Illustration of Henry Fleming in a soldier's uniform in front of a confederate flag and an American flag

The Red Badge of Courage

by Stephen Crane

Start Free Trial

How does Henry react in his first battle in The Red Badge of Courage, and what is the battle's outcome?

Quick answer:

Henry exemplifies the classic "hero in the foxhole" mentality. He has done his best to be prepared by joining the army, but when he is finally tested on the field of battle, he discovers that he has very little control over his own actions (Chapter 4-5). The enemy charge is repulsed and Henry's side holds its ground. Somehow, despite all the chaos of battle, Henry and his army have managed to hold against their opponents (Chapter 5). Now that he has experienced one real battle, Henry finds himself looking forward to further opportunities for combat.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Henry had long feared how he would behave under battle conditions.   He had wanted to act bravely and heroically, but was afraid that when the time came, he might shame himself by running away.  As it turns out, Henry discovers that he has very little influence over his own actions...

This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

when he is finally tested on the field of battle.  When the enemy threatens, his actions become automatic; it is as if he becomes a part of a machine.

Immediately before the violent encounter with the opposing army, Henry is started by the thought that his weapon might not be loaded.  He tries "to rally his faltering intellect...but he (can)not".  At the instant of engagement, he finds himself reacting mechanically,

"...before he (has) announced to himself that he (is) about to fight - he (throws) the obedient, well-balanced rifle into position and fire(s) a first wild shot.  Directly he (is) working at his weapon like an automatic affair...he suddenly (loses) concern for himself, and for(gets) to look at a menacing fate.  He be(comes) not a man but a member".

Henry is

"welded into a common personality", a part of a "subtle battle brotherhood more potent even than the cause for which they (are) fighting.  It (is) a mysterious fragernity born of the smoke and danger of death".

Under battle conditions, Henry finds that choice is not really a factor.  He acts without thinking, ruled by instinct, following the actions of everyone else like a dumb beast (Chapter 4-5).

The outcome of the battle is positive for Henry's side.  The enemy charge is repulsed; in the midst of all the chaos, somehow Henry's army has managed to hold the opposing forces back (Chapter 5).

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How does Henry perform during the first attack and the second attack in The Red Badge of Courage?

Although Henry battles his fear of the unknown during the first Confederate attack, he stands his ground with the rest of his comrades and celebrates this short, initial victory. He is relieved to have withstood the pressure of his first taste of combat, and he holds fast in part because the rest of the men have done the same. Henry revels in being part of a larger unit, and he deeply wishes to do his part. He is jealous of the men wounded in the first attack, for they have earned their "little red badge" by doing their duty. However, when the second and more powerful attack comes, Henry's doubts surface once again. He wonders if his little outfit can withstand such a relentless enemy, and when he sees other men begin to run, he does the same. He runs away out of the innate human need for survival: Fear and self-doubt overwhelm him, emotions which become more important than his desire to be a good soldier.

Last Updated on