Private Fleming's "Well-Meaning Cow"
The Implications of Crane's Literary Style
Until this midafternoon moment of Private Henry Fleming's "ecstasy of self-satisfaction" (RBC 64), Crane's novel, with one signal exception, is remarkably faithful, in both general and specific detail, to the historical facts of the battle of Chancellorsville as they can best be understood. He shows men fighting as the weaponry of the Civil War dictated they must. He shows both the terrain in the Wilderness of Spotsylvania in northern Virginia, and the battle in which the Third Division of the Second Corps of the Army of the Potomac was immersed on the afternoon of May 2, 1863.
Even the one signal exception—the rout of a full federal brigade on an afternoon of "desultory" or "perfunctory" combat—shows not so much Crane's indifference to the historical record but, rather, his reliance upon the most significant documents available to him, the relevant reports in the Official Records of the War of Rebellion. A close look at the novel reveals how Crane works to reconcile what he recognized was a problematic inconsistency. Concerning those officers whose commands he had selected as the "home" of and the models for both his fictional Henderson's brigade and his fictional 304th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment, it turns out there was a discrepancy between the official report of Major General French, on the one hand, and