consequences of falling sleep at his post: "Their place would it is in perilous in the extreme; and fail they surely would should accident or vigilance apprise the foe of the movement."Foreshadowing his death? The father speak Carter, "Should we both live to the finish of the war, we will certainly speak further of the matter."

Biblical References

Druse "bows reverently come his father" together a spiritual leaderDescribing the powerful presence that the rider: "heroic, colossal, Grecian god"Their position high top top a mountain, ~ above a pedestal (pulpit), looking under (into the sink of death?), many Biblical recommendations here.Before that shoots, visions the dark angels or demons? "Statuesque group prior to him as black color figures, rising, falling, moving unsteadily in arcs of circles in a fiery sky."Describing his father"s parting words together "a magnificent mandate."Like a blessing, prior to he shoots, Druse says: "Peace, be still."Spiritual vision of resurrection: the officer experienced a man on horseback riding with the air."Good God!" was the sargeant"s an answer upon hearing Druse"s confession.

The Chimaera

Mythological References

Colossal hero - Grecian GodLionine head - Lions represent power and wealth. The Nemean lion was a vicious monster, ultimately killed by Heracles, yet his fur was impervious come mortals" weapons


Leonine head - describing Druse"s father, it method resembling a lionCarbine - A light automatic riflePommel the the saddle - The increase curving or projecting part of a saddle in front of the rider.Bivouac in the sink - A short-term camp without tents or cover.Foeman - An enemy in war.

Union soldiers waiting to fight in ~ the Rappahannock River, 1863

Bierce characteristically supplies so lot detail and descriptions in his Civil war stories, he brings to life the details battles, strategies, and also personalizes the soldiers" experience both on and off the battlefield, particularly the moral options war time presents.

To better understand the historic context of this story, it"s advantageous to evaluation the Civil battle battles dealt with in west Virginia. The setup may be close to Grafton (where Druse told his dad the Union regiment had arrived) and also Philippi where both armies led your brigades: Col. Morris (US) and also Col. Porterfield (Confederates). The Union an installed a two-prong advance, surprising a tiny Confederate occupation force at Philippi before dawn ~ above June 3, 1861. Despite it led to only 30 casualties, it was taken into consideration the very first major land action in the east Theater.

Was it yes, really an action of "treason" because that Virginians to enlist in the Union fairly than Confederate forces? No, the counties that today comprise West Virginia were greatly Union controlled, native which approximately 32,000 Virginians served in the Union army. The vast bulk of default Virginians (155,000) served the Confederates. The enlistment rate in Confederate Virginia to be 89 percent, an ext men 보다 from any other state in the Confederacy. For much more details: Encyclopedia Virginia.

Is the true that a soldier who falls asleep at his post can it is in executed? Yes, a Union soldier, wilhelm Scott, "The sleeping Sentinel" was court-martialed and also sentenced to be enforcement for sleeping on duty in 1861. Lincoln agreed come his pardon, extending mercy come the criminal. The pardon states: "This plot of clemency have to not be understood as affording a precedent for any future case. The duty of a sentinel is of such a nature, that its neglect by sleeping upon or deserting his write-up may endanger the safety and security of a command, or also of the totality army, and all nations affix come the offence the punish of death."

To ensure clear rules the conduct because that all commonwealth soldiers throughout war time, chairman Lincoln implemented the Lieber code in April the 1863, which mentioned the moral treatment of prisoners of war and also empancipated slaves.

Explain what the following price quotes mean and how they relate come the story:

Bierce"s "hook": "One sunny afternoon in the autumn of the year 1861 a soldier put in a clump of laurel through the side of a roadway in western Virginia."

“No nation is for this reason wild and challenging but males will do it a theatre the war; covert in the woodland at the bottom of that armed forces rat-trap, in which fifty percent a hundred males in possession the the exits can have starved an army to submission, lay 5 regiments of commonwealth infantry.”

“Your mother, together the physician has actually informed you, is in a most an important condition; at the best she can not be through us much longer than a couple of weeks, however that time is precious. It would certainly be much better not come disturb her.”

