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

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THE column that had butted stoutly at the

obstacles in the roadway was barely out of the

youth's sight before he saw dark waves of men

come sweeping out of the woods and down

through the fields. He knew at once that the

steel fibers had been washed from their hearts.

They were bursting from their coats and

their equipments as from entanglements. They

charged down upon him like terrified buffaloes.

Behind them blue smoke curled and clouded

above the treetops, and through the thickets he

could sometimes see a distant pink glare. The

voices of the cannon were clamoring in interminable chorus.

The youth was horrorstricken. He stared

in agony and amazement. He forgot that he

was engaged in combating the universe. He

threw aside his mental pamphlets on the philoso-

phy of the retreated and rules for the guidance

of the damned.

The fight was lost. The dragons were com-

ing with invincible strides. The army, helpless

in the matted thickets and blinded by the over-

hanging night, was going to be swallowed. War,

the red animal, war, the blood-swollen god, would

have bloated fill.

Within him something bade to cry out. He

had the impulse to make a rallying speech, to sing

a battle hymn, but he could only get his tongue to

call into the air: "Why--why--what--what 's

th' matter?"

Soon he was in the midst of them. They

were leaping and scampering all about him.

Their blanched faces shone in the dusk. They

seemed, for the most part, to be very burly men.

The youth turned from one to another of them as

they galloped along. His incoherent questions

were lost. They were heedless of his appeals.

They did not seem to see him.

They sometimes gabbled insanely. One huge

man was asking of the sky: "Say, where de

plank road? Where de plank road!" It was as if

he had lost a child. He wept in his pain and dismay.

Presently, men were running hither and

thither in all ways. The artillery booming,

forward, rearward, and on the flanks made

jumble of ideas of direction. Landmarks had

vanished into the gathered gloom. The youth

began to imagine that he had got into the

center of the tremendous quarrel, and he could

perceive no way out of it. From the mouths of

the fleeing men came a thousand wild questions,

but no one made answers.

The youth, after rushing about and throwing

interrogations at the heedless bands of retreating

infantry, finally clutched a man by the arm. They

swung around face to face.

"Why--why--" stammered the youth strug-

gling with his balking tongue.

The man screamed: "Let go me! Let go

me!" His face was livid and his eyes were roll-

ing uncontrolled. He was heaving and panting.

He still grasped his rifle, perhaps having for-

gotten to release his hold upon it. He tugged

frantically, and the youth being compelled to lean

forward was dragged several paces.

"Let go me! Let go me!"

"Why--why--" stuttered the youth.

"Well, then!" bawled the man in a lurid

rage. He adroitly and fiercely swung his rifle.

It crushed upon the youth's head. The man ran on.

The youth's fingers had turned to paste upon

the other's arm. The energy was smitten from

his muscles. He saw the flaming wings of light-

ning flash before his vision. There was a deaf-

ening rumble of thunder within his head.

Suddenly his legs seemed to die. He sank

writhing to the ground. He tried to arise. In

his efforts against the numbing pain he was like a

man wrestling with a creature of the air.

There was a sinister struggle.

Sometimes he would achieve a position half

erect, battle with the air for a moment, and

then fall again, grabbing at the grass. His face

was of a clammy pallor. Deep groans were

wrenched from him.

At last, with a twisting movement, he got

upon his hands and knees, and from thence, like a

babe trying to walk, to his feet. Pressing his

hands to his temples he went lurching over the grass.

He fought an intense battle with his body.

His dulled senses wished him to swoon and he

opposed them stubbornly, his mind portraying

unknown dangers and mutilations if he should

fall upon the field. He went tall soldier fashion.

He imagined secluded spots where he could fall

and be unmolested. To search for one he strove

against the tide of his pain.

Once he put his hand to the top of his head

and timidly touched the wound. The scratching

pain of the contact made him draw a long breath

through his clinched teeth. His fingers were

dabbled with blood. He regarded them with a

fixed stare.

Around him he could hear the grumble of

jolted cannon as the scurrying horses were lashed

toward the front. Once, a young officer on a

besplashed charger nearly ran him down. He

turned and watched the mass of guns, men, and

horses sweeping in a wide curve toward a gap in

a fence. The officer was making excited motions

with a gauntleted hand. The guns followed the

teams with an air of unwillingness, of being

dragged by the heels.

Some officers of the scattered infantry were

cursing and railing like fishwives. Their scold-

ing voices could be heard above the din. Into

the unspeakable jumble in the roadway rode a

squadron of cavalry. The faded yellow of their

facings shone bravely. There was a mighty altercation.

The artillery were assembling as if for a conference.

The blue haze of evening was upon the field.

The lines of forest were long purple shadows.

One cloud lay along the western sky partly

smothering the red.

As the youth left the scene behind him, he

heard the guns suddenly roar out. He imagined

them shaking in black rage. They belched and

howled like brass devils guarding a gate. The

soft air was filled with the tremendous remon-

strance. With it came the shattering peal of

opposing infantry. Turning to look behind him,

he could see sheets of orange light illumine the

shadowy distance. There were subtle and sudden

lightnings in the far air. At times he thought he

could see heaving masses of men.

He hurried on in the dusk. The day had

faded until he could barely distinguish place for

his feet. The purple darkness was filled with

men who lectured and jabbered. Sometimes he

could see them gesticulating against the blue and

somber sky. There seemed to be a great ruck of

men and munitions spread about in the forest and

in the fields.

The little narrow roadway now lay lifeless.

There were overturned wagons like sun-dried

bowlders. The bed of the former torrent was

choked with the bodies of horses and splintered

parts of war machines.

