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

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THE colonel came running along back of the

line. There were other officers following him.

"We must charge'm!" they shouted. "We must

charge'm!" they cried with resentful voices, as

if anticipating a rebellion against this plan by the men.

The youth, upon hearing the shouts, began to

study the distance between him and the enemy.

He made vague calculations. He saw that to be

firm soldiers they must go forward. It would be

death to stay in the present place, and with all

the circumstances to go backward would exalt

too many others. Their hope was to push the

galling foes away from the fence.

He expected that his companions, weary and

stiffened, would have to be driven to this assault,

but as he turned toward them he perceived with

a certain surprise that they were giving quick

and unqualified expressions of assent. There was

an ominous, clanging overture to the charge

when the shafts of the bayonets rattled upon the

rifle barrels. At the yelled words of command

the soldiers sprang forward in eager leaps.

There was new and unexpected force in the

movement of the regiment. A knowledge of its

faded and jaded condition made the charge ap-

pear like a paroxysm, a display of the strength

that comes before a final feebleness. The men

scampered in insane fever of haste, racing as if to

achieve a sudden success before an exhilarating

fluid should leave them. It was a blind and de-

spairing rush by the collection of men in dusty

and tattered blue, over a green sward and under

a sapphire sky, toward a fence, dimly outlined in

smoke, from behind which spluttered the fierce

rifles of enemies.

The youth kept the bright colors to the front.

He was waving his free arm in furious circles,

the while shrieking mad calls and appeals, urging

on those that did not need to be urged, for it

seemed that the mob of blue men hurling them-

selves on the dangerous group of rifles were

again grown suddenly wild with an enthusiasm of

unselfishness. From the many firings starting

toward them, it looked as if they would merely

succeed in making a great sprinkling of corpses

on the grass between their former position and

the fence. But they were in a state of frenzy,

perhaps because of forgotten vanities, and it made

an exhibition of sublime recklessness. There was

no obvious questioning, nor figurings, nor dia-

grams. There was, apparently, no considered

loopholes. It appeared that the swift wings of

their desires would have shattered against the

iron gates of the impossible.

He himself felt the daring spirit of a savage

religion mad. He was capable of profound sacri-

fices, a tremendous death. He had no time for

dissections, but he knew that he thought of the

bullets only as things that could prevent him

from reaching the place of his endeavor. There

were subtle flashings of joy within him that thus

should be his mind.

He strained all his strength. His eyesight

was shaken and dazzled by the tension of thought

and muscle. He did not see anything excepting

the mist of smoke gashed by the little knives of

fire, but he knew that in it lay the aged fence of a

vanished farmer protecting the snuggled bodies

of the gray men.

As he ran a thought of the shock of contact

gleamed in his mind. He expected a great con-

cussion when the two bodies of troops crashed

together. This became a part of his wild battle

madness. He could feel the onward swing of the

regiment about him and he conceived of a thun-

derous, crushing blow that would prostrate the

resistance and spread consternation and amaze-

ment for miles. The flying regiment was going

to have a catapultian effect. This dream made

him run faster among his comrades, who were

giving vent to hoarse and frantic cheers.

But presently he could see that many of the

men in gray did not intend to abide the blow.

The smoke, rolling, disclosed men who ran, their

faces still turned. These grew to a crowd, who

retired stubbornly. Individuals wheeled fre-

quently to send a bullet at the blue wave.

But at one part of the line there was a grim

and obdurate group that made no movement.

They were settled firmly down behind posts and

rails. A flag, ruffled and fierce, waved over them

and their rifles dinned fiercely.

The blue whirl of men got very near, until

it seemed that in truth there would be a close

and frightful scuffle. There was an expressed

disdain in the opposition of the little group,

that changed the meaning of the cheers of the

men in blue. They became yells of wrath,

directed, personal. The cries of the two parties

were now in sound an interchange of scathing insults.

They in blue showed their teeth; their eyes

shone all white. They launched themselves as at

the throats of those who stood resisting. The

space between dwindled to an insignificant distance.

The youth had centered the gaze of his soul

upon that other flag. Its possession would be

high pride. It would express bloody minglings,

near blows. He had a gigantic hatred for those

who made great difficulties and complications.

