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| Home | Reading Room The Red Badge of Courage

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

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WHEN the youth awoke it seemed to him that

he had been asleep for a thousand years, and he

felt sure that he opened his eyes upon an unex-

pected world. Gray mists were slowly shifting

before the first efforts of the sun rays. An im-

pending splendor could be seen in the eastern

sky. An icy dew had chilled his face, and im-

mediately upon arousing he curled farther down

into his blanket. He stared for a while at the

leaves overhead, moving in a heraldic wind of the day.

The distance was splintering and blaring with

the noise of fighting. There was in the sound

an expression of a deadly persistency, as if it had

not begun and was not to cease.

About him were the rows and groups of men

that he had dimly seen the previous night. They

were getting a last draught of sleep before the

awakening. The gaunt, careworn features and

dusty figures were made plain by this quaint

light at the dawning, but it dressed the skin of

the men in corpselike hues and made the tangled

limbs appear pulseless and dead. The youth

started up with a little cry when his eyes first

swept over this motionless mass of men, thick-

spread upon the ground, pallid, and in strange

postures. His disordered mind interpreted the

hall of the forest as a charnel place. He believed

for an instant that he was in the house of the

dead, and he did not dare to move lest these

corpses start up, squalling and squawking. In a

second, however, he achieved his proper mind.

He swore a complicated oath at himself. He

saw that this somber picture was not a fact of

the present, but a mere prophecy.

He heard then the noise of a fire crackling

briskly in the cold air, and, turning his head, he

saw his friend pottering busily about a small

blaze. A few other figures moved in the fog, and

he heard the hard cracking of axe blows.

Suddenly there was a hollow rumble of

drums. A distant bugle sang faintly. Similar

sounds, varying in strength, came from near and

far over the forest. The bugles called to each

other like brazen gamecocks. The near thunder

of the regimental drums rolled.

The body of men in the woods rustled. There

was a general uplifting of heads. A murmuring

of voices broke upon the air. In it there was

much bass of grumbling oaths. Strange gods

were addressed in condemnation of the early

hours necessary to correct war. An officer's

peremptory tenor rang out and quickened the

stiffened movement of the men. The tangled

limbs unraveled. The corpse-hued faces were

hidden behind fists that twisted slowly in the eye


The youth sat up and gave vent to an enormous

yawn. "Thunder!" he remarked petulantly.

He rubbed his eyes, and then putting up his hand

felt carefully of the bandage over his wound.

His friend, perceiving him to be awake, came

from the fire. "Well, Henry, ol' man, how do

yeh feel this mornin'?" he demanded.

The youth yawned again. Then he puckered

his mouth to a little pucker. His head, in truth,

felt precisely like a melon, and there was an un-

pleasant sensation at his stomach.

"Oh, Lord, I feel pretty bad," he said.

"Thunder!" exclaimed the other. "I hoped

ye'd feel all right this mornin'. Let's see th'

bandage--I guess it's slipped." He began to

tinker at the wound in rather a clumsy way until

the youth exploded.

"Gosh-dern it!" he said in sharp irritation;

"you're the hangdest man I ever saw! You

wear muffs on your hands. Why in good

thunderation can't you be more easy? I'd rather

you'd stand off an' throw guns at it. Now, go

slow, an' don't act as if you was nailing down carpet."

He glared with insolent command at his

friend, but the latter answered soothingly.

"Well, well, come now, an' git some grub," he

said. "Then, maybe, yeh'll feel better."

At the fireside the loud young soldier

watched over his comrade's wants with tender-

ness and care. He was very busy marshaling

the little black vagabonds of tin cups and pour-

ing into them the streaming, iron colored mixture

from a small and sooty tin pail. He had some

fresh meat, which he roasted hurriedly upon a

stick. He sat down then and contemplated the

youth's appetite with glee.

The youth took note of a remarkable change

in his comrade since those days of camp life upon

the river bank. He seemed no more to be con-

tinually regarding the proportions of his personal

prowess. He was not furious at small words that

pricked his conceits. He was no more a loud

young soldier. There was about him now a

fine reliance. He showed a quiet belief in

his purposes and his abilities. And this in-

ward confidence evidently enabled him to be

indifferent to little words of other men aimed at him.

