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

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THE youth awakened slowly. He came grad-

ually back to a position from which he could re-

gard himself. For moments he had been scruti-

nizing his person in a dazed way as if he had

never before seen himself. Then he picked up

his cap from the ground. He wriggled in his

jacket to make a more comfortable fit, and kneel-

ing relaced his shoe. He thoughtfully mopped

his reeking features.

So it was all over at last! The supreme trial

had been passed. The red, formidable difficulties

of war had been vanquished.

He went into an ecstasy of self-satisfaction.

He had the most delightful sensations of his life.

Standing as if apart from himself, he viewed that

last scene. He perceived that the man who had

fought thus was magnificent.

He felt that he was a fine fellow. He saw

himself even with those ideals which he had con-

sidered as far beyond him. He smiled in deep


Upon his fellows he beamed tenderness and

good will. "Gee! ain't it hot, hey?" he said

affably to a man who was polishing his stream-

ing face with his coat sleeves.

"You bet!" said the other, grinning sociably.

"I never seen sech dumb hotness." He sprawled

out luxuriously on the ground. "Gee, yes! An'

I hope we don't have no more fightin' till a week

from Monday."

There were some handshakings and deep

speeches with men whose features were familiar,

but with whom the youth now felt the bonds of

tied hearts. He helped a cursing comrade to

bind up a wound of the shin.

But, of a sudden, cries of amazement broke

out along the ranks of the new regiment. "Here

they come ag'in! Here they come ag'in!" The

man who had sprawled upon the ground started

up and said, "Gosh!"

The youth turned quick eyes upon the field.

He discerned forms begin to swell in masses out

of a distant wood. He again saw the tilted flag

speeding forward.

The shells, which had ceased to trouble the

regiment for a time, came swirling again, and ex-

ploded in the grass or among the leaves of the

trees. They looked to be strange war flowers

bursting into fierce bloom.

The men groaned. The luster faded from

their eyes. Their smudged countenances now

expressed a profound dejection. They moved

their stiffened bodies slowly, and watched in sul-

len mood the frantic approach of the enemy. The

slaves toiling in the temple of this god began to

feel rebellion at his harsh tasks.

They fretted and complained each to each.

"Oh, say, this is too much of a good thing! Why

can't somebody send us supports?"

"We ain't never goin' to stand this second

banging. I didn't come here to fight the hull

damn' rebel army."

There was one who raised a doleful cry. "I

wish Bill Smithers had trod on my hand, in-

steader me treddin' on his'n." The sore joints of

the regiment creaked as it painfully floundered

into position to repulse.

The youth stared. Surely, he thought, this

impossible thing was not about to happen. He

waited as if he expected the enemy to suddenly

stop, apologize, and retire bowing. It was all a mistake.

But the firing began somewhere on the regi-

mental line and ripped along in both directions.

The level sheets of flame developed great clouds

of smoke that tumbled and tossed in the mild

wind near the ground for a moment, and then

rolled through the ranks as through a gate. The

clouds were tinged an earthlike yellow in the

sunrays and in the shadow were a sorry blue.

The flag was sometimes eaten and lost in this

mass of vapor, but more often it projected, sun-

touched, resplendent.

Into the youth's eyes there came a look that

one can see in the orbs of a jaded horse. His

neck was quivering with nervous weakness and

the muscles of his arms felt numb and bloodless.

His hands, too, seemed large and awkward as if

he was wearing invisible mittens. And there was

a great uncertainty about his knee joints.

The words that comrades had uttered previous

to the firing began to recur to him. "Oh, say,

this is too much of a good thing! What do they

take us for--why don't they send supports?

I didn't come here to fight the hull damned rebel army."

He began to exaggerate the endurance, the

skill, and the valor of those who were coming.

Himself reeling from exhaustion, he was aston-

ished beyond measure at such persistency. They

must be machines of steel. It was very gloomy

struggling against such affairs, wound up perhaps

to fight until sundown.

He slowly lifted his rifle and catching a

glimpse of the thickspread field he blazed at a

cantering cluster. He stopped then and began

to peer as best he could through the smoke. He

caught changing views of the ground covered

with men who were all running like pursued

imps, and yelling.

To the youth it was an onslaught of redoubt-

able dragons. He became like the man who lost

his legs at the approach of the red and green

monster. He waited in a sort of a horrified,

listening attitude. He seemed to shut his eyes

and wait to be gobbled.

A man near him who up to this time had been

working feverishly at his rifle suddenly stopped

and ran with howls. A lad whose face had borne

an expression of exalted courage, the majesty of

he who dares give his life, was, at an instant,

smitten abject. He blanched like one who has

come to the edge of a cliff at midnight and is sud-

denly made aware. There was a revelation. He,

too, threw down his gun and fled. There was no

shame in his face. He ran like a rabbit.

Others began to scamper away through the

smoke. The youth turned his head, shaken from

his trance by this movement as if the regiment

was leaving him behind. He saw the few fleeting forms.

He yelled then with fright and swung about.

For a moment, in the great clamor, he was like a

proverbial chicken. He lost the direction of

safety. Destruction threatened him from all points.

Directly he began to speed toward the rear in

great leaps. His rifle and cap were gone. His

unbuttoned coat bulged in the wind. The flap of

his cartridge box bobbed wildly, and his canteen,

by its slender cord, swung out behind. On his

face was all the horror of those things which he imagined.

The lieutenant sprang forward bawling. The

youth saw his features wrathfully red, and saw

him make a dab with his sword. His one thought

of the incident was that the lieutenant was a pecul-

iar creature to feel interested in such matters

upon this occasion.