It had come to pass that his wound pained him

but little. He was afraid to move rapidly, how-

ever, for a dread of disturbing it. He held his

head very still and took many precautions against

stumbling. He was filled with anxiety, and his

face was pinched and drawn in anticipation of the

pain of any sudden mistake of his feet in the gloom.

His thoughts, as he walked, fixed intently

upon his hurt. There was a cool, liquid feeling

about it and he imagined blood moving slowly

down under his hair. His head seemed swollen

to a size that made him think his neck to be


The new silence of his wound made much

worriment. The little blistering voices of pain

that had called out from his scalp were, he

thought, definite in their expression of danger.

By them he believed that he could measure his

plight. But when they remained ominously

silent he became frightened and imagined ter-

rible fingers that clutched into his brain.

Amid it he began to reflect upon various

incidents and conditions of the past. He be-

thought him of certain meals his mother had

cooked at home, in which those dishes of which

he was particularly fond had occupied prominent

positions. He saw the spread table. The pine

walls of the kitchen were glowing in the warm

light from the stove. Too, he remembered how

he and his companions used to go from the school-

house to the bank of a shaded pool. He saw his

clothes in disorderly array upon the grass of the

bank. He felt the swash of the fragrant water

upon his body. The leaves of the overhanging

maple rustled with melody in the wind of youthful summer.

He was overcome presently by a dragging

weariness. His head hung forward and his

shoulders were stooped as if he were bearing a

great bundle. His feet shuffled along the ground.

He held continuous arguments as to whether

he should lie down and sleep at some near spot,

or force himself on until he reached a certain

haven. He often tried to dismiss the question,

but his body persisted in rebellion and his senses

nagged at him like pampered babies.

At last he heard a cheery voice near his shoulder:

"Yeh seem t' be in a pretty bad way, boy?"

The youth did not look up, but he assented

with thick tongue. "Uh!"

The owner of the cheery voice took him firmly

by the arm. "Well," he said, with a round

laugh, "I'm goin' your way. Th' hull gang is

goin' your way. An' I guess I kin give yeh a

lift." They began to walk like a drunken man

and his friend.

As they went along, the man questioned the

youth and assisted him with the replies like one

manipulating the mind of a child. Sometimes he

interjected anecdotes. "What reg'ment do yeh

b'long teh? Eh? What's that? Th' 304th N'

York? Why, what corps is that in? Oh, it is?

Why, I thought they wasn't engaged t'-day--

they 're 'way over in th' center. Oh, they was,

eh? Well, pretty nearly everybody got their

share 'a fightin' t'-day. By dad, I give myself up

fer dead any number 'a times. There was shootin'

here an' shootin' there, an' hollerin' here an'

hollerin' there, in th' damn' darkness, until I

couldn't tell t' save m' soul which side I was on.

Sometimes I thought I was sure 'nough from

Ohier, an' other times I could 'a swore I was

from th' bitter end of Florida. It was th' most

mixed up dern thing I ever see. An' these here

hull woods is a reg'lar mess. It'll be a miracle

if we find our reg'ments t'-night. Pretty soon,

though, we 'll meet a-plenty of guards an' provost-

guards, an' one thing an' another. Ho! there they

go with an off'cer, I guess. Look at his hand

a-draggin'. He 's got all th' war he wants, I bet.

He won't be talkin' so big about his reputation

an' all when they go t' sawin' off his leg. Poor

feller! My brother 's got whiskers jest like that.

How did yeh git 'way over here, anyhow? Your

reg'ment is a long way from here, ain't it? Well,

I guess we can find it. Yeh know there was a

boy killed in my comp'ny t'-day that I thought

th' world an' all of. Jack was a nice feller. By

ginger, it hurt like thunder t' see ol' Jack jest git

knocked flat. We was a-standin' purty peaceable

fer a spell, 'though there was men runnin' ev'ry

way all 'round us, an' while we was a-standin'

like that, 'long come a big fat feller. He began

t' peck at Jack's elbow, an' he ses: 'Say, where 's

th' road t' th' river?' An' Jack, he never paid no

attention, an' th' feller kept on a-peckin' at his

elbow an' sayin': 'Say, where 's th' road t' th'

river?' Jack was a-lookin' ahead all th' time

tryin' t' see th' Johnnies comin' through th'

woods, an' he never paid no attention t' this big

fat feller fer a long time, but at last he turned

'round an' he ses: 'Ah, go t' hell an' find th'

road t' th' river!' An' jest then a shot slapped

him bang on th' side th' head. He was a sergeant,

too. Them was his last words. Thunder, I wish

we was sure 'a findin' our reg'ments t'-night. It 's

goin' t' be long huntin'. But I guess we kin do it."

In the search which followed, the man of the

cheery voice seemed to the youth to possess a

wand of a magic kind. He threaded the mazes

of the tangled forest with a strange fortune. In

encounters with guards and patrols he displayed

the keenness of a detective and the valor of a

gamin. Obstacles fell before him and became of

assistance. The youth, with his chin still on his

breast, stood woodenly by while his companion

beat ways and means out of sullen things.

The forest seemed a vast hive of men buzzing

about in frantic circles, but the cheery man con-

ducted the youth without mistakes, until at last

he began to chuckle with glee and self-satisfaction.

"Ah, there yeh are! See that fire?"

The youth nodded stupidly.

"Well, there 's where your reg'ment is. An'

now, good-by, ol' boy, good luck t' yeh."

A warm and strong hand clasped the youth's

languid fingers for an instant, and then he heard

a cheerful and audacious whistling as the man

strode away. As he who had so befriended him

was thus passing out of his life, it suddenly occurred

to the youth that he had not once seen his face.



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