Henry Fleming had no idea how horrible war really was. Attacks come from all sides, bullets fly, bombs crash. Men everywhere are wounded, bleeding, and dying. Now, Henry’s fighting for his life and he’s scared.
He must make a decision, perhaps the most difficult decision he will ever make in his life: save himself-run from the enemy and desert his friends-or fight, be brave, and risk his life.
If he stays to fight, he may die with his regiment. If he runs, he’ll have to live with knowing he was a coward. Can Henry find the strength within himself to earn his red badge of courage?
Henry believed in his country. He believed that it should be united. So when the Confederacy secedes from the Union, Henry signed up for the army meant to force them back.
At first army life is invigorating. He loves his regiment, made mostly of men from his hometown and trusts his commander. But then as they march southward Henry begins to see the destruction the war has left. The land they march through is burnt, livestock already taken to feed the soldiers.
But still, his battalion learns new songs, how to properly ride horses, and play pranks on other regiments. One particularly amusing prank involved stitching the other soldier’s uniform legs shut in the night, then being first to roll call by a quarter hour.
But then comes Henry’s first battle, and the screams and gore paralyze him with fear. His friends fall around him, and he suddenly realizes that the Union is going to loose this fight. He may die.
So he turns, looking to the woods just a few yards away. All he has to do is take a few steps and he’s safe.
But he stays.
And takes a bullet to the leg.
Since it’s still early on in the war, Henry is able to be shipped off to an actual army hospital, where extensive surgery is one to repair his shattered femur. Even after that, he’s confined to a wheelchair for a year. He has fun racing other veterans down the streets of his hometown. By the time he can stand on his leg the war is over, with him only fighting in a few minutes of one battle.
But still, he fought and one day in the mail comes a red badge for exceptional courage.