The Red Badge of Courage Chapters 1-3 Summary

The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane utilizes third person point of view to follow Henry who enlists in the Union Army during the Civil War. When he tells his mother, he expects her to be proud, but instead she rifles through a list of things she expects him to do and not to do in order to keep himself alive and safe. Henry sees tears streaming down her cheeks as he walks away.

When he arrives at camp, he is drilled repeatedly between periods of sitting around. He does not trust the veterans who yell "fresh fish" at him and exaggerate their stories often. Henry worries that when the fighting starts he may run. Then he overhears a conversation between Jim Conklin and some of the other soldiers where they're asking him if he thinks any of the new recruits will run. They then ask him if he ever thought about running. Surprisingly, Jim responds that if others ran, he'd probably run too, which Henry finds reassuring.

In chapter two Henry continues to keep to himself, thinking that others don't understand him. At one point a horsemen talked to the colonel and told him not to forget the box of cigars, which Henry didn't understand. Later as the men stumbled along, one man would trip and when he'd reach for his rifle, another soldier would stp on his hand causing him to swear, which made everyone laugh. They spoke of coming up and surprising the enemy from behind, believing they were finally going to see some action very soon.

In town a fat soldier tried to steal a horse so that it could carry his bag, but young girl ran out and claimed it. The regiment cheered on the disagreement, which resulted in the girl keeping her horse. Henry often wished he were back at home with the cows that he despised. When he ran into Wilson one night, the young man appeared amped up to fight and asked Henry if he ever thought he might run. Henry vehemently denied such a suggestion even though the thought haunted him constantly.

In chapter three the soldiers are still suffering from sore feet and lack of food. They had also begun to drop some of their superfluous items so that they would not have as much to carry, such as shirts and socks. Sometimes Henry considered fleeing but found himself trapped inside the regiment of men. He thought he had not enlisted of his own free will, although he had, and blamed the government for his situation. At one point they came upon other soldiers. They passed a dead soldier whose body they marched around as they passed.

Henry's mind would wander as he marched, often thinking absurd thoughts about the enemy lurking in every house. He considered warning his regiment against the dangers that the generals clearly did not see. Words came to his lips and men turned toward him as he began to speak, but then he changed his mind, thinking the men would laugh at his warning. A lieutenant approached and hit him with a sword to get him to pick up his pace.

When they would stop, each man would dig or build a small wall of stones in front of him. Then minutes later they would leave their small barricade. Henry did not like the aimlessness. He complained to the tall soldier in charge. Walking with no purpose was driving him crazy. Henry began to think that death would be a better alternative. Eventually, they heard gunfire. A brigade ahead of them went into action. Henry stood still, not knowing what to do. A pale soldier came up to him, telling Henry that it was his first and last battle, and asking if Henry would give a yellow envelope containing his belongings to his parents.

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