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The Red Badge of Courage
An Episode of the American Civil War
by Stephen Crane

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THE cold passed reluctantly from the earth,

and the retiring fogs revealed an army stretched

out on the hills, resting. As the landscape

changed from brown to green, the army awak-

ened, and began to tremble with eagerness at the

noise of rumors. It cast its eyes upon the roads,

which were growing from long troughs of liquid

mud to proper thoroughfares. A river, amber-

tinted in the shadow of its banks, purled at the

army's feet; and at night, when the stream had

become of a sorrowful blackness, one could see

across it the red, eyelike gleam of hostile camp-

fires set in the low brows of distant hills.

Once a certain tall soldier developed virtues

and went resolutely to wash a shirt. He came

flying back from a brook waving his garment

bannerlike. He was swelled with a tale he had

heard from a reliable friend, who had heard it

from a truthful cavalryman, who had heard it

from his trustworthy brother, one of the order-

lies at division headquarters. He adopted the

important air of a herald in red and gold.

"We're goin' t' move t' morrah--sure," he

said pompously to a group in the company

street. "We're goin' 'way up the river, cut

across, an' come around in behint 'em."

To his attentive audience he drew a loud

and elaborate plan of a very brilliant campaign.

When he had finished, the blue-clothed men

scattered into small arguing groups between the

rows of squat brown huts. A negro teamster who

had been dancing upon a cracker box with the

hilarious encouragement of twoscore soldiers

was deserted. He sat mournfully down. Smoke

drifted lazily from a multitude of quaint chimneys.

"It's a lie! that's all it is--a thunderin' lie!"

said another private loudly. His smooth face was

flushed, and his hands were thrust sulkily into his

trousers' pockets. He took the matter as an

affront to him. "I don't believe the derned old

army's ever going to move. We're set. I've

got ready to move eight times in the last two

weeks, and we ain't moved yet."

The tall soldier felt called upon to defend

the truth of a rumor he himself had intro-

duced. He and the loud one came near to fight-

ing over it.

A corporal began to swear before the assem-

blage. He had just put a costly board floor in

his house, he said. During the early spring he

had refrained from adding extensively to the

comfort of his environment because he had felt

that the army might start on the march at any

moment. Of late, however, he had been im-

pressed that they were in a sort of eternal camp.

Many of the men engaged in a spirited debate.

One outlined in a peculiarly lucid manner all the

plans of the commanding general. He was op-

posed by men who advocated that there were

other plans of campaign. They clamored at each

other, numbers making futile bids for the pop-

ular attention. Meanwhile, the soldier who had

fetched the rumor bustled about with much

importance. He was continually assailed by questions.

"What's up, Jim?"

"Th' army's goin' t' move."

"Ah, what yeh talkin' about? How yeh know it is?"

"Well, yeh kin b'lieve me er not, jest as yeh

like. I don't care a hang."

There was much food for thought in the man-

ner in which he replied. He came near to con-

vincing them by disdaining to produce proofs.

They grew excited over it.

There was a youthful private who listened

with eager ears to the words of the tall soldier

and to the varied comments of his comrades.

After receiving a fill of discussions concerning

marches and attacks, he went to his hut and

crawled through an intricate hole that served it

as a door. He wished to be alone with some

new thoughts that had lately come to him.

He lay down on a wide bank that stretched

across the end of the room. In the other end,

cracker boxes were made to serve as furniture.

They were grouped about the fireplace. A pic-

ture from an illustrated weekly was upon the log

walls, and three rifles were paralleled on pegs.

Equipments hunt on handy projections, and some

tin dishes lay upon a small pile of firewood. A

folded tent was serving as a roof. The sunlight,

without, beating upon it, made it glow a light

yellow shade. A small window shot an oblique

square of whiter light upon the cluttered floor.

The smoke from the fire at times neglected the

clay chimney and wreathed into the room, and

this flimsy chimney of clay and sticks made end-

less threats to set ablaze the whole establishment.

The youth was in a little trance of astonish-

ment. So they were at last going to fight. On

the morrow, perhaps, there would be a battle, and

he would be in it. For a time he was obliged

to labor to make himself believe. He could not

accept with assurance an omen that he was about

to mingle in one of those great affairs of the earth.

He had, of course, dreamed of battles all

his life--of vague and bloody conflicts that had

thrilled him with their sweep and fire. In visions

he had seen himself in many struggles. He had

imagined peoples secure in the shadow of his

eagle-eyed prowess. But awake he had regarded

battles as crimson blotches on the pages of the

past. He had put them as things of the bygone

with his thought-images of heavy crowns and

high castles. There was a portion of the world's

history which he had regarded as the time of

wars, but it, he thought, had been long gone over

the horizon and had disappeared forever.

