TWT logo

Together We Teach
Reading Room

Take time to read.
Reading is the
fountain of wisdom.

| Home | Reading Room The Red Badge of Courage

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

< BACK    NEXT >




HE became aware that the furnace roar of the

battle was growing louder. Great brown clouds

had floated to the still heights of air before him.

The noise, too, was approaching. The woods

filtered men and the fields became dotted.

As he rounded a hillock, he perceived that the

roadway was now a crying mass of wagons,

teams, and men. From the heaving tangle issued

exhortations, commands, imprecations. Fear was

sweeping it all along. The cracking whips bit

and horses plunged and tugged. The white-

topped wagons strained and stumbled in their

exertions like fat sheep.

The youth felt comforted in a measure by this

sight. They were all retreating. Perhaps, then,

he was not so bad after all. He seated himself

and watched the terror-stricken wagons. They

fled like soft, ungainly animals. All the roarers

and lashers served to help him to magnify the

dangers and horrors of the engagement that he

might try to prove to himself that the thing with

which men could charge him was in truth a

symmetrical act. There was an amount of pleasure

to him in watching the wild march of this vindication.

Presently the calm head of a forward-going

column of infantry appeared in the road. It

came swiftly on. Avoiding the obstructions gave

it the sinuous movement of a serpent. The men

at the head butted mules with their musket

stocks. They prodded teamsters indifferent to

all howls. The men forced their way through

parts of the dense mass by strength. The blunt

head of the column pushed. The raving team-

sters swore many strange oaths.

The commands to make way had the ring of a

great importance in them. The men were going

forward to the heart of the din. They were to

confront the eager rush of the enemy. They felt

the pride of their onward movement when the

remainder of the army seemed trying to dribble

down this road. They tumbled teams about

with a fine feeling that it was no matter so long

as their column got to the front in time. This

importance made their faces grave and stern.

And the backs of the officers were very rigid.

As the youth looked at them the black weight

of his woe returned to him. He felt that he was

regarding a procession of chosen beings. The

separation was as great to him as if they had

marched with weapons of flame and banners of

sunlight. He could never be like them. He

could have wept in his longings.

He searched about in his mind for an ade-

quate malediction for the indefinite cause, the

thing upon which men turn the words of final

blame. It--whatever it was--was responsible for

him, he said. There lay the fault.

The haste of the column to reach the battle

seemed to the forlorn young man to be some-

thing much finer than stout fighting. Heroes, he

thought, could find excuses in that long seething

lane. They could retire with perfect self-respect

and make excuses to the stars.

He wondered what those men had eaten that

they could be in such haste to force their way to

grim chances of death. As he watched his envy

grew until he thought that he wished to change

lives with one of them. He would have liked to

have used a tremendous force, he said, throw off

himself and become a better. Swift pictures of

himself, apart, yet in himself, came to him--a

blue desperate figure leading lurid charges with

one knee forward and a broken blade high--a

blue, determined figure standing before a crimson

and steel assault, getting calmly killed on a high

place before the eyes of all. He thought of the

magnificent pathos of his dead body.

These thoughts uplifted him. He felt the

quiver of war desire. In his ears, he heard the

ring of victory. He knew the frenzy of a rapid

successful charge. The music of the trampling

feet, the sharp voices, the clanking arms of the

column near him made him soar on the red wings

of war. For a few moments he was sublime.

He thought that he was about to start for the

front. Indeed, he saw a picture of himself, dust-

stained, haggard, panting, flying to the front at

the proper moment to seize and throttle the dark,

leering witch of calamity.

Then the difficulties of the thing began to

drag at him. He hesitated, balancing awkwardly

on one foot.

He had no rifle; he could not fight with his

hands, said he resentfully to his plan. Well,

rifles could be had for the picking. They were

extraordinarily profuse.

Also, he continued, it would be a miracle if he

found his regiment. Well, he could fight with

any regiment.

He started forward slowly. He stepped as if

he expected to tread upon some explosive thing.

Doubts and he were struggling.

He would truly be a worm if any of his com-

rades should see him returning thus, the marks of

his flight upon him. There was a reply that the

intent fighters did not care for what happened

rearward saving that no hostile bayonets ap-

peared there. In the battle-blur his face would,

in a way be hidden, like the face of a cowled man.

But then he said that his tireless fate would

bring forth, when the strife lulled for a moment,

a man to ask of him an explanation. In imagina-

tion he felt the scrutiny of his companions as he

painfully labored through some lies.

Eventually, his courage expended itself upon

these objections. The debates drained him of his fire.

He was not cast down by this defeat of his

plan, for, upon studying the affair carefully, he

could not but admit that the objections were very


Furthermore, various ailments had begun to

cry out. In their presence he could not persist

in flying high with the wings of war; they

rendered it almost impossible for him to see him-

self in a heroic light. He tumbled headlong.

He discovered that he had a scorching thirst.

His face was so dry and grimy that he thought

he could feel his skin crackle. Each bone of his

body had an ache in it, and seemingly threatened

to break with each movement. His feet were

like two sores. Also, his body was calling for

food. It was more powerful than a direct hunger.

There was a dull, weight like feeling in his stom-

ach, and, when he tried to walk, his head swayed

and he tottered. He could not see with distinctness.

Small patches of green mist floated before his vision.

While he had been tossed by many emotions,

he had not been aware of ailments. Now they

beset him and made clamor. As he was at last

compelled to pay attention to them, his capacity

for self-hate was multiplied. In despair, he

declared that he was not like those others. He

now conceded it to be impossible that he should

ever become a hero. He was a craven loon.