They caused it to be as a craved treasure of my-

thology, hung amid tasks and contrivances of danger.

He plunged like a mad horse at it. He was

resolved it should not escape if wild blows and

darings of blows could seize it. His own em-

blem, quivering and aflare, was winging toward

the other. It seemed there would shortly be

an encounter of strange beaks and claws, as of eagles.

The swirling body of blue men came to a

sudden halt at close and disastrous range and

roared a swift volley. The group in gray was

split and broken by this fire, but its riddled body

still fought. The men in blue yelled again and

rushed in upon it.

The youth, in his leapings, saw, as through a

mist, a picture of four or five men stretched upon

the ground or writhing upon their knees with

bowed heads as if they had been stricken by bolts

from the sky. Tottering among them was the

rival color bearer, whom the youth saw had been

bitten vitally by the bullets of the last formidable

volley. He perceived this man fighting a last

struggle, the struggle of one whose legs are

grasped by demons. It was a ghastly battle.

Over his face was the bleach of death, but set

upon it was the dark and hard lines of desperate

purpose. With this terrible grin of resolution he

hugged his precious flag to him and was stum-

bling and staggering in his design to go the way

that led to safety for it.

But his wounds always made it seem that his

feet were retarded, held, and he fought a grim

fight, as with invisible ghouls fastened greedily

upon his limbs. Those in advance of the scam-

pering blue men, howling cheers, leaped at the

fence. The despair of the lost was in his eyes as

he glanced back at them.

The youth's friend went over the obstruction

in a tumbling heap and sprang at the flag as a

panther at prey. He pulled at it and, wrench-

ing it free, swung up its red brilliancy with a

mad cry of exultation even as the color bearer,

gasping, lurched over in a final throe and, stiff-

ening convulsively, turned his dead face to the

ground. There was much blood upon the grass blades.

At the place of success there began more wild

clamorings of cheers. The men gesticulated and

bellowed in an ecstasy. When they spoke it was

as if they considered their listener to be a mile

away. What hats and caps were left to them

they often slung high in the air.

At one part of the line four men had been

swooped upon, and they now sat as prisoners.

Some blue men were about them in an eager and

curious circle. The soldiers had trapped strange

birds, and there was an examination. A flurry of

fast questions was in the air.

One of the prisoners was nursing a superficial

wound in the foot. He cuddled it, baby-wise,

but he looked up from it often to curse with an

astonishing utter abandon straight at the noses of

his captors. He consigned them to red regions;

he called upon the pestilential wrath of strange

gods. And with it all he was singularly free

from recognition of the finer points of the con-

duct of prisoners of war. It was as if a clumsy

clod had trod upon his toe and he conceived it to

be his privilege, his duty, to use deep, resentful oaths.

Another, who was a boy in years, took his

plight with great calmness and apparent good

nature. He conversed with the men in blue,

studying their faces with his bright and keen

eyes. They spoke of battles and conditions.

There was an acute interest in all their faces dur-

ing this exchange of view points. It seemed a

great satisfaction to hear voices from where all

had been darkness and speculation.

The third captive sat with a morose counte-

nance. He preserved a stoical and cold attitude.

To all advances he made one reply without varia-

tion, "Ah, go t' hell!"

The last of the four was always silent and,

for the most part, kept his face turned in un-

molested directions. From the views the youth

received he seemed to be in a state of absolute

dejection. Shame was upon him, and with it

profound regret that he was, perhaps, no more

to be counted in the ranks of his fellows. The

youth could detect no expression that would

allow him to believe that the other was giving

a thought to his narrowed future, the pictured

dungeons, perhaps, and starvations and brutali-

ties, liable to the imagination. All to be seen

was shame for captivity and regret for the right

to antagonize.

After the men had celebrated sufficiently they

settled down behind the old rail fence, on the

opposite side to the one from which their foes

had been driven. A few shot perfunctorily at

distant marks.

There was some long grass. The youth

nestled in it and rested, making a convenient rail

support the flag. His friend, jubilant and glori-

fied, holding his treasure with vanity, came to

him there. They sat side by side and congratu-

lated each other.



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