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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 stared at the land in front of him.

Its foliages now seemed to veil powers and hor-

rors. He was unaware of the machinery of orders

that started the charge, although from the cor-

ners of his eyes he saw an officer, who looked

like a boy a-horseback, come galloping, waving

his hat. Suddenly he felt a straining and heaving

among the men. The line fell slowly forward

like a toppling wall, and, with a convulsive gasp

that was intended for a cheer, the regiment began

its journey. The youth was pushed and jostled

for a moment before he understood the move-

ment at all, but directly he lunged ahead and

began to run.

He fixed his eye upon a distant and promi-

nent clump of trees where he had concluded the

enemy were to be met, and he ran toward it as

toward a goal. He had believed throughout that

it was a mere question of getting over an unpleas-

ant matter as quickly as possible, and he ran

desperately, as if pursued for a murder. His

face was drawn hard and tight with the stress of

his endeavor. His eyes were fixed in a lurid

glare. And with his soiled and disordered dress,

his red and inflamed features surmounted by the

dingy rag with its spot of blood, his wildly

swinging rifle and banging accouterments, he

looked to be an insane soldier.

As the regiment swung from its position out

into a cleared space the woods and thickets be-

fore it awakened. Yellow flames leaped toward

it from many directions. The forest made a tre-

mendous objection.

The line lurched straight for a moment. Then

the right wing swung forward; it in turn was

surpassed by the left. Afterward the center

careered to the front until the regiment was a

wedge-shaped mass, but an instant later the

opposition of the bushes, trees, and uneven places

on the ground split the command and scattered

it into detached clusters.

The youth, light-footed, was unconsciously in

advance. His eyes still kept note of the clump of

trees. From all places near it the clannish yell

of the enemy could be heard. The little flames

of rifles leaped from it. The song of the bullets

was in the air and shells snarled among the tree-

tops. One tumbled directly into the middle of a

hurrying group and exploded in crimson fury.

There was an instant's spectacle of a man, almost

over it, throwing up his hands to shield his eyes.

Other men, punched by bullets, fell in gro-

tesque agonies. The regiment left a coherent

trail of bodies.

They had passed into a clearer atmosphere.

There was an effect like a revelation in the new

appearance of the landscape. Some men work-

ing madly at a battery were plain to them, and

the opposing infantry's lines were defined by the

gray walls and fringes of smoke.

It seemed to the youth that he saw every-

thing. Each blade of the green grass was bold

and clear. He thought that he was aware of

every change in the thin, transparent vapor that

floated idly in sheets. The brown or gray trunks

of the trees showed each roughness of their sur-

faces. And the men of the regiment, with their

starting eyes and sweating faces, running madly,

or falling, as if thrown headlong, to queer,

heaped-up corpses--all were comprehended. His

mind took a mechanical but firm impression, so

that afterward everything was pictured and ex-

plained to him, save why he himself was there.

But there was a frenzy made from this furious

rush. The men, pitching forward insanely, had

burst into cheerings, moblike and barbaric, but

tuned in strange keys that can arouse the dullard

and the stoic. It made a mad enthusiasm that, it

seemed, would be incapable of checking itself

before granite and brass. There was the deli-

rium that encounters despair and death, and is

heedless and blind to the odds. It is a temporary

but sublime absence of selfishness. And because

it was of this order was the reason, perhaps, why

the youth wondered, afterward, what reasons he

could have had for being there.

Presently the straining pace ate up the ener-

gies of the men. As if by agreement, the leaders

began to slacken their speed. The volleys di-

rected against them had had a seeming windlike

effect. The regiment snorted and blew. Among

some stolid trees it began to falter and hesitate.

The men, staring intently, began to wait for some

of the distant walls of smoke to move and dis-

close to them the scene. Since much of their

strength and their breath had vanished, they re-

turned to caution. They were become men again.

The youth had a vague belief that he had run

miles, and he thought, in a way, that he was now

in some new and unknown land.

The moment the regiment ceased its advance

the protesting splutter of musketry became a

steadied roar. Long and accurate fringes of

smoke spread out. From the top of a small hill

came level belchings of yellow flame that caused

an inhuman whistling in the air.

The men, halted, had opportunity to see some

of their comrades dropping with moans and

shrieks. A few lay under foot, still or wailing.

And now for an instant the men stood, their rifles

slack in their hands, and watched the regiment

dwindle. They appeared dazed and stupid. This

spectacle seemed to paralyze them, overcome

them with a fatal fascination. They stared wood-

enly at the sights, and, lowering their eyes, looked

from face to face. It was a strange pause, and a

strange silence.

Then, above the sounds of the outside commo-

tion, arose the roar of the lieutenant. He strode

suddenly forth, his infantile features black with rage.

"Come on, yeh fools!" he bellowed. "Come

on! Yeh can't stay here. Yeh must come on."

He said more, but much of it could not be understood.

