Published thirty years after the Civil War, this "impressionistic" American classic tells a war story in a thoroughly modern way - without a trace of romanticizing. Through the eyes of ordinary soldier Henry Fleming, we follow his psychological turmoil, from the excitement of patriotism to the bloody realities of battle and his flight from it. In the end, he overcomes his fear and disillusionment, and fights with courage.
This classic tale of a Union private in the Civil War focuses on young Henry Fleming's initiation into battle after spending his first few months in the army wondering if he will fight bravely when he faces his first battle. Once that battle comes, he is extremely well pleased by his initial performance. He responds as a member of the regiment, shooting and holding the line and finally feeling rage at the enemy as men around him fall and die. But in the midst of his self-congratulations, the battle starts up again and when other men begin to run away he follows them, certain that his side has lost and that the only thing he can do is escape the bullets. Then he hears a general exulting that the regiment has held the line, andnow separated from themhe ends up in a line of wounded men walking back for treatment. Another wounded man tries to help him, but certain that he is a coward and deeply ashamed of his behavior, he snaps at the man and abandons him. Later another retreating soldier whom he angers, bashes him in the head with his rifle, leaving him bloody and weak. Pretending he has been shot, he manages to return to his regiment. In the next battle he achieves a greater maturity, fighting fiercely, taking up the flag when the flag-bearer is shot, and urging the other men forward. After the battle this time, he considers his behavior more realistically and ends with a balanced awareness of his own strengths and shortcomings. A short additional section called "The Veteran" shows an elderly Henry surrounded by family and friends who admire him for his military service. On the day depicted, a drunken farmhand accidentally sets the barn on fire, and Henry demonstrates that he still practices the virtues of responsibility and heroism when he runs into the barn to save the horses and cattle, giving his life in his attempt to save two colts. The book brings the battles to life with the noise and smoke of rifle fire, the rough bark of the trees in the woods, and the sense of the chaos these young soldiers are lost in. Physically, the book's compact size and readable type should appeal to young adults, and the brief end sections about Stephen Crane, the Civil War itself, nine of the novel's characters, five discussion questions, six further activities, and a two-page glossary add useful material. Reviewer: Judy DaPolito