By Stephen Crane
"The Red Badge of Courage" by Stephen Crane traces the effects of war on a Union soldier, Henry Fleming, from his dreams of soldiering, to his actual enlistment, and through several battles of the Civil War.
Henry Fleming was not happy with his boring life on the farm. He wanted to become a hero in war and have girls loving him for his glorious achievements in battle. He knew his mother would not like to see him go to war, but it was his decision to make. He dreamed of the exciting battles of war and the thrill of fighting glorious battles. He didn't want to stay on the farm with nothing to do, so he made the final decision to enlist.
After enlisting he finds himself just sitting around with nothing to do. He manages to make friends with two other soldiers, John Wilson and Jim Conklin. Wilson was as excited about going to war as Henry, while Jim was confident about the success of the new regiment. Henry started to realize after a few days of marching, that their regiment was just wandering aimlessly, going in circles, like a vast blue demonstration. They kept marching on without purpose, direction, or fighting. After a while, Henry started to think about the battles in a different way, a more mature way. He started to become afraid that he might run from battle when duty calls. He felt like a servant doing whatever his superiors told him.
When the regiment finally engages in a battle, Jim gives Henry a little packet in a yellow envelope, telling Henry that this will be his first and last battle. The regiment managed to hold off the rebels for the first charge, but then the rebels came back like machines of steel with re-enforcements, driving the regiment back. One man started to flee, then another, and another still. Henry was scared, confused, and in a trance as he saw his forces depleating. He finally got up and started running like a proverbial chicken, who has lost the direction of safety.
After running away, Henry started rationalizing his behavior. At first he feels he was a stupid coward for running, then he feels he was just saving himself for later. He felt nature didn't want him to die, even though his side is losing. He believes he was intelligent for running and hopes he will die in battle just for spite.
The same time Henry met Jim, he also met a tattered man. In the next charge, Henry and the tattered man see Jim die a slow, and painful death. After Jim's death, and a little talking, Henry, though not realizing it, leaves the tattered man alone on the battle field, hurting inside, and dangerous to himself.
In the charge ahead, Henry starts asking the soldiers why they are running. He grabbed a comrade by the arm and asked the man "why- why-" not letting go of the man's arm. The man hit Henry over the head with the butt of his rifle, giving Henry his first Red Badge of Courage. Dazed, Henry stumbles around the battle field struggling to stay on his feet, until a cheery man comes around and helps Henry to get back to his regiment.
When he returns, he confronts Wilson and has his wound on his head bandaged. After a short rest he again gets back into battle. After the regiment lost that battle, the generals had the regiment marching again. Henry felt the generals were a lot of "lunkheads" for making them retreat instead of confronting the enemy.
Henry begins to feel that, he and Wilson, are going to die, but goes to battle anyway. In battle, Henry began to fume with rage and exhaustion. He had a wild hate for the relentless foe. He was not going to be badgered of his life, like a kitten chased by boys. He felt that he and his companions were being taunted and derided from sincere convictions that they were poor and puny.
In yet another battle, when Henry and Wilson get a chance to carry their flag, they fight over who will retain the flag. Wilson got the regiment flag, though later in battle Henry manages to obtain the rebel flag. With the flag in hand, he runs to the front of the line with the Lieutenant, leading the way.
In battle he fought like a "Major General", though he did regret leaving the tattered man alone on the battle field. He has grown-up, and is no longer afraid of dying.