Short Stories About War, Soldiers or the Military: Examples from WW2, WW1 & Civil War

Short Stories About War WWI WWII civil
Short Stories About War

These war short stories that take place during or after a war, or have characters that have been greatly affected by war. Some might simply offer commentary on war. One of the classic collections set during wartime is The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. For a futuristic take on war, try the anthology Space Soldiers. For an anthology full of military stories, check out First to FightThere’s also a second volume. See also:

War Short Stories

“The King of Norway” by Cecelia Holland

Conn Corbansson fought for Sweyn Tjugas in his rise to King of Denmark. Sweyn had promised they would also take England, but now he’s hesitant. Sweyn has his sights set on Norway, and has enlisted the help of the Jomsvikings. Conn is upset with the change. While feasting, many of the notables make public oaths. Caught up in the moment, Conn makes one himself.

“The King of Norway” can be read in the Amazon preview of Warriors.

“A Piece of Wood” by Ray Bradbury

A young sergeant is called to his superior’s office. The Official offers to transfer him somewhere more to his liking. The young soldier only wants to live in peace. They discuss what would happen if all the world’s guns suddenly rusted away. (Summary)

“The Defense of Free Mind” by Desirina Boskovich

is working a shift in the greenhouse when the sirens go off. She grabs a rifle from the locker and sets up at the wall, along with the other Defenders. Five people are approaching on a boat marked with the City insignia. The city people all look the same, and they want to conquer Free Mind and control them. The Defenders fire on the boat.

This story can be read in the preview of Resist: Tales From a Future Worth Fighting Against(32% in)

“The Survivor’s Story” by Dino Buzzati

Survivors of wars and cataclysms in distant lands are returning home. They’re happy and looking forward to being home again. They especially want to tell their many stories. (Summary)

“A Horseman in the Sky” by Ambrose Bierce

During the American Civil War, Carter Druse, fighting for the North, falls asleep at his sentry post but wakes in time to catch a spy for the South.

This story can be read in the preview of The Devil’s Dictionary, Tales, & Memoirs.

“Happily Ever After” by Aldous Huxley

Jacobsen travels from Chicago to Wiltshire, in England, in the fourth year of the war to see his old tutor, Alfred Petherton. The old man is delighted to see Jacobsen and flattered that he’s come. Rather than having genuine affection for people, Jacobsen seems more amused by their mediocrity. Eventually, they get news that the fiance of Petherton’s daughter will be visiting on his leave, as well as another young friend of his.

This story can be read in the preview of Collected Short Stories(Paperback preview first, then select Kindle sample)

“An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce

A man is on a bridge in Alabama, his hands bound and a rope around his neck. He’s a civilian, a confederate sympathizer, and is being held by Federal soldiers. He’s been sentenced to hang from Owl Creek Bridge during the American civil war.

Read “An Occurrence . . .” (Includes Analysis)

“Luck” by Mark Twain

The narrator attended a banquet in honor of an English military captain. An old acquaintance, a clergyman, told him that in private the man was a fool. Surprised, the narrator gets the story from him. It seems all the captain’s successful campaigns were the result of endless blunders. (Summary)

Read “Luck”

“Chickamauga” by Ambrose Bierce

A six-year-old boy, who is a deaf-mute, wanders off one afternoon. He gets scared by a rabbit and then runs off and hides, falling asleep. He wakes up to an unusual sight.

This story can be read in the preview of The Devil’s Dictionary, Tales, & Memoirs.

“A Son of the Gods” by Ambrose Bierce

A group of soldiers advances to a difficult point. There’s a clearing ahead. At the far end is a stone wall. Behind the wall is a hedge and behind that are some trees. The enemy could be concealed somewhere within. Something must be done.

This story can be read in the above preview of The Devil’s Dictionary, Tales, & Memoirs.

“The Coup de Grace” by Ambrose Bierce

In a regiment are two brothers, Caffal and Creede Halcrow. Caffal is a sergeant under Captain Madwell, and they are long-time friends. Creede is a major and has a hostile relationship with Madwell. Madwell’s company is ordered to hold the head of a ravine, but they are driven from their position with heavy losses.