“His an initial feeling to be a keen creative delight. On a colossal pedestal, the cliff,--motionless at the excessive edge the the capping rock and sharply outlined against the sky,--was an equestrian frostbite of outstanding dignity. The figure of the male sat the number of the horse, straight and soldierly, yet with the repose that a Grecian god sculpted in the marble which limits the tip of activity.

"At that prompt the horseman rotate his head and also looked in the direction of his hidden foeman--seemed to look right into his an extremely face, into his eyes, right into his brave, compassionate heart."

“Carter Druse flourished pale; that shook in every limb, turned faint, and saw the statuesque group before him as black figures, rising, falling, relocating unsteadily in arcs of circles in a fiery sky.”

"The duty of the soldier was plain: the guy must it is in shot dead indigenous ambush--without warning, without a moment"s spirituality preparation, with never ever so much as one unspoken prayer, he should be sent to his account."

“It was not for long; in another moment his challenge was raised from earth, his hand resumed their locations on the rifle, his forefinger seek the trigger; mind, heart, and also eyes to be clear, conscience and also reason sound.”

“"See here, Druse," the said, ~ a moment"s silence, "it"s no use making a mystery. I order you come report. Was there anyone on the horse?""Yes." "Well?" "My father."... "Good God!""

1. Ambrose Bierce was among the only significant author to view combat during the polite War. He served in the 9th Regiment, Indiana Volunteers. What proof can you administer that "he knows what the is talk about" in his telling of the story?

2. Identify Bierce"s offers of foreshadowing and how it create tension and also anticipation for his reader.

3. Describe Bierce"s literary devices and also writing format in explicate the driver (Section II, fourth paragraph). What truth does that disclose? What does that withhold (that we uncover only in ~ the end of the story)?

4. Explain the an allegory in which the compares the driver to "a noble occupational of art."

5. What examples of armed forces etiquette or rules of command are described in the story? Why space these important?

6. Discuss the recurring theme of betrayal throughout the story and administer examples.

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7. Based on the proof Bierce gives (and doesn"t), do you think Druse"s father to be an officer or civilian?

8. Discuss Druse"s decision process, even if it is to shooting the rider (whom we don"t yet recognize is his father) and also his statement: "Is it climate so destructive to kill an foe in war--an foe who has surprised a secret vital to the safety of one"s self and also comrades--an enemy an ext formidable because that his understanding than every his army for that is numbers?"

9. Identify and analyze the Biblical recommendations in the story.

10. Read around Ambrose Bierce"s life. Why carry out you think the writer earned the nickname, "Bitter Bierce"?

Essay prompt: create the ending-- what will occur to Druse next? how will Druse it is in judged (by the Army, various other soldiers, by his mother , by God, deserve to he live with his decision)?

Compare another story"s plot, setting, symbols, composing style, and also struggles of conscience with A Horseman in the Sky:

The Sniper, similar themes involving irony and moral options during battle time

An incident at Owl Creek Bridge, taken into consideration Bierce"s most famed story. To aid with the story, inspect out our study Guide

The resting Sentinel, a poem around William Scott, judge of resting on duty

The Tragedy of Julius Caesar (Act III)

The Chimaera, the superordinary flying horse and also his rider, Bellerophon

The Story that a Conscience, one more Confederate spy, this one is captured behind opponent lines

Biography and Works by Ambrose Bierce

An incident at Owl Creek Bridge study Guide

Civil battle Battles in west Virginia

Virginia Soldiers: that Fought and also for Whom?

Lesson setup & video for ELL: A Horseman in the Sky

American literature Lesson Plans: Edgar Allan Poe, Ambrose Bierce, and the Unreliable Biographers

Analysis that A Horseman in the Sky

Improve her Civil war Vocabulary

Spying in the civil War

Bierce"s at an early stage Life and also Military Career

The Ambrose Bierce project War Photographs

Mythological Gods and Monsters: The Nemean Lion

Civil war Stories, Poems, and Novels

Civil battle Songs

American history in Literature

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