The Red Badge of Courage HTML version

Chapter 23
The colonel came running along the 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 appear 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 despairing 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 sputtered 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 themselves 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
diagrams. 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
sacrifices, 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.