This story can also be read in the above preview of The Devil’s Dictionary, Tales, & Memoirs.

“Snowflake” by Ruth Ware

Leah’s father wants a wall built around their island. She’s not sure why. They lug back all the rocks they can find. Wood won’t be strong enough for what’s coming. They fled a war on the mainland. Uniformed men came to their home at night, but her father was prepared so they escaped.

The beginning can be read in the Amazon preview of “Snowflake”.

“A Late Encounter with the Enemy” by Flannery O’Connor

General George Poker Sash is a 104-year-old American Civil War veteran. He gets invited to attend some events because of his age and veteran status. His granddaughter, 62-year-old Sally Poker Sash, prays that he will live to attend her college graduation so everyone will see she has a superior background. (Summary)

“Nightfall (The Curse)” by Arthur C. Clarke

The little town had stood through many hard times, but now it’s gone. It was hit by a stray rocket, one of the last ones fired. Everything is ruined.

This story can be read in the preview of The Collected Stories of Arthur C. Clarke.

“Old Man at the Bridge” by Ernest Hemingway

During the Spanish Civil War, an old man sits on the roadside, exhausted and discouraged.  Everyone is fleeing from the advancing Fascist army.

This is the fourth story in the preview of The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway(92% into the preview)

“Guests of the Nation” by Frank O’Connor

During the War for Independence, two Englishmen are held captive by the Irish Republican Army. The captors and captives develop camaraderie as they go about their daily routine.

This is the first story in the preview of Collected Stories(Go into Paperback preview first, then select Kindle)

“A Perfect Day for Bananafish” by J. D. Salinger

Muriel speaks on the phone with her mother about her husband, Seymour, who has returned from the war. Her mother is worried about Seymour’s driving and his general mental condition. Meanwhile, Seymour is on the beach, where he meets a young girl and tells her about the bananafish.

This is the first story in the preview of Nine Stories.

“For Esmé—with Love and Squalor” by J. D. Salinger

The narrator is invited to a wedding in England that he won’t be able to attend. He writes a few things about the bride, whom he knew about six years earlier. In 1944 he was with the American forces in Devon. After his training, he walked into town. He went into a church where a children’s choir was practicing. He was affected by the performance, particularly that of a thirteen-year-old girl named Esmé.

“The Garbage Collector” by Ray Bradbury

A garbage collector gets up at five every morning to do his job. He does it well, and some days he really likes it. One day after work he’s unusually quiet. Something happened that day that changed the job for him. A new directive was issued to garbage collectors. (Summary)

Short Stories About War, Cont’d

“A Mystery of Heroism” by Stephen Crane

Soldiers are firing on each other on the battlefield. When Fred says he’s thirsty, his fellow soldiers teasingly tell him to go to the well in no man’s land. Fred asks his captain if he can go.

This story can be read in the preview of The Complete Short Stories of Stephen Crane(Select in table of contents)

“When We Harvested the Nacre-Rice” by Benjanun Sriduangkaew

Jiratar and Sujari are fighting an un-war. They’re not fighting with traditional weapons. One day, Pahayal spots a body floating among catfish. It’s not a leftover from an illogic burst—it’s really there. Going to a hospital is hopeless. Pahayal takes the stranger back to her own place.

This is the first story in the preview of Solaris Rising 3.

“A Brief Guide to Other Histories” by Paul McAuley

The narrator’s platoon went through the Turing gate to another America. There are recognizable elements in this New York—buildings, taxis and various landmarks. This world is every bit as real as their own. It was taken over by a rogue General who made himself President-for-Life. The narrator’s reality offered assistance in the civil war against this tyrant. Now, they’re dealing with guerilla fighters.

This is the second story in the preview of Other Worlds Than These(66% into preview)

“Cold Moonlight” by Carla Neggers

Ryan Taylor, a former Navy SEAL, is out in the Vermont snow looking for Marissa Neal, daughter of the vice-president. He rounds a corner and sees Elijah Cameron, a Special Forces soldier. Cameron spotted Marissa, but then someone shot at him.

