The Red Badge of Courage The Red Badge of CourageChapter 1Chapter 2Chapter 3Chapter 4Chapter 5Chapter 6Chapter 7Chapter 8Chapter 9Chapter 10Chapter 11Chapter 12Chapter 13Chapter 14Chapter 15Chapter 16Chapter 17Chapter 18Chapter 19Chapter 20Chapter 21Chapter 22Chapter 23Chapter 24Copyright
The Red Badge of Courage
The cold passed reluctantly from the earth, and the retiring fogs
revealed an army stretched out on the hills, resting. As the
landscape changed from brown to green, the army awakened, and began
to tremble with eagerness at the noise of rumors. It cast its eyes
upon the roads, which were growing from long troughs of liquid mud
to proper thoroughfares. A river, amber-tinted in the shadow of its
banks, purled at the army's feet; and at night, when the stream had
become of a sorrowful blackness, one could see across it the red,
eyelike gleam of hostile camp-fires set in the low brows of distant
Once a certain tall soldier developed virtues and went resolutely
to wash a shirt. He came flying back from a brook waving his
garment bannerlike. He was swelled with a tale he had heard from a
reliable friend, who had heard it from a truthful cavalryman, who
had heard it from his trustworthy brother, one of the orderlies at
division headquarters. He adopted the important air of a herald in
red and gold.
"We're goin' t' move t'morrah--sure," he said pompously to a group
in the company street. "We're goin' 'way up the river, cut across,
an' come around in behint 'em."
To his attentive audience he drew a loud and elaborate plan of a
very brilliant campaign. When he had finished, the blue-clothed men
scattered into small arguing groups between the rows of squat brown
huts. A negro teamster who had been dancing upon a cracker box with
the hilarious encouragement of twoscore soldiers was deserted. He
sat mournfully down. Smoke drifted lazily from a multitude of
"It's a lie! that's all it is--a thunderin' lie!" said another
private loudly. His smooth face was flushed, and his hands were
thrust sulkily into his trouser's pockets. He took the matter as an
affront to him. "I don't believe the derned old army's ever going
to move. We're set. I've got ready to move eight times in the last
two weeks, and we ain't moved yet."
The tall soldier felt called upon to defend the truth of a rumor he
himself had introduced. He and the loud one came near to fighting
A corporal began to swear before the assemblage. He had just put a
costly board floor in his house, he said. During the early spring
he had refrained from adding extensively to the comfort of his
environment because he had felt that the army might start on the
march at any moment. Of late, however, he had been impressed that
they were in a sort of eternal camp.
Many of the men engaged in a spirited debate. One outlined in a
peculiarly lucid manner all the plans of the commanding general. He
was opposed by men who advocated that there were other plans of
campaign. They clamored at each other, numbers making futile bids
for the popular attention. Meanwhile, the soldier who had fetched
the rumor bustled about with much importance. He was continually
assailed by questions.
"What's up, Jim?"
"Th'army's goin' t' move."
"Ah, what yeh talkin' about? How yeh know it is?"
"Well, yeh kin b'lieve me er not, jest as yeh like. I don't care a
There was much food for thought in the manner in which he replied.
He came near to convincing them by disdaining to produce proofs.
They grew much excited over it.
There was a youthful private who listened with eager ears to the
words of the tall soldier and to the varied comments of his
comrades. After receiving a fill of discussions concerning marches
and attacks, he went to his hut and crawled through an intricate
hole that served it as a door. He wished to be alone with some new
thoughts that had lately come to him.
He lay down on a wide bunk that stretched across the end of the
room. In the other end, cracker boxes were made to serve as
furniture. They were grouped about the fireplace. A picture from an
illustrated weekly was upon the log walls, and three rifles were
paralleled on pegs. Equipments hung on handy projections, and some
tin dishes lay upon a small pile of firewood. A folded tent was
serving as a roof. The sunlight, without, beating upon it, made it
glow a light yellow shade. A small window shot an oblique square of
whiter light upon the cluttered floor. The smoke from the fire at
times neglected the clay chimney and wreathed into the room, and
this flimsy chimney of clay and sticks made endless threats to set
ablaze the whole establishment.