From his home his youthful eyes had looked

upon the war in his own country with distrust.

It must be some sort of a play affair. He had

long despaired of witnessing a Greeklike struggle.

Such would be no more, he had said. Men were

better, or more timid. Secular and religious

education had effaced the throat-grappling in-

stinct, or else firm finance held in check the passions.

He had burned several times to enlist. Tales

of great movements shook the land. They might

not be distinctly Homeric, but there seemed to

be much glory in them. He had read of marches,

sieges, conflicts, and he had longed to see it all.

His busy mind had drawn for him large pictures

extravagant in color, lurid with breathless deeds.

But his mother had discouraged him. She

had affected to look with some contempt upon

the quality of his war ardor and patriotism. She

could calmly seat herself and with no apparent

difficulty give him many hundreds of reasons

why he was of vastly more importance on the

farm than on the field of battle. She had had

certain ways of expression that told him that her

statements on the subject came from a deep con-

viction. Moreover, on her side, was his belief

that her ethical motive in the argument was impregnable.

At last, however, he had made firm rebellion

against this yellow light thrown upon the color of

his ambitions. The newspapers, the gossip of the

village, his own picturings had aroused him to

an uncheckable degree. They were in truth

fighting finely down there. Almost every day

the newspapers printed accounts of a decisive victory.

One night, as he lay in bed, the winds had

carried to him the clangoring of the church bell

as some enthusiast jerked the rope frantically to

tell the twisted news of a great battle. This

voice of the people rejoicing in the night had

made him shiver in a prolonged ecstasy of ex-

citement. Later, he had gone down to his

mother's room and had spoken thus: "Ma, I'm

going to enlist."

"Henry, don't you be a fool," his mother had

replied. She had then covered her face with the

quilt. There was an end to the matter for that night.

Nevertheless, the next morning he had gone

to a town that was near his mother's farm and

had enlisted in a company that was forming there.

When he had returned home his mother was

milking the brindle cow. Four others stood

waiting. "Ma, I've enlisted," he had said to her

diffidently. There was a short silence. "The

Lord's will be done, Henry," she had finally

replied, and had then continued to milk the

brindle cow.

When he had stood in the doorway with his

soldier's clothes on his back, and with the light of

excitement and expectancy in his eyes almost

defeating the glow of regret for the home bonds,

he had seen two tears leaving their trails on his

mother's scarred cheeks.

Still, she had disappointed him by saying

nothing whatever about returning with his shield

or on it. He had privately primed himself for a

beautiful scene. He had prepared certain sen-

tences which he thought could be used with

touching effect. But her words destroyed his

plans. She had doggedly peeled potatoes and

addressed him as follows: "You watch out,

Henry, an' take good care of yerself in this here

fighting business--you watch out, an' take good

care of yerself. Don't go a-thinkin' you can

lick the hull rebel army at the start, because yeh

can't. Yer jest one little feller amongst a hull lot

of others, and yeh've got to keep quiet an' do what

they tell yeh. I know how you are, Henry.

"I've knet yeh eight pair of socks, Henry, and

I've put in all yer best shirts, because I want my

boy to be jest as warm and comf'able as anybody

in the army. Whenever they get holes in 'em, I

want yeh to send 'em right-away back to me, so's

I kin dern 'em.

"An' allus be careful an' choose yer comp'ny.

There's lots of bad men in the army, Henry.

The army makes 'em wild, and they like nothing

better than the job of leading off a young feller

like you, as ain't never been away from home

much and has allus had a mother, an' a-learning

'em to drink and swear. Keep clear of them

folks, Henry. I don't want yeh to ever do any-

thing, Henry, that yeh would be 'shamed to let

me know about. Jest think as if I was a-watchin'

yeh. If yeh keep that in yer mind allus, I guess

yeh'll come out about right.

"Yeh must allus remember yer father, too,

child, an' remember he never drunk a drop of

licker in his life, and seldom swore a cross oath.

"I don't know what else to tell yeh, Henry,

excepting that yeh must never do no shirking,

child, on my account. If so be a time comes when

yeh have to be kilt or do a mean thing, why,

Henry, don't think of anything 'cept what's right,

because there's many a woman has to bear up

'ginst sech things these times, and the Lord 'll

take keer of us all.

"Don't forgit about the socks and the shirts,

child; and I've put a cup of blackberry jam with

yer bundle, because I know yeh like it above all

things. Good-by, Henry. Watch out, and be a good boy."