This story can be read in the preview of Love Is Murder(45% in)

“The Sound of Secrecy” by Martin Edwards

Wilf sees Lina at the funeral of their old friend, Edward. He can recognize her even after all these years. Lina drove Edward to murder. Wilf thinks back to when they were all together at Bletchley Park, a code-breaking facility used during WWII.

This story can be read in the preview of The Book of Extraordinary Historical Mystery Stories(17% in)

“The Sniper” by Liam O’Flaherty  

At night a sniper waits on a rooftop. He risks lighting a cigarette which alerts a nearby sniper of his presence.  They exchange some fire. The sniper feels trapped, but he knows he has to get off the roof before enemy forces converge on him. (Summary & Analysis)

Read here

“The Children’s Campaign” by Par Lagerkvist

An unnamed country maintains an army of children between six and fourteen, who run their training and organization without any adult help. When an inferior nation insults this country, war is declared and the children’s army launches an attack.

“The Dog of Tithwal” by Saadat Hasan Manto

Entrenched Indian and Pakistani soldiers send a stray dog to the others camp.

“How to Tell a True War Story” by Tim O’Brien

The narrator tells war stories interspersed with commentary on story telling.

Read here

“The Red Convertible” by Louise Erdrich

Lyman Lamartine’s brother, Henry, goes to war in Vietnam and returns three years later a changed man.

Read “The Red Convertible”

“The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien

A narrator details the items that a regiment of soldiers carry with them, giving insight into their characters.

Read here (Pages 1 – 10)

“The Canal” by Richard Yates

While mingling at a cocktail party, two husbands discover they were part of the same military action in WW II. They reminisce, with one of the men eager to share and describe his heroism, while the other is reticent.

The following for Roald Dahl stories are in The Complete Short Stories Volume 1.

“Beware of the Dog” by Roald Dahl

Peter Williamson, an injured WW II pilot, bails out of his plane. He wakes up in a Brighton hospital, in a comfortable room with his wounds tended.

“Only This” 

In an English cottage, an old woman lies in bed. She hears bombers flying overhead, and thinks of her son in the Royal Air Force, imagining that she’s in the plane with him.

“Yesterday was Beautiful” 

An English pilot ejected from his plane and landed on a Greek island. He searches the deserted town for a boat that can take him to the mainland.


Peter, Fin and the narrator, RAF pilots, help at a Greek village in the aftermath of a German bombing. They find a little girl sitting on a stone not moving. She’s bleeding fast; they take her back to the landing field to see the doctor. Her name is Katina, and she lost her family in the bombing. She becomes a member of the squadron.

“Two Friends” by Guy de Maupassant

Two men, now members of the Paris National Guard because of an attack by Prussian soldiers, meet up with each other in the street. They reminisce about the fishing they did before the war, and decide to try and go back to their fishing spot, even though it’s in no man’s land.

Read “Two Friends”

“The First Year of My Life” by Muriel Spark

The narrator, a baby, is able to relate the first year of its life because, as we’re told, babies are omniscient in their first year. Born late in WW I, the baby reports on its caregivers, famous people’s lives, and the war.

“The Upturned Face” by Stephen Crane

Two soldiers ponder the body of a fallen comrade. They decide to bury the body even though there’s shooting just overhead.

Read here

“Civil Peace” by Chinua Achebe

Jonathan Iwegbu and his family rebuild their lives after the Nigerian Civil War.

Read “Civil Peace”

Short Stories About War, Cont’d

“Editha” by W. D. Howells

Editha has read about the Spanish-American war in the papers. She has a romantic view of the war, and feels that her fiancé, George, should join the effort. George is against war, but he gets swept up in the fervor at a meeting, and enlists.

Read here

“Soldier’s Home” by Ernest Hemingway

Krebs comes home after the First World War and keeps to himself. His mother wants him to do something with his life and meet people.

“The Old Demon” by Pearl S. Buck

Mrs. Wang lives in a remote Chinese village. They have heard the talk of a war with the Japanese, but they haven’t seen it firsthand. Mrs. Wang is more concerned with the river; it is higher than it’s ever been at this time of year.

