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
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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Red Badge of Courage