Stephen Crane and The Civil War
One year after the publication of The Red Badge of Courage Crane released a continuation to the narrative in the form of a short story. “The Veteran” characterizes an elderly Henry Fleming who recalls his first exposure to the experience of war. Of the battle he remembers, “That was at Chancellorsville” (Crane 529-531). While Crane never explicitly states the name of the battle in The Red Badge, the incidents mentioned in “The Veteran” indicate that the protagonist of each is one in the same (website). Memories of his reasons for flight and sad recollections of the memory of Jim Conklin, the “tall soldier,” mirror the episodes mentioned in Crane’s second novel. Studies have shown that the source Crane cites as his main source of information was a collection of memoirs from Union and Confederate officers. The magazine, entitled Battles and Leaders of the Civil War (1884), was a typical publication revealing strategical information as well as topographical locations (website). While the work did not characterize the emotions of the soldiers, it provided Crane with the necessary information to construct an atmosphere reflecting “one of the bloodiest struggles of the Civil War” (website). An online site by the University of Virginia claims, “thematically, Crane utilized the battle of Chancellorsville in order to mount a critique of the fin de siecle American situation: the beleaguered position of the individual in a mass society, the harmful illusions of popular notions of heroism, and the abandonment, in materialistic gestures of denial, of the progress of Reconstruction begun in the Civil War.” (**Note - first paragraph of essay is a summarized version of website's findings.)
Much of Crane’s interests in the Battle of Chancellorsville stemmed from his hometown influences in Port Jervis. Many of the men who witnessed the events that occurred on this battlefield came from this town and served as sources of inspiration for Crane’s final draft (website). Despite his evident utilization of these sources, Crane purposefully failed to mention the actual battle in his publication of The Red Badge of Courage. As a novel that aspired to be a psychological portrayal of fear, neglecting the historical framework became an intentional stylistic technique without which the underlined theme would inherently have been lost. Had Crane concretized Henry’s experience with a named battle, the reactions to the novel would have altered considerably. Inevitably people would associate imagery from the actual battle with The Red Badge of Courage, a process that would ultimately shift the perspective from Henry’s experience to the war itself. Crane avoided these types of reactions by allowing the battle to remain nameless in the narrative. The website quotes a more practical reason stating,
none of the characters in the novel—certainly not lowly privates like Henry Fleming—would have known that the battle...