On June 23, 1864, Ambrose Bierce was in command of a skirmish line of Union soldiers at Kennesaw Mountain in northern Georgia. He’d been a soldier for three years, and in that time had been commended by his superiors for his efficiency and bravery during battle. He’d been pretty fortunate so far. Three years of hard fighting—on the ground and wielding a rifle—without serious injury. But that day in June a Confederate marksman shot Ambrose Bierce right in the head. The bullet fractured Bierce’s temporal lobe and got stuck in his skull, behind his left ear. He was sent by railroad to Chattanooga for medical care, riding along with other wounded soldiers on an open flat car for two days, their bodies covered by nothing more than a tarp. They rode this way through the June heat of Georgia, as well as drizzling rains. At night the “bright cold moonlight” gave Bierce jarring headaches. Somehow, none of this killed Ambrose Bierce—one of American literature’s great stubborn bastards. In fact, nobody knows how Bierce died. In 1913, at the age of 71, he traveled from Northern California to Mexico. He wanted to check out all the ruckus Pancho Villa had been causing. Bierce departed and was never seen or heard from again. By then he’d become famous as the caustic columnist for, among others, William Randolph Hearst’s San Francisco Examiner.

more from Victor LaValle at The Nation here.