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

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THERE were moments of waiting. The youth

thought of the village street at home before the

arrival of the circus parade on a day in the

spring. He remembered how he had stood, a

small, thrillful boy, prepared to follow the dingy

lady upon the white horse, or the band in its

faded chariot. He saw the yellow road, the

lines of expectant people, and the sober houses.

He particularly remembered an old fellow who

used to sit upon a cracker box in front of the

store and feign to despise such exhibitions. A

thousand details of color and form surged in his

mind. The old fellow upon the cracker box ap-

peared in middle prominence.

Some one cried, "Here they come!"

There was rustling and muttering among the

men. They displayed a feverish desire to have

every possible cartridge ready to their hands.

The boxes were pulled around into various posi-

tions, and adjusted with great care. It was as if

seven hundred new bonnets were being tried on.

The tall soldier, having prepared his rifle, pro-

duced a red handkerchief of some kind. He was

engaged in knitting it about his throat with ex-

quisite attention to its position, when the cry was

repeated up and down the line in a muffled roar of sound.

"Here they come! Here they come!" Gun locks clicked.

Across the smoke-infested fields came a brown

swarm of running men who were giving shrill

yells. They came on, stooping and swinging

their rifles at all angles. A flag, tilted forward,

sped near the front.

As he caught sight of them the youth was

momentarily startled by a thought that perhaps

his gun was not loaded. He stood trying to

rally his faltering intellect so that he might rec-

ollect the moment when he had loaded, but he

could not.

A hatless general pulled his dripping horse to

a stand near the colonel of the 304th. He shook

his fist in the other's face. "You 've got to hold

'em back!" he shouted, savagely; "you 've got

to hold 'em back!"

In his agitation the colonel began to stammer.

"A-all r-right, General, all right, by Gawd! We-

we'll do our--we-we'll d-d-do--do our best, Gen-

eral." The general made a passionate gesture

and galloped away. The colonel, perchance to

relieve his feelings, began to scold like a wet

parrot. The youth, turning swiftly to make

sure that the rear was unmolested, saw the com-

mander regarding his men in a highly regretful

manner, as if he regretted above everything his

association with them.

The man at the youth's elbow was mumbling,

as if to himself: "Oh, we 're in for it now! oh,

we 're in for it now!"

The captain of the company had been pacing

excitedly to and fro in the rear. He coaxed in

schoolmistress fashion, as to a congregation of

boys with primers. His talk was an endless

repetition. "Reserve your fire, boys--don't

shoot till I tell you--save your fire--wait till

they get close up--don't be damned fools--"

Perspiration streamed down the youth's face,

which was soiled like that of a weeping urchin.

He frequently, with a nervous movement, wiped

his eyes with his coat sleeve. His mouth was

still a little ways open.

He got the one glance at the foe-swarming

field in front of him, and instantly ceased to de-

bate the question of his piece being loaded. Be-

fore he was ready to begin--before he had an-

nounced to himself that he was about to fight--

he threw the obedient, well-balanced rifle into

position and fired a first wild shot. Directly he

was working at his weapon like an automatic affair.

He suddenly lost concern for himself, and for-

got to look at a menacing fate. He became not a

man but a member. He felt that something of

which he was a part--a regiment, an army, a

cause, or a country--was in a crisis. He was

welded into a common personality which was

dominated by a single desire. For some mo-

ments he could not flee no more than a little

finger can commit a revolution from a hand.

If he had thought the regiment was about to

be annihilated perhaps he could have amputated

himself from it. But its noise gave him assur-

ance. The regiment was like a firework that,

once ignited, proceeds superior to circumstances

until its blazing vitality fades. It wheezed and

banged with a mighty power. He pictured the

ground before it as strewn with the discomfited.

There was a consciousness always of the pres-

ence of his comrades about him. He felt the

subtle battle brotherhood more potent even than

the cause for which they were fighting. It was a

mysterious fraternity born of the smoke and danger

of death.

He was at a task. He was like a carpenter

who has made many boxes, making still another

box, only there was furious haste in his move-

ments. He, in his thought, was careering off in

other places, even as the carpenter who as he

works whistles and thinks of his friend or his

enemy, his home or a saloon. And these jolted

dreams were never perfect to him afterward, but

remained a mass of blurred shapes.

Presently he began to feel the effects of the

war atmosphere--a blistering sweat, a sensation

that his eyeballs were about to crack like hot

stones. A burning roar filled his ears.

Following this came a red rage. He devel-

oped the acute exasperation of a pestered animal,

a well-meaning cow worried by dogs. He had a

mad feeling against his rifle, which could only be

used against one life at a time. He wished to

rush forward and strangle with his fingers. He

craved a power that would enable him to make a

world-sweeping gesture and brush all back. His

impotency appeared to him, and made his rage

into that of a driven beast.

Buried in the smoke of many rifles his anger

was directed not so much against the men whom

he knew were rushing toward him as against the

swirling battle phantoms which were choking

him, stuffing their smoke robes down his parched

throat. He fought frantically for respite for his

senses, for air, as a babe being smothered attacks

the deadly blankets.

There was a blare of heated rage mingled with

a certain expression of intentness on all faces.

Many of the men were making low-toned noises

with their mouths, and these subdued cheers,

snarls, imprecations, prayers, made a wild, bar-

baric song that went as an undercurrent of sound,

strange and chantlike with the resounding chords

of the war march. The man at the youth's elbow

was babbling. In it there was something soft and

tender like the monologue of a babe. The tall

soldier was swearing in a loud voice. From his

lips came a black procession of curious oaths. Of

a sudden another broke out in a querulous way

like a man who has mislaid his hat. "Well, why

don't they support us? Why don't they send

supports? Do they think--"

The youth in his battle sleep heard this as one

who dozes hears.

