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The Red Badge of Courage
by Stephen Crane
Henry Fleming ("The Youth") Timeline and Summary
Henry is waiting impatiently for some sort of battle to begin. Henry remembers how he ended up in the Union army; he thinks about his mother and her sadness at his enlisting. The longer Henry has to wait for the fighting to start, the more he doubts his own bravery. Henry starts to obsess about running away from battle. Henry tries to get other soldiers to admit that they are afraid, but no one seems to share his trepidation. Henry’s regiment is finally on the march. The other soldiers seem happy to be moving. Henry wishes he were back on the farm. Henry again tries to get another soldier to admit that he will run during battle. This solder is pissed. Henry falls asleep, feeling quite bad about himself and his fears. Henry’s regiment walks for days for no apparent reason. Henry grumbles. Henry sees his first dead man but cannot find an answer to "the Question" in its eyes. Henry gets mad at the leaders who seem to have them marching around endlessly. He thinks that if he died his problems would be over. Henry is given a packet of letters by Wilson, "the Loud Soldier," who expects to die in battle. Henry and the men argue and gossip about how various soldiers and regiments have fared in battle. They blather on in a macho way. Suddenly the fighting starts. Henry does surprisingly well and he feels pretty cool. Pretty thundering cool, that is. Before Henry can rest, the shooting begins again. This time, Henry freaks out. He hightails it. Just like he knew he always would. Henry rationalizes his actions. He tries to pretend he was smart to run. As Henry tries to hide, he comes face to face with an ant-ridden dead guy. The battle sounds get incredibly loud and Henry’s curiosity gets the better of him. He heads back. He meets "the Tattered Soldier" who asks kindly where Henry’s injury is. Henry rudely ditches "the Tattered Soldier." Henry sees all the wounded men and envies them for their "red badges of courage." He wishes he had one of his very own. Henry meets the "spectral soldier" who turns out to be his friend, Jim Conklin, who also turns out to be dying in a really horrible way. Henry and "the Tattered Soldier" try to help Jim, who is unfortunately mortally wounded. Henry is shocked and appalled by Jim’s rather gruesome death. Henry gets pissed when "the Tattered Soldier" asks him repeatedly where his wound is. Henry again wishes he were dead. Henry sees a group of soldiers he could join, but then he worries they might ask him where on earth he’s been. A whole bunch of soldiers run past Henry. He grabs one and asks him what the thunder is going on. This soldier whomps him a good one in the head (with his rifle). Henry falls down and nearly passes out, but now he has a red badge of his own. As Henry wimbles and weaves around, a "cheery soldier" takes care of him and then conveniently disappears. Henry is now back with his own regiment – the 304th. Everyone is glad to see him. Henry lies and says he was shot in the head. They conclude he must have been merely grazed by a passing bullet. When Henry wakes up, his head is swollen. Henry and the soldiers are on the march again. Henry feels superior to Wilson ("the Loud Soldier" who is now not so loud) because Wilson, anticipating his own death, wimpily gave him those letters. Henry gives Wilson (who is all embarrassed) the letters back upon request. Henry is overly proud of himself (to put it mildly). Henry voices his disapproval of the generals’ tactics. A soldier asks him if he thinks he fought yesterday’s battle single-handedly. Henry feels terrible because, of course, he didn’t fight at all. The battle begins and this time Henry is a battle-warrior. He shoots and reloads so fast and so furiously that his gun gets too hot to hold. Henry is praised by his lieutenant. Henry and Wilson volunteer to go get water. They overhear a general describing their unit as "mule drivers." This general is quite happy to sacrifice them in the next (apparently hopeless) battle. Henry and his mule drivers engage in battle. Henry is tired, but his lieutenant yells at him and calls him a "lunkhead," which seems to do the trick. Henry and the men charge ahead. Henry sees their flag bearer get wounded. He grabs the flag and carries it. He is now the official flag bearer. Henry is thrilled when the general who had called them "mule drivers" now thinks Henry is the bomb. (The actual term the general used was "jimhickey.") Henry and the other men are forced back into battle. This time they can actually see the men they are fighting. Henry feels that he should die on this very field to prove himself. Instead, he and Wilson capture the enemy’s flag and are triumphant. Henry sees the captured Confederate soldiers and realizes with a start that they are no different than he is. Henry realizes that the battle is over. Henry re-thinks everything that has happened to him, good and bad. He feels that finally, he is a man. Henry is now done with war and the "red sickness of battle."