Those pictures of glory were piteous things. He

groaned from his heart and went staggering off.

A certain mothlike quality within him kept

him in the vicinity of the battle. He had a great

desire to see, and to get news. He wished to

know who was winning.

He told himself that, despite his unprecedented

suffering, he had never lost his greed for a victory,

yet, he said, in a half-apologetic manner to his

conscience, he could not but know that a defeat

for the army this time might mean many favor-

able things for him. The blows of the enemy

would splinter regiments into fragments. Thus,

many men of courage, he considered, would be

obliged to desert the colors and scurry like

chickens. He would appear as one of them.

They would be sullen brothers in distress, and he

could then easily believe he had not run any

farther or faster than they. And if he himself

could believe in his virtuous perfection, he con-

ceived that there would be small trouble in con-

vincing all others.

He said, as if in excuse for this hope, that

previously the army had encountered great

defeats and in a few months had shaken off all

blood and tradition of them, emerging as bright

and valiant as a new one; thrusting out of sight

the memory of disaster, and appearing with the

valor and confidence of unconquered legions.

The shrilling voices of the people at home would

pipe dismally for a time, but various generals

were usually compelled to listen to these ditties.

He of course felt no compunctions for proposing

a general as a sacrifice. He could not tell who

the chosen for the barbs might be, so he could

center no direct sympathy upon him. The

people were afar and he did not conceive public

opinion to be accurate at long range. It was

quite probable they would hit the wrong man

who, after he had recovered from his amazement

would perhaps spend the rest of his days in writ-

ing replies to the songs of his alleged failure. It

would be very unfortunate, no doubt, but in this

case a general was of no consequence to the youth.

In a defeat there would be a roundabout

vindication of himself. He thought it would

prove, in a manner, that he had fled early because

of his superior powers of perception. A serious

prophet upon predicting a flood should be the

first man to climb a tree. This would demon-

strate that he was indeed a seer.

A moral vindication was regarded by the

youth as a very important thing. Without salve,

he could not, he thought, wear the sore badge of

his dishonor through life. With his heart con-

tinually assuring him that he was despicable, he

could not exist without making it, through his

actions, apparent to all men.

If the army had gone gloriously on he would

be lost. If the din meant that now his army's

flags were tilted forward he was a condemned

wretch. He would be compelled to doom

himself to isolation. If the men were advancing,

their indifferent feet were trampling upon his

chances for a successful life.

As these thoughts went rapidly through his

mind, he turned upon them and tried to thrust

them away. He denounced himself as a villain.

He said that he was the most unutterably selfish

man in existence. His mind pictured the soldiers

who would place their defiant bodies before the

spear of the yelling battle fiend, and as he saw

their dripping corpses on an imagined field, he

said that he was their murderer.

Again he thought that he wished he was dead.

He believed that he envied a corpse. Thinking

of the slain, he achieved a great contempt for

some of them, as if they were guilty for thus

becoming lifeless. They might have been killed

by lucky chances, he said, before they had had

opportunities to flee or before they had been

really tested. Yet they would receive laurels

from tradition. He cried out bitterly that their

crowns were stolen and their robes of glori-

ous memories were shams. However, he still

said that it was a great pity he was not as they.

A defeat of the army had suggested itself to

him as a means of escape from the consequences

of his fall. He considered, now, however, that it

was useless to think of such a possibility. His

education had been that success for that mighty

blue machine was certain; that it would make

victories as a contrivance turns out buttons. He

presently discarded all his speculations in the

other direction. He returned to the creed of soldiers.

When he perceived again that it was not

possible for the army to be defeated, he tried

to bethink him of a fine tale which he could take

back to his regiment, and with it turn the expected

shafts of derision.

But, as he mortally feared these shafts, it

became impossible for him to invent a tale he felt

he could trust. He experimented with many

schemes, but threw them aside one by one as

flimsy. He was quick to see vulnerable places in them all.

Furthermore, he was much afraid that some

arrow of scorn might lay him mentally low before

he could raise his protecting tale.

He imagined the whole regiment saying:

"Where's Henry Fleming? He run, didn't 'e?

Oh, my!" He recalled various persons who

would be quite sure to leave him no peace

about it. They would doubtless question him

with sneers, and laugh at his stammering hesi-

tation. In the next engagement they would

try to keep watch of him to discover when he would run.

Wherever he went in camp, he would en-

counter insolent and lingeringly cruel stares. As

he imagined himself passing near a crowd of

comrades, he could hear some one say, "There he goes!"

Then, as if the heads were moved by one

muscle, all the faces were turned toward him

with wide, derisive grins. He seemed to hear

some one make a humorous remark in a low tone.

At it the others all crowed and cackled. He was a slang phrase.



Top of Page

< BACK    NEXT >

| Home | Reading Room The Red Badge of Courage





Why not spread the word about Together We Teach?
Simply copy & paste our home page link below into your emails... 

Want the Together We Teach link to place on your website?
Copy & paste either home page link on your webpage...
Together We Teach 






Use these free website tools below for a more powerful experience at Together We Teach!

****Google™ search****

For a more specific search, try using quotation marks around phrases (ex. "You are what you read")


*** Google Translate™ translation service ***

 Translate text:


  Translate a web page:

****What's the Definition?****
(Simply insert the word you want to lookup)

 Search:   for   

S D Glass Enterprises

Privacy Policy

Warner Robins, GA, USA