He had, of course, been impatient under the

ordeal of this speech. It had not been quite what

he expected, and he had borne it with an air of

irritation. He departed feeling vague relief.

Still, when he had looked back from the gate,

he had seen his mother kneeling among the po-

tato parings. Her brown face, upraised, was

stained with tears, and her spare form was quiver-

ing. He bowed his head and went on, feeling

suddenly ashamed of his purposes.

From his home he had gone to the seminary

to bid adieu to many schoolmates. They had

thronged about him with wonder and admiration.

He had felt the gulf now between them and had

swelled with calm pride. He and some of his

fellows who had donned blue were quite over-

whelmed with privileges for all of one afternoon,

and it had been a very delicious thing. They had


A certain light-haired girl had made vivacious

fun at his martial spirit, but there was another and

darker girl whom he had gazed at steadfastly, and

he thought she grew demure and sad at sight of

his blue and brass. As he had walked down the

path between the rows of oaks, he had turned his

head and detected her at a window watching his

departure. As he perceived her, she had im-

mediately begun to stare up through the high

tree branches at the sky. He had seen a good

deal of flurry and haste in her movement as she

changed her attitude. He often thought of it.

On the way to Washington his spirit had

soared. The regiment was fed and caressed at

station after station until the youth had believed

that he must be a hero. There was a lavish ex-

penditure of bread and cold meats, coffee, and

pickles and cheese. As he basked in the smiles

of the girls and was patted and complimented by

the old men, he had felt growing within him the

strength to do mighty deeds of arms.

After complicated journeyings with many

pauses, there had come months of monotonous

life in a camp. He had had the belief that real

war was a series of death struggles with small

time in between for sleep and meals; but since his

regiment had come to the field the army had done

little but sit still and try to keep warm.

He was brought then gradually back to his old

ideas. Greeklike struggles would be no more.

Men were better, or more timid. Secular and

religious education had effaced the throat-grap-

pling instinct, or else firm finance held in check

the passions.

He had grown to regard himself merely as a

part of a vast blue demonstration. His province

was to look out, as far as he could, for his per-

sonal comfort. For recreation he could twiddle

his thumbs and speculate on the thoughts which

must agitate the minds of the generals. Also, he

was drilled and drilled and reviewed, and drilled

and drilled and reviewed.

The only foes he had seen were some pickets

along the river bank. They were a sun-tanned,

philosophical lot, who sometimes shot reflectively

at the blue pickets. When reproached for this

afterward, they usually expressed sorrow, and

swore by their gods that the guns had exploded

without their permission. The youth, on guard

duty one night, conversed across the stream with

one of them. He was a slightly ragged man, who

spat skillfully between his shoes and possessed a

great fund of bland and infantile assurance. The

youth liked him personally.

"Yank," the other had informed him, "yer a

right dum good feller." This sentiment, floating

to him upon the still air, had made him tempo-

rarily regret war.

Various veterans had told him tales. Some

talked of gray, bewhiskered hordes who were

advancing with relentless curses and chewing

tobacco with unspeakable valor; tremendous

bodies of fierce soldiery who were sweeping

along like the Huns. Others spoke of tattered

and eternally hungry men who fired despondent

powders. "They'll charge through hell's fire an'

brimstone t' git a holt on a haversack, an' sech

stomachs ain't a-lastin' long," he was told. From

the stories, the youth imagined the red, live bones

sticking out through slits in the faded uniforms.

Still, he could not put a whole faith in veter-

ans' tales, for recruits were their prey. They

talked much of smoke, fire, and blood, but he

could not tell how much might be lies. They

persistently yelled "Fresh fish!" at him, and were

in no wise to be trusted.

However, he perceived now that it did not

greatly matter what kind of soldiers he was going

to fight, so long as they fought, which fact no one

disputed. There was a more serious problem. He

lay in his bunk pondering upon it. He tried to

mathematically prove to himself that he would

not run from a battle.

Previously he had never felt obliged to wrestle

too seriously with this question. In his life he had

taken certain things for granted, never challeng-

ing his belief in ultimate success, and bothering

little about means and roads. But here he was

confronted with a thing of moment. It had sud-

denly appeared to him that perhaps in a battle he

might run. He was forced to admit that as far as

war was concerned he knew nothing of himself.

A sufficient time before he would have allowed

the problem to kick its heels at the outer portals

of his mind, but now he felt compelled to give

serious attention to it.