The youth reflected. He had been used to

regarding his comrade as a blatant child with an

audacity grown from his inexperience, thought-

less, headstrong, jealous, and filled with a tinsel

courage. A swaggering babe accustomed to strut

in his own dooryard. The youth wondered

where had been born these new eyes; when his

comrade had made the great discovery that

there were many men who would refuse to be

subjected by him. Apparently, the other had

now climbed a peak of wisdom from which he

could perceive himself as a very wee thing. And

the youth saw that ever after it would be easier

to live in his friend's neighborhood.

His comrade balanced his ebony coffee-cup on

his knee. "Well, Henry," he said, "what d'yeh

think th' chances are? D'yeh think we'll wallop 'em?"

The youth considered for a moment. "Day-

b'fore-yesterday," he finally replied, with boldness,

"you would 'a' bet you'd lick the hull kit-an'-

boodle all by yourself."

His friend looked a trifle amazed. "Would

I?" he asked. He pondered. "Well, perhaps I would,"

he decided at last. He stared humbly at the fire.

The youth was quite disconcerted at this sur-

prising reception of his remarks. "Oh, no, you

wouldn't either," he said, hastily trying to retrace.

But the other made a deprecating gesture.

"Oh, yeh needn't mind, Henry," he said. "I be-

lieve I was a pretty big fool in those days." He

spoke as after a lapse of years.

There was a little pause.

"All th' officers say we've got th' rebs in

a pretty tight box," said the friend, clearing

his throat in a commonplace way. "They all

seem t' think we've got 'em jest where we want 'em."

"I don't know about that," the youth replied.

"What I seen over on th' right makes me think

it was th' other way about. From where I was,

it looked as if we was gettin' a good poundin' yestirday."

"D'yeh think so?" inquired the friend. "I

thought we handled 'em pretty rough yestirday."

"Not a bit," said the youth. "Why, lord,

man, you didn't see nothing of the fight. Why!"

Then a sudden thought came to him. "Oh!

Jim Conklin's dead."

His friend started. "What? Is he? Jim


The youth spoke slowly. "Yes. He's dead.

Shot in th' side."

"Yeh don't say so. Jim Conklin. . . . poor cuss!"

All about them were other small fires sur-

rounded by men with their little black utensils.

From one of these near came sudden sharp

voices in a row. It appeared that two light-

footed soldiers had been teasing a huge, bearded

man, causing him to spill coffee upon his blue

knees. The man had gone into a rage and had

sworn comprehensively. Stung by his language,

his tormentors had immediately bristled at him

with a great show of resenting unjust oaths.

Possibly there was going to be a fight.

The friend arose and went over to them, mak-

ing pacific motions with his arms. "Oh, here,

now, boys, what's th' use?" he said. "We'll

be at th' rebs in less'n an hour. What's th'

good fightin' 'mong ourselves?"

One of the light-footed soldiers turned upon

him red-faced and violent. "Yeh needn't come

around here with yer preachin'. I s'pose yeh

don't approve 'a fightin' since Charley Morgan

licked yeh; but I don't see what business this

here is 'a yours or anybody else."

"Well, it ain't," said the friend mildly. "Still I hate t' see--"

There was a tangled argument.

"Well, he--," said the two, indicating their

opponent with accusative forefingers.

The huge soldier was quite purple with rage.

He pointed at the two soldiers with his great

hand, extended clawlike. "Well, they--"

But during this argumentative time the de-

sire to deal blows seemed to pass, although they

said much to each other. Finally the friend re-

turned to his old seat. In a short while the

three antagonists could be seen together in an

amiable bunch.

"Jimmie Rogers ses I'll have t' fight him

after th' battle t'-day," announced the friend as

he again seated himself. "He ses he don't

allow no interferin' in his business. I hate t' see

th' boys fightin' 'mong themselves."

The youth laughed. "Yer changed a good

bit. Yeh ain't at all like yeh was. I remember

when you an' that Irish feller--" He stopped

and laughed again.

"No, I didn't use t' be that way," said his

friend thoughtfully. "That's true 'nough."

"Well, I didn't mean--" began the youth.

The friend made another deprecatory gesture.

"Oh, yeh needn't mind, Henry."

There was another little pause.

"Th' reg'ment lost over half th' men yestir-

day," remarked the friend eventually. "I thought

a course they was all dead, but, laws, they kep'

a-comin' back last night until it seems, after all,

we didn't lose but a few. They'd been scattered

all over, wanderin' around in th' woods, fightin'

with other reg'ments, an' everything. Jest like you done."

"So?" said the youth.



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