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| Home | Reading Room The Red Badge of Courage

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

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THE brigade was halted in the fringe of a

grove. The men crouched among the trees and

pointed their restless guns out at the fields.

They tried to look beyond the smoke.

Out of this haze they could see running men.

Some shouted information and gestured as they hurried.

The men of the new regiment watched and

listened eagerly, while their tongues ran on in

gossip of the battle. They mouthed rumors that

had flown like birds out of the unknown.

"They say Perry has been driven in with big loss."

"Yes, Carrott went t' th' hospital. He said he

was sick. That smart lieutenant is commanding

'G' Company. Th' boys say they won't be

under Carrott no more if they all have t' desert.

They allus knew he was a--"

"Hannises' batt'ry is took."

"It ain't either. I saw Hannises' batt'ry off on

th' left not more'n fifteen minutes ago."


"Th' general, he ses he is goin' t' take th' hull

cammand of th' 304th when we go inteh action,

an' then he ses we'll do sech fightin' as never

another one reg'ment done."

"They say we're catchin' it over on th' left.

They say th' enemy driv' our line inteh a devil of

a swamp an' took Hannises' batt'ry."

"No sech thing. Hannises' batt'ry was 'long

here 'bout a minute ago."

"That young Hasbrouck, he makes a good

off'cer. He ain't afraid 'a nothin'."

"I met one of th' 148th Maine boys an' he ses

his brigade fit th' hull rebel army fer four hours

over on th' turnpike road an' killed about five

thousand of 'em. He ses one more sech fight as

that an' th' war 'll be over."

"Bill wasn't scared either. No, sir! It wasn't

that. Bill ain't a-gittin' scared easy. He was

jest mad, that's what he was. When that feller

trod on his hand, he up an' sed that he was willin'

t' give his hand t' his country, but he be dumbed

if he was goin' t' have every dumb bushwhacker

in th' kentry walkin' 'round on it. Se he went t'

th' hospital disregardless of th' fight. Three

fingers was crunched. Th' dern doctor wanted

t' amputate 'm, an' Bill, he raised a heluva row, I

hear. He's a funny feller."

The din in front swelled to a tremendous

chorus. The youth and his fellows were frozen

to silence. They could see a flag that tossed in

the smoke angrily. Near it were the blurred and

agitated forms of troops. There came a turbulent

stream of men across the fields. A battery chang-

ing position at a frantic gallop scattered the

stragglers right and left.

A shell screaming like a storm banshee went

over the huddled heads of the reserves. It landed

in the grove, and exploding redly flung the brown

earth. There was a little shower of pine needles.

Bullets began to whistle among the branches

and nip at the trees. Twigs and leaves came

sailing down. It was as if a thousand axes, wee

and invisible, were being wielded. Many of the

men were constantly dodging and ducking their heads.

The lieutenant of the youth's company was

shot in the hand. He began to swear so won-

drously that a nervous laugh went along the regi-

mental line. The officer's profanity sounded

conventional. It relieved the tightened senses of

the new men. It was as if he had hit his fingers

with a tack hammer at home.

He held the wounded member carefully away

from his side so that the blood would not drip

upon his trousers.

The captain of the company, tucking his sword

under his arm, produced a handkerchief and

began to bind with it the lieutenant's wound.

And they disputed as to how the binding should

be done.

The battle flag in the distance jerked about

madly. It seemed to be struggling to free itself

from an agony. The billowing smoke was filled

with horizontal flashes.

Men running swiftly emerged from it. They

grew in numbers until it was seen that the whole

command was fleeing. The flag suddenly sank

down as if dying. Its motion as it fell was a

gesture of despair.

Wild yells came from behind the walls of

smoke. A sketch in gray and red dissolved into

a moblike body of men who galloped like wild horses.

The veteran regiments on the right and left of

the 304th immediately began to jeer. With the

passionate song of the bullets and the banshee

shrieks of shells were mingled loud catcalls and

bits of facetious advice concerning places of safety.

But the new regiment was breathless with hor-

ror. "Gawd! Saunders's got crushed!" whis-

pered the man at the youth's elbow. They

shrank back and crouched as if compelled to

await a flood.

The youth shot a swift glance along the blue

ranks of the regiment. The profiles were motion-

less, carven; and afterward he remembered that

the color sergeant was standing with his legs

apart, as if he expected to be pushed to the ground.

The following throng went whirling around

the flank. Here and there were officers carried

along on the stream like exasperated chips. They

were striking about them with their swords

and with their left fists, punching every head

they could reach. They cursed like highwaymen.

A mounted officer displayed the furious anger

of a spoiled child. He raged with his head, his

arms, and his legs.

Another, the commander of the brigade, was

galloping about bawling. His hat was gone and

his clothes were awry. He resembled a man

who has come from bed to go to a fire. The

hoofs of his horse often threatened the heads of

the running men, but they scampered with sin-

gular fortune. In this rush they were apparently

all deaf and blind. They heeded not the largest

and longest of the oaths that were thrown at

them from all directions.

Frequently over this tumult could be heard

the grim jokes of the critical veterans; but the

retreating men apparently were not even con-

scious of the presence of an audience.

The battle reflection that shone for an instant

in the faces on the mad current made the youth

feel that forceful hands from heaven would not

have been able to have held him in place if he

could have got intelligent control of his legs.

There was an appalling imprint upon these

faces. The struggle in the smoke had pictured

an exaggeration of itself on the bleached cheeks

and in the eyes wild with one desire.

The sight of this stampede exerted a floodlike

force that seemed able to drag sticks and stones

and men from the ground. They of the reserves

had to hold on. They grew pale and firm, and

red and quaking.

The youth achieved one little thought in the

midst of this chaos. The composite monster

which had caused the other troops to flee had

not then appeared. He resolved to get a view

of it, and then, he thought he might very likely

run better than the best of them.



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