There was a singular absence of heroic poses.

The men bending and surging in their haste and

rage were in every impossible attitude. The steel

ramrods clanked and clanged with incessant din

as the men pounded them furiously into the hot

rifle barrels. The flaps of the cartridge boxes were

all unfastened, and bobbed idiotically with each

movement. The rifles, once loaded, were jerked

to the shoulder and fired without apparent aim

into the smoke or at one of the blurred and shift-

ing forms which upon the field before the regi-

ment had been growing larger and larger like

puppets under a magician's hand.

The officers, at their intervals, rearward, neg-

lected to stand in picturesque attitudes. They

were bobbing to and fro roaring directions and

encouragements. The dimensions of their howls

were extraordinary. They expended their lungs

with prodigal wills. And often they nearly stood

upon their heads in their anxiety to observe the

enemy on the other side of the tumbling smoke.

The lieutenant of the youth's company had en-

countered a soldier who had fled screaming at

the first volley of his comrades. Behind the lines

these two were acting a little isolated scene. The

man was blubbering and staring with sheeplike

eyes at the lieutenant, who had seized him by the

collar and was pommeling him. He drove him

back into the ranks with many blows. The sol-

dier went mechanically, dully, with his animal-

like eyes upon the officer. Perhaps there was to

him a divinity expressed in the voice of the other

--stern, hard, with no reflection of fear in it. He

tried to reload his gun, but his shaking hands pre-

vented. The lieutenant was obliged to assist him.

The men dropped here and there like bundles.

The captain of the youth's company had been

killed in an early part of the action. His body

lay stretched out in the position of a tired man

resting, but upon his face there was an astonished

and sorrowful look, as if he thought some friend

had done him an ill turn. The babbling man was

grazed by a shot that made the blood stream

widely down his face. He clapped both hands

to his head. "Oh!" he said, and ran. Another

grunted suddenly as if he had been struck by a

club in the stomach. He sat down and gazed

ruefully. In his eyes there was mute, indefinite

reproach. Farther up the line a man, standing

behind a tree, had had his knee joint splintered

by a ball. Immediately he had dropped his rifle

and gripped the tree with both arms. And there

he remained, clinging desperately and crying for

assistance that he might withdraw his hold upon

the tree.

At last an exultant yell went along the quiver-

ing line. The firing dwindled from an uproar to

a last vindictive popping. As the smoke slowly

eddied away, the youth saw that the charge had

been repulsed. The enemy were scattered into

reluctant groups. He saw a man climb to the

top of the fence, straddle the rail, and fire a part-

ing shot. The waves had receded, leaving bits of

dark debris upon the ground.

Some in the regiment began to whoop fren-

ziedly. Many were silent. Apparently they were

trying to contemplate themselves.

After the fever had left his veins, the youth

thought that at last he was going to suffocate.

He became aware of the foul atmosphere in

which he had been struggling. He was grimy

and dripping like a laborer in a foundry. He

grasped his canteen and took a long swallow of

the warmed water.

A sentence with variations went up and down

the line. "Well, we 've helt 'em back. We 've

helt 'em back; derned if we haven't." The men

said it blissfully, leering at each other with dirty smiles.

The youth turned to look behind him and off

to the right and off to the left. He experienced

the joy of a man who at last finds leisure in which

to look about him.

Under foot there were a few ghastly forms

motionless. They lay twisted in fantastic contor-

tions. Arms were bent and heads were turned

in incredible ways. It seemed that the dead men

must have fallen from some great height to get

into such positions. They looked to be dumped

out upon the ground from the sky.

From a position in the rear of the grove a bat-

tery was throwing shells over it. The flash of

the guns startled the youth at first. He thought

they were aimed directly at him. Through the

trees he watched the black figures of the gunners

as they worked swiftly and intently. Their labor

seemed a complicated thing. He wondered how

they could remember its formula in the midst of confusion.

The guns squatted in a row like savage chiefs.

They argued with abrupt violence. It was a

grim pow-wow. Their busy servants ran hither and thither.

A small procession of wounded men were go-

ing drearily toward the rear. It was a flow of

blood from the torn body of the brigade.

To the right and to the left were the dark

lines of other troops. Far in front he thought he

could see lighter masses protruding in points

from the forest. They were suggestive of un-

numbered thousands.

Once he saw a tiny battery go dashing along

the line of the horizon. The tiny riders were

beating the tiny horses.

From a sloping hill came the sound of cheerings

and clashes. Smoke welled slowly through the leaves.

Batteries were speaking with thunderous ora-

torical effort. Here and there were flags, the

red in the stripes dominating. They splashed

bits of warm color upon the dark lines of troops.

The youth felt the old thrill at the sight of

the emblem. They were like beautiful birds

strangely undaunted in a storm.

As he listened to the din from the hillside, to

a deep pulsating thunder that came from afar to

the left, and to the lesser clamors which came

from many directions, it occurred to him that

they were fighting, too, over there, and over

there, and over there. Heretofore he had supposed

that all the battle was directly under his nose.

As he gazed around him the youth felt a flash

of astonishment at the blue, pure sky and the

sun gleamings on the trees and fields. It was

surprising that Nature had gone tranquilly on

with her golden process in the midst of so much




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