Coups de Grace by R. J. Cardullo | Script Revolution

Coups de Grace

During the American Civil War, a triangle has developed between the Union captain Downing Madwell and two brothers with whom he serves—one of them his friend, the other his enemy.



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Based On: 
An 1889 short story by Ambrose Bierce.

Major Creede Halcrow is the commanding officer of a Union Army infantry regiment from Massachusetts, in action during the American Civil War. Captain Downing Madwell commands one of Major Halcrow’s companies. Sergeant Caffal Halcrow, the major’s brother, is an enlisted man in Madwell’s company and has been close to the captain since childhood—so close, and so devoted, that each man finds the thought of separation from his friend disagreeable. The same cannot be said of the relationship between Major Harlow and Captain Madwell, which is acrimonious.

One day, as the Union regiment is on outpost duty a mile ahead of its main unit, it is attacked in a forest but holds its ground. During a lull in the fighting, Major Halcrow approaches Captain Madwell and orders him to take his company forward to hold the head of a ravine until the company is recalled. Major Halcrow sarcastically suggests that if Madwell is apprehensive about such an action, the captain may order his first lieutenant to go into the dangerous area instead. Just as sarcastically, Madwell agrees to take command personally and expresses the hope that the major will go along—preferably on horseback—so as to present a “conspicuous” target. The captain adds, “I have long held the opinion that it would be better if you were dead.”

Not long after their ordered advance, Captain Madwell and his company are driven back, with more than a third of their men dead, dying, or wounded. The rest of the regiment has been forced to retreat several miles, beyond even the main Union line. The dead (excluding the Confederates) are gathered and buried by Yankee soldiers; the injured are tended to by stretcher-bearers. Near a pile of dead bodies, Captain Madwell leans against a tree in a relaxed position, yet he is anything but relaxed. With his company scattered throughout the forest, Madwell suddenly finds himself all alone. He walks into the woods to recover his wits a bit more. At the head of a shallow ravine, he then finds more injured soldiers. Most appear to be dead but one is barely alive—Sergeant Halcrow, who has been horribly wounded.

Captain Madwell examines his friend and finds his abdomen torn open, with part of the small intestine exposed. Nearby, wild pigs feed on corpses (and may have fed on Sergeant Halcrow), while an injured horse neighs piteously—until Madwell puts it out of its misery with a single bullet. Next he contemplates what to do about Sergeant Halcrow’s intense suffering, and finally decides to end it. However, just as Madwell is doing this, three other Union soldiers show up—including Major Halcrow, who quickly shoots Captain Madwell dead.

Submitted: October 29, 2020
Last Updated: November 7, 2020

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R. J. Cardullo's picture

The Writer: R. J. Cardullo

A former university film teacher, I turned to screenwriting several years ago. I have also written film criticism for many publications. A New Yorker by birth, I grew up in Miami and was educated at the University of Florida, Tulane, and Yale. My last U.S. address was in Milford, Connecticut; I am now an expatriate residing in Scandinavia. Many of my scripts (both long and short) are adaptations of lesser-known works by well-known authors. I am happy to re-write, collaborate, or write on demand. Thanks kindly for any attention you can give my work. Go to bio

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