He started rapidly forward, with his head

turned toward the men. "Come on," he was

shouting. The men stared with blank and yokel-

like eyes at him. He was obliged to halt and

retrace his steps. He stood then with his back

to the enemy and delivered gigantic curses into

the faces of the men. His body vibrated from

the weight and force of his imprecations. And

he could string oaths with the facility of a maiden

who strings beads.

The friend of the youth aroused. Lurching

suddenly forward and dropping to his knees, he

fired an angry shot at the persistent woods. This

action awakened the men. They huddled no

more like sheep. They seemed suddenly to be-

think them of their weapons, and at once com-

menced firing. Belabored by their officers, they

began to move forward. The regiment, involved

like a cart involved in mud and muddle, started

unevenly with many jolts and jerks. The men

stopped now every few paces to fire and load,

and in this manner moved slowly on from trees to trees.

The flaming opposition in their front grew

with their advance until it seemed that all for-

ward ways were barred by the thin leaping

tongues, and off to the right an ominous demon-

stration could sometimes be dimly discerned.

The smoke lately generated was in confusing

clouds that made it difficult for the regiment to

proceed with intelligence. As he passed through

each curling mass the youth wondered what

would confront him on the farther side.

The command went painfully forward until an

open space interposed between them and the

lurid lines. Here, crouching and cowering be-

hind some trees, the men clung with desperation,

as if threatened by a wave. They looked wild-

eyed, and as if amazed at this furious disturbance

they had stirred. In the storm there was an

ironical expression of their importance. The

faces of the men, too, showed a lack of a certain

feeling of responsibility for being there. It was

as if they had been driven. It was the dominant

animal failing to remember in the supreme mo-

ments the forceful causes of various superficial

qualities. The whole affair seemed incompre-

hensible to many of them.

As they halted thus the lieutenant again be-

gan to bellow profanely. Regardless of the vin-

dictive threats of the bullets, he went about

coaxing, berating, and bedamning. His lips,

that were habitually in a soft and childlike curve,

were now writhed into unholy contortions. He

swore by all possible deities.

Once he grabbed the youth by the arm.

"Come on, yeh lunkhead!" he roared. "Come

on! We'll all git killed if we stay here. We've

on'y got t' go across that lot. An' then"--the

remainder of his idea disappeared in a blue haze

of curses.

The youth stretched forth his arm. "Cross

there?" His mouth was puckered in doubt and awe.

"Certainly. Jest 'cross th' lot! We can't

stay here," screamed the lieutenant. He poked

his face close to the youth and waved his ban-

daged hand. "Come on!" Presently he grap-

pled with him as if for a wrestling bout. It was

as if he planned to drag the youth by the ear on

to the assault.

The private felt a sudden unspeakable indig-

nation against his officer. He wrenched fiercely

and shook him off.

"Come on herself, then," he yelled. There

was a bitter challenge in his voice.

They galloped together down the regimental

front. The friend scrambled after them. In front

of the colors the three men began to bawl:

"Come on! come on!" They danced and gy-

rated like tortured savages.

The flag, obedient to these appeals, bended its

glittering form and swept toward them. The

men wavered in indecision for a moment, and then

with a long, wailful cry the dilapidated regiment

surged forward and began its new journey.

Over the field went the scurrying mass. It

was a handful of men splattered into the faces of

the enemy. Toward it instantly sprang the yellow

tongues. A vast quantity of blue smoke hung

before them. A mighty banging made ears valueless.

The youth ran like a madman to reach the

woods before a bullet could discover him. He

ducked his head low, like a football player. In

his haste his eyes almost closed, and the scene was

a wild blur. Pulsating saliva stood at the corners

of his mouth.

Within him, as he hurled himself forward, was

born a love, a despairing fondness for this flag

which was near him. It was a creation of beauty

and invulnerability. It was a goddess, radiant,

that bended its form with an imperious gesture to

him. It was a woman, red and white, hating and

loving, that called him with the voice of his

hopes. Because no harm could come to it he en-

dowed it with power. He kept near, as if it

could be a saver of lives, and an imploring cry

went from his mind.

In the mad scramble he was aware that the

color sergeant flinched suddenly, as if struck by a

bludgeon. He faltered, and then became motion-

less, save for his quivering knees.

He made a spring and a clutch at the pole.

At the same instant his friend grabbed it from the

other side. They jerked at it, stout and furious,

but the color sergeant was dead, and the corpse

would not relinquish its trust. For a moment

there was a grim encounter. The dead man,

swinging with bended back, seemed to be obsti-

nately tugging, in ludicrous and awful ways, for

the possession of the flag.

It was past in an instant of time. They

wrenched the flag furiously from the dead man,

and, as they turned again, the corpse swayed for-

ward with bowed head. One arm swung high,

and the curved hand fell with heavy protest on

the friend's unheeding shoulder.



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