The youth was in a little trance of astonishment. So they were at
last going to fight. On the morrow, perhaps, there would be a
battle, and he would be in it. For a time he was obliged to labor
to make himself believe. He could not accept with assurance an omen
that he was about to mingle in one of those great affairs of the
He had, of course, dreamed of battles all his life--of vague and
bloody conflicts that had thrilled him with their sweep and fire.
In visions he had seen himself in many struggles. He had imagined
peoples secure in the shadow of his eagle-eyed prowess. But awake
he had regarded battles as crimson blotches on the pages of the
past. He had put them as things of the bygone with his
thought-images of heavy crowns and high castles. There was a
portion of the world's history which he had regarded as the time of
wars, but it, he thought, had been long gone over the horizon and
had disappeared forever.
From his home his youthful eyes had looked upon the war in his own
country with distrust. It must be some sort of a play affair. He
had long despaired of witnessing a Greeklike struggle. Such would
be no more, he had said. Men were better, or more timid. Secular
and religious education had effaced the throat-grappling instinct,
or else firm finance held in check the passions.
He had burned several times to enlist. Tales of great movements
shook the land. They might not be distinctly Homeric, but there
seemed to be much glory in them. He had read of marches, sieges,
conflicts, and he had longed to see it all. His busy mind had drawn
for him large pictures extravagant in color, lurid with breathless
But his mother had discouraged him. She had affected to look with
some contempt upon the quality of his war ardor and patriotism. She
could calmly seat herself and with no apparent difficulty give him
many hundreds of reasons why he was of vastly more importance on
the farm than on the field of battle. She had had certain ways of
expression that told him that her statements on the subject came
from a deep conviction. Moreover, on her side, was his belief that
her ethical motive in the argument was impregnable.
At last, however, he had made firm rebellion against this yellow
light thrown upon the color of his ambitions. The newspapers, the
gossip of the village, his own picturings, had aroused him to an
uncheckable degree. They were in truth fighting finely down there.
Almost every day the newspaper printed accounts of a decisive
One night, as he lay in bed, the winds had carried to him the
clangoring of the church bell as some enthusiast jerked the rope
frantically to tell the twisted news of a great battle. This voice
of the people rejoicing in the night had made him shiver in a
prolonged ecstasy of excitement. Later, he had gone down to his
mother's room and had spoken thus: "Ma, I'm going to enlist."
"Henry, don't you be a fool," his mother had replied. She had then
covered her face with the quilt. There was an end to the matter for
Nevertheless, the next morning he had gone to a town that was near
his mother's farm and had enlisted in a company that was forming
there. When he had returned home his mother was milking the brindle
cow. Four others stood waiting. "Ma, I've enlisted," he had said to
her diffidently. There was a short silence. "The Lord's will be
done, Henry," she had finally replied, and had then continued to
milk the brindle cow.
When he had stood in the doorway with his soldier's clothes on his
back, and with the light of excitement and expectancy in his eyes
almost defeating the glow of regret for the home bonds, he had seen
two tears leaving their trails on his mother's scarred
Still, she had disappointed him by saying nothing whatever about
returning with his shield or on it. He had privately primed himself
for a beautiful scene. He had prepared certain sentences which he
thought could be used with touching effect. But her words destroyed
his plans. She had doggedly peeled potatoes and addressed him as
follows: "You watch out, Henry, an' take good care of yerself in
this here fighting business--you watch, an' take good care of
yerself. Don't go a-thinkin' you can lick the hull rebel army at
the start, because yeh can't. Yer jest one little feller amongst a
hull lot of others, and yeh've got to keep quiet an' do what they
tell yeh. I know how you are, Henry.
"I've knet yeh eight pair of socks, Henry, and I've put in all yer
best shirts, because I want my boy to be jest as warm and comf'able
as anybody in the army. Whenever they get holes in 'em, I want yeh
to send 'em right-away back to me, so's I kin dern 'em.
"An' allus be careful an' choose yer comp'ny. There's lots of bad
men in the army, Henry. The army makes 'em wild, and they like
nothing better than the job of leading off a young feller like you,
as ain't never been away from home much and has allus had a mother,
an' a-learning 'em to drink and swear. Keep clear of them folks,
Henry. I don't want yeh to ever do anything, Henry, that yeh would
be 'shamed to let me know about. Jest think as if I was a-watchin'
yeh. If yeh keep that in yer mind allus, I guess yeh'll come out
"Yeh must allus remember yer father, too, child, an' remember he
never drunk a drop of licker in his life, and seldom swore a cross
"I don't know what else to tell yeh, Henry, excepting that yeh must
never do no shirking, child, on my account. If so be a time comes
when yeh have to be kilt of do a mean thing, why, Henry, don't
think of anything 'cept what's right, because there's many a woman
has to bear up 'ginst sech things these times, and the Lord 'll
take keer of us all.
