between chapter 4-7
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The sun rises over a riverside encampment of new inexperienced
soldiers in the blue Union uniforms of the 304th
regiment from New York. A tall soldier, Jim Conklin, tells the
others that he heard a rumor about the generals’ plan: the
regiment will soon be in battle. Some soldiers in the regiment
believe the rumor, others are skeptical and tired of infantrymen
trying to predict their commanders’ strategies. A young
private, Henry Fleming, listens to the debate, then returns to
his bunk to think. With dreams of fighting in glorious battles, he
had enlisted against his mother’s will. Now Henry worries that
he might act cowardly and run away during fighting. He returns
to ask Jim and another soldier, the loud and overconfident
Wilson, if they ever fear running away. Jim says that he’ll do
what the other men do. Henry feels eager for a battle to test
The regiment eventually does march and digs into position
in the woods. With battle imminent, Wilson gets spooked and
nervously gives Henry a packet of letters to return to Wilson’s
family in case Wilson dies. Soon, an advance brigade of blue
soldiers runs past in crazed retreat, which shakes Henry’s selfconfidence.
The gray enemy approaches through the trees
and Henry, feeling like a cog in a machine, fires frantically. The
enemy retreats and the soldiers congratulate each other. But
another enemy charge comes on, and Henry turns and runs
away with a terrified mob of fellow blue soldiers.
While he runs, Henry feels that he did the right thing in running
away. He reasons that self-preservation is natural, and
thinks that the generals and any soldiers who stayed to fight
were fools. When the retreat stops, Henry overhears that his
regiment actually did defend their position against the odds.
Ashamed, Henry skulks off into the woods alone, and comes
upon the corpse of a dead soldier in a “chapel” of trees.
Henry is horrified by the gruesome sight of ants running over
the discolored face. He flees and joins a retreating procession
of wounded soldiers. Walking along, a tattered man questions
Henry about his injuries, but Henry, feeling deeply guilty, moves
away from him. Henry privately wishes for his own wound, “a
red badge of courage.” Henry sees a grievously hurt, almost
ghostlike soldier who is refusing any assistance. Discovering the
man to be Jim Conklin, Henry promises to help. Jim runs wildly
into nearby fields and Henry and the tattered man follow. Jim
falls dead. The tattered man, getting worse himself, keeps asking
about Henry’s wound, but Henry abandons him.
Close to the battlefield, Henry encounters a large group of
blue soldiers running away. He grabs one to ask “Why—why—”
but the soldier bashes his rifle on Henry’s head to escape. Now
bleeding and disoriented, Henry wanders in search of a safe
place. An anonymous cheerful soldier guides Henry back to
his regiment’s camp. Henry lies to his regiment that he was shot
in the head. His wound is treated by a quiet subdued Wilson.
The next morning, Wilson asks Henry for his packet of letters.
In comparison with his friend’s embarrassment about fearing
death, Henry soon feels strong, proud, and ready to fight.
Their regiment returns to the fight and takes part in a raucous
deafening battle. Henry goes berserk, firing even after the
enemy retreats. His companions view him with astonishment
and the regiment’s fiery lieutenant praises his bravery. Henry
is dazed but pleased—he has overcome his fears without even
being aware of the process.
Between battles, Henry and Wilson overhear an insulting
officer put down their regiment for fighting like “mule drivers.”
They desperately want to prove him wrong. The regiment is
sent on a dangerous charge against enemy lines, and many
of Henry’s companions are killed. When the color guard gets
shot and falls, Henry grabs the regimental battle flag and rallies
the exhausted regiment to a near victory. Afterwards, other
soldiers hear the regiment’s commanders praising the bravery
of Henry and Wilson. Still, Henry is angry at the insulting officer
and dreams of being killed in a glorious battle as his revenge.
Across the field, a wave of gray soldiers overtakes a crucial
fence. Running with the flag, Henry leads his frenzied regiment
to overwhelm the enemy soldiers. Wilson captures the
enemy’s battle flag. They all congratulate each other and feel
that “they were men.” The regiment is then ordered back over
its gained ground all the way to its original camp on the river.
Henry reflects on his triumphs and the guilt still haunting him,
but feels matured and tranquil, yearning for peace.