Private Fleming at Chancellorsville: The Red Badge of Courage and the Civil War

By Perry Lentz | Go to book overview

Chapter 3
Private Fleming's Regiment
Enters Combat

During General Joseph Hooker's wintertime preparation of his army, as his soldiers were "drilled and drilled and reviewed, and drilled and drilled and reviewed," Private Henry Fleming had "grown to regard himself merely as part of a vast blue demonstration" (RBC 11). He had returned to the precocious cynicism that characterized his initial response to the "war in his own country" (5). "Greeklike struggles would be no more. Men were better, or more timid. Secular and religious education had effaced the throat-grappling instinct, or else firm finance held in check the passions" (11). But with the first rumors of a coming campaign, "some new thoughts … had lately come to him" (4), and ""h"e tried to mathematically prove to himself that he would not run from a battle" (13). The novel's point of view was initially sweeping: "the retiring fogs revealed an army stretched out on the hills, resting" (1). Then it narrows down to Private Fleming's perception of the world, carrying with it the reader's interest. Fleming's concern "that perhaps in a battle he might run" (13) is so plausible that it is possible to overlook something very unusual about this private soldier's fears.

Private Fleming is only a few months away from being a schoolboy, and from this very first instance he continues to think of his problem in terms and images drawn from the classroom. "He was forced to admit that as far as war was concerned he knew nothing of himself" (RBC 13); "He recalled his visions of broken

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