"Don't forgit about the socks and the shirts, child; and I've put a
cup of blackberry jam with yer bundle, because I know yeh like it
above all things. Good-by, Henry. Watch out, and be a good
He had, of course, been impatient under the ordeal of this speech.
It had not been quite what he expected, and he had borne it with an
air of irritation. He departed feeling vague relief.
Still, when he had looked back from the gate, he had seen his
mother kneeling among the potato parings. Her brown face, upraised,
was stained with tears, and her spare form was quivering. He bowed
his head and went on, feeling suddenly ashamed of his
From his home he had gone to the seminary to bid adieu to many
schoolmates. They had thronged about him with wonder and
admiration. He had felt the gulf now between them and had swelled
with calm pride. He and some of his fellows who had donned blue
were quite overwhelmed with privileges for all of one afternoon,
and it had been a very delicious thing. They had strutted.
A certain light-haired girl had made vivacious fun at his martial
spirit, but there was another and darker girl whom he had gazed at
steadfastly, and he thought she grew demure and sad at sight of his
blue and brass. As he had walked down the path between the rows of
oaks, he had turned his head and detected her at a window watching
his departure. As he perceived her, she had immediately begun to
stare up through the high tree branches at the sky. He had seen a
good deal of flurry and haste in her movement as she changed her
attitude. He often thought of it.
On the way to Washington his spirit had soared. The regiment was
fed and caressed at station after station until the youth had
believed that he must be a hero. There was a lavish expenditure of
bread and cold meats, coffee, and pickles and cheese. As he basked
in the smiles of the girls and was patted and complimented by the
old men, he had felt growing within him the strength to do mighty
deeds of arms.
After complicated journeyings with many pauses, there had come
months of monotonous life in a camp. He had had the belief that
real war was a series of death struggles with small time in between
for sleep and meals; but since his regiment had come to the field
the army had done little but sit still and try to keep warm.
He was brought then gradually back to his old ideas. Greeklike
struggles would be no more. Men were better, or more timid. Secular
and religious education had effaced the throat-grappling instinct,
or else firm finance held in check the passions.
He had grown to regard himself merely as a part of a vast blue
demonstration. His province was to look out, as far as he could,
for his personal comfort. For recreation he could twiddle his
thumbs and speculate on the thoughts which must agitate the minds
of the generals. Also, he was drilled and drilled and reviewed, and
drilled and drilled and reviewed.
The only foes he had seen were some pickets along the river bank.
They were a sun-tanned, philosophical lot, who sometimes shot
reflectively at the blue pickets. When reproached for this
afterward, they usually expressed sorrow, and swore by their gods
that the guns had exploded without their permission. The youth, on
guard duty one night, conversed across the stream with one of them.
He was a slightly ragged man, who spat skillfully between his shoes
and possessed a great fund of bland and infantile assurance. The
youth liked him personally.
"Yank," the other had informed him, "yer a right dum good feller."
This sentiment, floating to him upon the still air, had made him
temporarily regret war.
Various veterans had told him tales. Some talked of gray,
bewhiskered hordes who were advancing with relentless curses and
chewing tobacco with unspeakable valor; tremendous bodies of fierce
soldiery who were sweeping along like the Huns. Others spoke of
tattered and eternally hungry men who fired despondent powders.
"They'll charge through hell's fire an' brimstone t' git a holt on
a haversack, an' sech stomachs ain't a'lastin' long," he was told.
From the stories, the youth imagined the red, live bones sticking
out through slits in the faded uniforms.
Still, he could not put a whole faith in veteran's tales, for
recruits were their prey. They talked much of smoke, fire, and
blood, but he could not tell how much might be lies. They
persistently yelled "Fresh fish!" at him, and were in no wise to be
However, he perceived now that it did not greatly matter what kind
of soldiers he was going to fight, so long as they fought, which
fact no one disputed. There was a more serious problem. He lay in
his bunk pondering upon it. He tried to mathematically prove to
himself that he would not run from a battle.
