The Red Badge of Courage HTML version
He became aware that the furnace roar of the battle was growing louder. Great blown
clouds had floated to the still heights of air before him. The noise, too, was approaching.
The woods filtered men and the fields became dotted.
As he rounded a hillock, he perceived that the roadway was now a crying mass of
wagons, teams, and men. From the heaving tangle issued exhortations, commands,
imprecations. Fear was sweeping it all along. The cracking whips bit and horses plunged
and tugged. The white-topped wagons strained and stumbled in their exertions like fat
The youth felt comforted in a measure by this sight. They were all retreating. Perhaps,
then, he was not so bad after all. He seated himself and watched the terror-stricken
wagons. They fled like soft, ungainly animals. All the roarers and lashers served to help
him to magnify the dangers and horrors of the engagement that he might try to prove to
himself that the thing with which men could charge him was in truth a symmetrical act.
There was an amount of pleasure to him in watching the wild march of this vindication.
Presently the calm head of a forward-going column of infantry appeared in the road. It
came swiftly on. Avoiding the obstructions gave it the sinuous movement of a serpent.
The men at the head butted mules with their musket stocks. They prodded teamsters
indifferent to all howls. The men forced their way through parts of the dense mass by
strength. The blunt head of the column pushed. The raving teamsters swore many strange
The commands to make way had the ring of a great importance in them. The men were
going forward to the heart of the din. They were to confront the eager rush of the enemy.
They felt the pride of their onward movement when the remainder of the army seemed
trying to dribble down this road. They tumbled teams about with a fine feeling that it was
no matter so long as their column got to the front in time. This importance made their
faces grave and stern. And the backs of the officers were very rigid.
As the youth looked at them the black weight of his woe returned to him. He felt that he
was regarding a procession of chosen beings. The separation was as great to him as if
they had marched with weapons of flame and banners of sunlight. He could never be like
them. He could have wept in his longings.
He searched about in his mind for an adequate malediction for the indefinite cause, the
thing upon which men turn the words of final blame. It--whatever it was--was responsible
for him, he said. There lay the fault.
The haste of the column to reach the battle seemed to the forlorn young man to be
something much finer than stout fighting. Heroes, he thought, could find excuses in that