“The Old Demon”

“Dish Night” by Michael Martone

World War II interrupts a couple’s courtship, including their routine of going to a movie on Dish Night so they could get a complete set of crockery.

Read “Dish Night”

“Stockings” by Tim O’Brien

Henry Dobbins is a good man, and great soldier, but unsophisticated. He views a pair of his girlfriend’s pantyhose as a good-luck charm.

Read “Stockings”

“Three Soldiers” by Bruce Holland Rogers

Soldiers face difficult situations at various stages of their careers.

“Prisoner of War” by Muna Fadhil

Saleh was captured by the Iranians and held for seventeen years. He now lives with his daughter, Sahira, who was only five when he was captured.

“War” by Luigi Pirandello

Passengers on a train carriage argue over who feels the most grief over their sons lost in WWI.

Read here

“Snow” by Julia Alvarez

A young girl is attending Catholic school her first year in the United States. She learns some English words, eventually becoming aware of the communist threat.

Read “Snow”

“The Soul of a Regiment” by Talbot Mundy

Sergeant-Instructor William Grogram comes out of retirement to lead the First Egyptian Foot, a lowly regiment that the Colonel believes is hopeless. Grogram is devoted to duty and honor, and makes it his aim to turn them into a respectable unit.

Read “The Soul of a Regiment”

“Big Bertha Stories” by Bobbie Ann Mason

Donald comes home, occasionally and unannounced, to see his family. He seemed to adjust after the Vietnam War, but then he lost his job and deteriorated. He tells his son, Rodney, tall tales of Big Bertha, a huge strip-mining machine. The stories start out light but always turn dark.

“It” by Norman Mailer

Soldiers are on the battlefield.

(Story is less than 40 words)

“The Ensign” by Alphonse Daudet

A French regiment is holding their position on the banks of a railway. They keep their flag flying despite the advance of the Prussian force. Twenty-two officers fall before Sergeant Hornus takes over the job.

“The Paper House” by Norman Mailer

Nicholson and Hayes are Army cooks, stationed in Japan after the war. Hayes is divorced and bitter about it. They often visit the geisha house where they each have a regular woman.

“The Track” by Walter McDonald

It is a sweltering day in Vietnam during the war after many of the troops have been withdrawn. The narrator and Lebowitz are running around a track with other soldiers.

Short Stories About War, Cont’d

“The Language of Men” by Norman Mailer

After failing at a variety of assignments, Carter becomes an Army cook. He does well and is promoted. After a while, he puts more effort into the meals, improving the taste and quality of his dishes. He doesn’t think the men appreciate what they’re getting.

“Old Hildebrand (Hildebrandslied)” by Anonymous

An old man and a young man meet on a battlefield. The older man asks about the younger man’s father and his people.

There are different version of this poem/story available. The original leaves off before the ending is revealed. Others have an ending added on.

Read “Hildebrandslied” (no ending)

Read “Old Hildebrand” (ending added)

“An Episode of War” by Stephen Crane

A lieutenant is dividing the coffee supply for the squads. Suddenly he cries out as if attacked. The other officers see blood on his sleeve.

Read “An Episode of War”

“Why Does the Child Cry?” by Mulk Raj Anand

Abdul, a young boy, is known for being late because he likes to bird-watch and go fishing. One day on the way home from school he sees his friend Ali. He calls out to him but Ali ignores him and runs off. Abdul wonders what is wrong. He notices some things are different.

“Frustration” by Isaac Asimov

Herman gets a visit from the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Hargrove. He’s working on a computer program that would determine how to fight the most efficient war possible.

Read “Frustration”

“New Year for Fong Wing” by Monfoon Leong

Fong and Lee, restaurant workers, get paid. Lee wants to gamble, but Fong is worried about what his wife will think. Fong’s sons were killed in wars, and now he has no male heir. Feeling depressed, he agrees to go gamble with Lee.

“Train to Harbin” by Asako Serizawa

The narrator tells of a time forty years prior in 1939 when Japan and China were at war. He was a doctor, recruited by his country for some patriotic service. His group’s goal was to preserve lives. He hasn’t fully come to terms with his past. The fact that it was wartime doesn’t settle things in his mind.