Previously he had never felt obliged to wrestle too seriously with
this question. In his life he had taken certain things for granted,
never challenging his belief in ultimate success, and bothering
little about means and roads. But here he was confronted with a
thing of moment. It had suddenly appeared to him that perhaps in a
battle he might run. He was forced to admit that as far as war was
concerned he knew nothing of himself.
A sufficient time before he would have allowed the problem to kick
its heels at the outer portals of his mind, but now he felt
compelled to give serious attention to it.
A little panic-fear grew in his mind. As his imagination went
forward to a fight, he saw hideous possibilities. He contemplated
the lurking menaces of the future, and failed in an effort to see
himself standing stoutly in the midst of them. He recalled his
visions of broken-bladed glory, but in the shadow of the impending
tumult he suspected them to be impossible pictures.
He sprang from the bunk and began to pace nervously to and fro.
"Good Lord, what's th' matter with me?" he said aloud.
He felt that in this crisis his laws of life were useless. Whatever
he had learned of himself was here of no avail. He was an unknown
quantity. He saw that he would again be obliged to experiment as he
had in early youth. He must accumulate information of himself, and
meanwhile he resolved to remain close upon his guard lest those
qualities of which he knew nothing should everlastingly disgrace
him. "Good Lord!" he repeated in dismay.
After a time the tall soldier slid dexterously through the hole.
The loud private followed. They were wrangling.
"That's all right," said the tall soldier as he entered. He waved
his hand expressively. "You can believe me or not, jest as you
like. All you got to do is sit down and wait as quiet as you can.
Then pretty soon you'll find out I was right."
His comrade grunted stubbornly. For a moment he seemed to be
searching for a formidable reply. Finally he said: "Well, you don't
know everything in the world, do you?"
"Didn't say I knew everything in the world," retorted the other
sharply. He began to stow various articles snugly into his
The youth, pausing in his nervous walk, looked down at the busy
figure. "Going to be a battle, sure, is there, Jim?" he
"Of course there is," replied the tall soldier. "Of course there
is. You jest wait 'til to-morrow, and you'll see one of the biggest
battles ever was. You jest wait."
"Thunder!" said the youth.
"Oh, you'll see fighting this time, my boy, what'll be regular
out-and-out fighting," added the tall soldier, with the air of a
man who is about to exhibit a battle for the benefit of his
"Huh!" said the loud one from a corner.
"Well," remarked the youth, "like as not this story'll turn out
jest like them others did."
"Not much it won't," replied the tall soldier, exasperated. "Not
much it won't. Didn't the cavalry all start this morning?" He
glared about him. No one denied his statement. "The cavalry started
this morning," he continued. "They say there ain't hardly any
cavalry left in camp. They're going to Richmond, or some place,
while we fight all the Johnnies. It's some dodge like that. The
regiment's got orders, too. A feller what seen 'em go to
headquarters told me a little while ago. And they're raising blazes
all over camp--anybody can see that."
"Shucks!" said the loud one.
The youth remained silent for a time. At last he spoke to the tall
"How do you think the reg'ment 'll do?"
"Oh, they'll fight all right, I guess, after they once get into
it," said the other with cold judgment. He made a fine use of the
third person. "There's been heaps of fun poked at 'em because
they're new, of course, and all that; but they'll fight all right,
"Think any of the boys 'll run?" persisted the youth.
"Oh, there may be a few of 'em run, but there's them kind in every
regiment, 'specially when they first goes under fire," said the
other in a tolerant way. "Of course it might happen that the hull
kit-and-boodle might start and run, if some big fighting came
first-off, and then again they might stay and fight like fun. But
you can't bet on nothing. Of course they ain't never been under
fire yet, and it ain't likely they'll lick the hull rebel army
all-to-oncet the first time; but I think they'll fight better than
some, if worse than others. That's the way I figger. They call the
reg'ment 'Fresh fish' and everything; but the boys come of good
stock, and most of 'em 'll fight like sin after they oncet git
shootin'," he added, with a mighty emphasis on the last four
"Oh, you think you know--" began the loud soldier with scorn.
