The Red Badge of Courage | Study Guide

Stephen Crane

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The Red Badge of Courage | Chapter 18 | Summary



Returning after an unsuccessful search for water, Wilson and Henry observe the battlefield from a distance rather than from their narrow view as soldiers on the front line. They stop and linger near some officers, including the general of their division, hoping to hear news. The officers confer about how to hold off the enemy, and the lieutenant says he can spare the 304th, who "fight like a lot of mule drivers," which astonishes Wilson and Henry. The general says, "I don't believe many of your mule drivers will get back." Henry is startled to realize he is insignificant. The men hurry to their regiment to tell them the news; the lieutenant is excited to engage in "real fightin'."

As the regiment is ordered into formation, Wilson and Henry exchange knowing glances and "see no hesitation in each other's faces."


Learning that he is insignificant is another turning point for Henry in his maturation as a soldier. Previously, he thought mainly of himself. Now he realizes he and his regiment are pawns being used by the generals. His offense at being called a "mule driver" will spur him later, not to rant against the officers, but to prove the officers wrong by fighting hard against the enemy. This indignation gives Henry and Wilson a reason to fight. They have bonded, and from this point on, they work together as a team. Their shared experience of the battle and their knowledge of how they are perceived strengthen the bond initially formed when Wilson took care of Henry.

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