A little panic-fear grew in his mind. As his

imagination went forward to a fight, he saw hide-

ous possibilities. He contemplated the lurking

menaces of the future, and failed in an effort to

see himself standing stoutly in the midst of them.

He recalled his visions of broken-bladed glory,

but in the shadow of the impending tumult he

suspected them to be impossible pictures.

He sprang from the bunk and began to pace

nervously to and fro. "Good Lord, what's th'

matter with me?" he said aloud.

He felt that in this crisis his laws of life were

useless. Whatever he had learned of himself was

here of no avail. He was an unknown quantity.

He saw that he would again be obliged to experi-

ment as he had in early youth. He must accumu-

late information of himself, and meanwhile he re-

solved to remain close upon his guard lest those

qualities of which he knew nothing should ever-

lastingly disgrace him. "Good Lord!" he re-

peated in dismay.

After a time the tall soldier slid dexterously

through the hole. The loud private followed.

They were wrangling.

"That's all right," said the tall soldier as he

entered. He waved his hand expressively. "You

can believe me or not, jest as you like. All you

got to do is to sit down and wait as quiet as you

can. Then pretty soon you'll find out I was right."

His comrade grunted stubbornly. For a mo-

ment he seemed to be searching for a formidable

reply. Finally he said: "Well, you don't know

everything in the world, do you?"

"Didn't say I knew everything in the world,"

retorted the other sharply. He began to stow

various articles snugly into his knapsack.

The youth, pausing in his nervous walk, looked

down at the busy figure. "Going to be a battle,

sure, is there, Jim?" he asked.

"Of course there is," replied the tall soldier.

"Of course there is. You jest wait 'til to-morrow,

and you'll see one of the biggest battles ever was.

You jest wait."

"Thunder!" said the youth.

"Oh, you'll see fighting this time, my boy,

what'll be regular out-and-out fighting," added

the tall soldier, with the air of a man who is

about to exhibit a battle for the benefit of his friends.

"Huh!" said the loud one from a corner.

"Well," remarked the youth, "like as not this

story'll turn out jest like them others did."

"Not much it won't," replied the tall soldier,

exasperated. "Not much it won't. Didn't the

cavalry all start this morning?" He glared about

him. No one denied his statement. "The cav-

alry started this morning," he continued. "They

say there ain't hardly any cavalry left in camp.

They're going to Richmond, or some place, while

we fight all the Johnnies. It's some dodge like

that. The regiment's got orders, too. A feller

what seen 'em go to headquarters told me a little

while ago. And they're raising blazes all over

camp--anybody can see that."

"Shucks!" said the loud one.

The youth remained silent for a time. At last

he spoke to the tall soldier. "Jim!"


"How do you think the reg'ment 'll do?"

"Oh, they'll fight all right, I guess, after they

once get into it," said the other with cold judg-

ment. He made a fine use of the third person.

"There's been heaps of fun poked at 'em because

they're new, of course, and all that; but they'll

fight all right, I guess."

"Think any of the boys 'll run?" persisted the youth.

"Oh, there may be a few of 'em run, but

there's them kind in every regiment, 'specially

when they first goes under fire," said the other

in a tolerant way. "Of course it might happen

that the hull kit-and-boodle might start and run,

if some big fighting came first-off, and then again

they might stay and fight like fun. But you can't

bet on nothing. Of course they ain't never been

under fire yet, and it ain't likely they'll lick the

hull rebel army all-to-oncet the first time; but I

think they'll fight better than some, if worse than

others. That's the way I figger. They call the

reg'ment 'Fresh fish' and everything; but the

boys come of good stock, and most of 'em 'll fight

like sin after they oncet git shootin'," he added,

with a mighty emphasis on the last four words.

"Oh, you think you know--" began the loud

soldier with scorn.

The other turned savagely upon him. They

had a rapid altercation, in which they fastened

upon each other various strange epithets.

The youth at last interrupted them. "Did

you ever think you might run yourself, Jim?" he

asked. On concluding the sentence he laughed

as if he had meant to aim a joke. The loud sol-

dier also giggled.

The tall private waved his hand. "Well," said

he profoundly, "I've thought it might get too hot

for Jim Conklin in some of them scrimmages, and

if a whole lot of boys started and run, why, I

s'pose I'd start and run. And if I once started to

run, I'd run like the devil, and no mistake. But

if everybody was a-standing and a-fighting, why,

I'd stand and fight. Be jiminey, I would. I'll bet on it."

"Huh!" said the loud one.

The youth of this tale felt gratitude for these

words of his comrade. He had feared that all of

the untried men possessed a great and correct

confidence. He now was in a measure reassured.



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