Bierce was born in a log cabin at Horse Cave Creek in Meigs County, Ohio on June 24, 1842, to Marcus Aurelius Bierce (1799–1876) and Laura Sherwood Bierce. His mother was a descendant of William Bradford. He was the tenth of thirteen children whose father gave all names beginning with the letter "A": in order of birth, the Bierce siblings were Abigail, Amelia, Ann, Addison, Aurelius, Augustus, Almeda, Andrew, Albert, and Ambrose.
His parents were a poor but literary couple who instilled in him a deep love for books and writing. The boy grew up in Kosciusko County, Indiana, attending high school at the county seat, Warsaw.
He left home at 15 to become a "printer's devil" at a small Ohio newspaper.