He ran like a blind man. Two or three times

he fell down. Once he knocked his shoulder so

heavily against a tree that he went headlong.

Since he had turned his back upon the fight

his fears had been wondrously magnified. Death

about to thrust him between the shoulder blades

was far more dreadful than death about to smite

him between the eyes. When he thought of it

later, he conceived the impression that it is better

to view the appalling than to be merely within

hearing. The noises of the battle were like

stones; he believed himself liable to be crushed.

As he ran he mingled with others. He

dimly saw men on his right and on his left, and

he heard footsteps behind him. He thought that

all the regiment was fleeing, pursued by these

ominous crashes.

In his flight the sound of these following foot-

steps gave him his one meager relief. He felt

vaguely that death must make a first choice of

the men who were nearest; the initial morsels for

the dragons would be then those who were fol-

lowing him. So he displayed the zeal of an insane

sprinter in his purpose to keep them in the rear.

There was a race.

As he, leading, went across a little field, he

found himself in a region of shells. They hurtled

over his head with long wild screams. As he

listened he imagined them to have rows of cruel

teeth that grinned at him. Once one lit before

him and the livid lightning of the explosion

effectually barred the way in his chosen direc-

tion. He groveled on the ground and then

springing up went careering off through some bushes.

He experienced a thrill of amazement when

he came within view of a battery in action. The

men there seemed to be in conventional moods,

altogether unaware of the impending annihila-

tion. The battery was disputing with a distant

antagonist and the gunners were wrapped in

admiration of their shooting. They were con-

tinually bending in coaxing postures over the

guns. They seemed to be patting them on the

back and encouraging them with words. The

guns, stolid and undaunted, spoke with dogged valor.

The precise gunners were coolly enthusiastic.

They lifted their eyes every chance to the smoke-

wreathed hillock from whence the hostile battery

addressed them. The youth pitied them as he

ran. Methodical idiots! Machine-like fools! The

refined joy of planting shells in the midst of the

other battery's formation would appear a little

thing when the infantry came swooping out of

the woods.

The face of a youthful rider, who was jerking

his frantic horse with an abandon of temper

he might display in a placid barnyard, was im-

pressed deeply upon his mind. He knew that

he looked upon a man who would presently be dead.

Too, he felt a pity for the guns, standing, six

good comrades, in a bold row.

He saw a brigade going to the relief of its pes-

tered fellows. He scrambled upon a wee hill and

watched it sweeping finely, keeping formation in

difficult places. The blue of the line was crusted

with steel color, and the brilliant flags projected.

Officers were shouting.

This sight also filled him with wonder. The

brigade was hurrying briskly to be gulped into

the infernal mouths of the war god. What man-

ner of men were they, anyhow? Ah, it was some

wondrous breed! Or else they didn't comprehend--the fools.

A furious order caused commotion in the artil-

lery. An officer on a bounding horse made mani-

acal motions with his arms. The teams went

swinging up from the rear, the guns were whirled

about, and the battery scampered away. The

cannon with their noses poked slantingly at the

ground grunted and grumbled like stout men,

brave but with objections to hurry.

The youth went on, moderating his pace since

he had left the place of noises.

Later he came upon a general of division

seated upon a horse that pricked its ears in

an interested way at the battle. There was a

great gleaming of yellow and patent leather

about the saddle and bridle. The quiet man

astride looked mouse-colored upon such a

splendid charger.

A jingling staff was galloping hither and

thither. Sometimes the general was surrounded

by horsemen and at other times he was quite

alone. He looked to be much harassed. He had

the appearance of a business man whose market

is swinging up and down.

The youth went slinking around this spot.

He went as near as he dared trying to overhear

words. Perhaps the general, unable to compre-

hend chaos, might call upon him for information.

And he could tell him. He knew all concerning

it. Of a surety the force was in a fix, and any

fool could see that if they did not retreat while

they had opportunity--why--

He felt that he would like to thrash the gen-

eral, or at least approach and tell him in plain

words exactly what he thought him to be. It

was criminal to stay calmly in one spot and make

no effort to stay destruction. He loitered in a

fever of eagerness for the division commander to

apply to him.

As he warily moved about, he heard the gen-

eral call out irritably: "Tompkins, go over an'

see Taylor, an' tell him not t' be in such an all-

fired hurry; tell him t' halt his brigade in th'

edge of th' woods; tell him t' detach a reg'ment

--say I think th' center 'll break if we don't help

it out some; tell him t' hurry up."

A slim youth on a fine chestnut horse caught

these swift words from the mouth of his superior.

He made his horse bound into a gallop almost

from a walk in his haste to go upon his mission.

There was a cloud of dust.

A moment later the youth saw the general

bounce excitedly in his saddle.

"Yes, by heavens, they have!" The officer

leaned forward. His face was aflame with excite-

ment. "Yes, by heavens, they 've held 'im!

They 've held 'im!"

He began to blithely roar at his staff: "We 'll

wallop 'im now. We 'll wallop 'im now. We 've

got 'em sure." He turned suddenly upon an aid:

"Here--you--Jones--quick--ride after Tompkins

--see Taylor--tell him t' go in--everlastingly--

like blazes--anything."

As another officer sped his horse after the first

messenger, the general beamed upon the earth

like a sun. In his eyes was a desire to chant a

paean. He kept repeating, "They 've held 'em,

by heavens!"

His excitement made his horse plunge, and he

merrily kicked and swore at it. He held a little

carnival of joy on horseback.



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