Read “Train to Harbin”

“The Northern Lights” by Joy Harjo

Whirling Soldier is a Native American Vietnam War veteran. In flashbacks, we see his childhood, his war days and his post-war life. He has struggled with drug and alcohol use.

“A Curious Experience” by Mark Twain

In the winter of 1962-63, a boy, aged fourteen or fifteen, shows up at the recruiting office at Fort Trumbull, wanting to enlist. The commandant objects, saying the boy is too young and too small. He feels for the boy, though, and allows him to stay a while. He listens to the boy’s story. He relents, and let’s the boy join, although not as a soldier.

Read “A Curious Experience” 

“North Light: A Recollection in the Present Tense” by Mark Helprin

An Israeli soldier’s unit has been called into action. They watch their target site until dark. He expounds on the differences between the new and experienced soldiers.

“No Trace” by David Madden

Ernest Foster is inspecting his son’s dorm room before the police and other authorities get a look. It’s dirty, has revolutionary-type items and has a hippie-vibe. He finds his son’s relationship with his roommate, who was against the Vietnam War, puzzling. The odor that assaults him from the closet makes him picture his son at graduation with a grenade in his hand.

“The Pacific” by Mark Helprin

Paulette Ferry, a young woman, is a precision welder in a factory making altimeters for planes. Her husband, Lee, is a Marine stationed overseas, in combat. Paulette devotes herself to her work while waiting, and hoping, for Lee to return.

“Act of Faith” by Irwin Shaw

WW II is over. Sergeant Seeger and his friends, both privates, are getting together what money they can for a weekend trip to Paris. Seeger was awarded a Purple Heart, and has saved the lives of his friends. They’re still short on funds. Luger pistols are selling at high prices, and Seeger has one.

“Roger Malvin’s Burial” by Nathaniel Hawthorne

In 1725, two wounded soldiers have been struggling to safety for three days. The older one, Roger, is hurt worse; he knows he won’t make it. While resting by a rock, he tells the younger one, Rueben, to go on without him. They argue about it, and Roger tells a story to persuade the younger man to leave.

Read “Roger Malvin’s Burial”

Short Stories About War, Cont’d

“The Drummer Boy of Shiloh” by Ray Bradbury

A fourteen-year-old boy is awakened by a sound at midnight. He’s with an encampment of soldiers at Shiloh. About a mile away, an opposing army waits. The boy is afraid. The soldiers have rifles and shields; he only has his drum and two sticks.

Read “The Drummer Boy of Shiloh”

“A Natural History of the Dead” by Ernest Hemingway

The narrator furnishes the reader with some facts about the war-dead. He talks about the preponderance of male casualties, the fate of mules, the decomposition of bodies, how people die, and other related things.

Read “A Natural History of the Dead”

“A Way You’ll Never Be” by Ernest Hemingway

Nick Adams was wounded in battle and is shell-shocked. He rides a bicycle to his old Captain’s encampment. On the way, he passes numerous war-dead and military debris. He’s able to recreate the main action of the battle.

Read “A Way You’ll Never Be”

“Stranger, Bear Word to the Spartans We . . .” by Heinrich Boll

The narrator arrives at what seems to be a school. There’s a place for the dead outside; the living are taken to the art room. He’s carried up the stairs on a stretcher. He’s feverish, hurts all over and is disoriented.

“The Aqueduct” by Ray Bradbury

A huge aqueduct from the North to the South is almost constructed. Citizens of the South look forward to everything they’ll be able to do with this ready water source. There’s a war between the two Northern countries.

“The Enemy” by Pearl Buck

Dr. Sadao Hoki, who’s a surgeon, and his wife, Hana, live on the coast of Japan. Japan and America are at war. On a foggy night, the Hoki’s are out on the verandah. Through the mist, they see someone stagger out of the sea. Thinking he might be a lost fisherman, they run to him. To their surprise, and consternation, he’s a wounded white man—an escaped American prisoner of war. They don’t know what to do with him.

Read “The Enemy”

I’ll keep adding short stories about war as I find more.