The other turned savagely upon him. They had a rapid altercation,
in which they fastened upon each other various strange
The youth at last interrupted them. "Did you ever think you might
run yourself, Jim?" he asked. On concluding the sentence he laughed
as if he had meant to aim a joke. The loud soldier also
The tall private waved his hand. "Well," said he profoundly, "I've
thought it might get too hot for Jim Conklin in some of them
scrimmages, and if a whole lot of boys started and run, why, I
s'pose I'd start and run. And if I once started to run, I'd run
like the devil, and no mistake. But if everybody was a-standing and
a-fighting, why, I'd stand and fight. Be jiminey, I would. I'll bet
"Huh!" said the loud one.
The youth of this tale felt gratitude for these words of his
comrade. He had feared that all of the untried men possessed great
and correct confidence. He now was in a measure reassured.
The next morning the youth discovered that his tall comrade had
been the fast-flying messenger of a mistake. There was much
scoffing at the latter by those who had yesterday been firm
adherents of his views, and there was even a little sneering by men
who had never believed the rumor. The tall one fought with a man
from Chatfield Corners and beat him severely.
The youth felt, however, that his problem was in no wise lifted
from him. There was, on the contrary, an irritating prolongation.
The tale had created in him a great concern for himself. Now, with
the newborn question in his mind, he was compelled to sink back
into his old place as part of a blue demonstration.
For days he made ceaseless calculations, but they were all
wondrously unsatisfactory. He found that he could establish
nothing. He finally concluded that the only way to prove himself
was to go into the blaze, and then figuratively to watch his legs
to discover their merits and faults. He reluctantly admitted that
he could not sit still and with a mental slate and pencil derive an
answer. To gain it, he must have blaze, blood, and danger, even as
a chemist requires this, that, and the other. So he fretted for an
Meanwhile, he continually tried to measure himself by his comrades.
The tall soldier, for one, gave him some assurance. This man's
serene unconcern dealt him a measure of confidence, for he had
known him since childhood, and from his intimate knowledge he did
not see how he could be capable of anything that was beyond him,
the youth. Still, he thought that his comrade might be mistaken
about himself. Or, on the other hand, he might be a man heretofore
doomed to peace and obscurity, but, in reality, made to shine in
The youth would have liked to have discovered another who suspected
himself. A sympathetic comparison of mental notes would have been a
joy to him.
He occasionally tried to fathom a comrade with seductive sentences.
He looked about to find men in the proper mood. All attempts failed
to bring forth any statement which looked in any way like a
confession to those doubts which he privately acknowledged in
himself. He was afraid to make an open declaration of his concern,
because he dreaded to place some unscrupulous confidant upon the
high plane of the unconfessed from which elevation he could be
In regard to his companions his mind wavered between two opinions,
according to his mood. Sometimes he inclined to believing them all
heroes. In fact, he usually admired in secret the superior
development of the higher qualities in others. He could conceive of
men going very insignificantly about the world bearing a load of
courage unseen, and although he had known many of his comrades
through boyhood, he began to fear that his judgment of them had
been blind. Then, in other moments, he flouted these theories, and
assured him that his fellows were all privately wondering and
His emotions made him feel strange in the presence of men who
talked excitedly of a prospective battle as of a drama they were
about to witness, with nothing but eagerness and curiosity apparent
in their faces. It was often that he suspected them to be
He did not pass such thoughts without severe condemnation of
himself. He dinned reproaches at times. He was convicted by himself
of many shameful crimes against the gods of traditions.
In his great anxiety his heart was continually clamoring at what he
considered the intolerable slowness of the generals. They seemed
content to perch tranquilly on the river bank, and leave him bowed
down by the weight of a great problem. He wanted it settled
forthwith. He could not long bear such a load, he said. Sometimes
his anger at the commanders reached an acute stage, and he grumbled
about the camp like a veteran.
One morning, however, he found himself in the ranks of his prepared
regiment. The men were whispering speculations and recounting the
old rumors. In the gloom before the break of the day their uniforms
glowed a deep purple hue. From across the river the red eyes were
still peering. In the eastern sky there was a yellow patch like a
rug laid for the feet of the coming sun; and against it, black and
patternlike, loomed the gigantic figure of the colonel on a
From off in the darkness came the trampling of feet. The youth
could occasionally see dark shadows that moved like monsters. The
regiment stood at rest for what seemed a long time. The youth grew
impatient. It was unendurable the way these affairs were managed.
He wondered how long they were to be kept waiting.