Red Badge of Courage Chapter Summaries

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Chapters 1-3

Warning! Use these chapter summaries as a review, not as a substitute (unless of course the test is in 10 minutes and you’re on page 7).

Chapter 1: Jim Conklin returns to camp to share a rumor that the army will be moving soon. Henry Fleming, a private in the Union army, returns to his tent and laments the deglorification of battle–hypothesizing that men have lost the war instinct and that all great battles are a thing of the past.

Henry reflects on what drove him to enlist in the army, despite his mother’s objections. He relives his heroic journey from his home to Washington D.C. to join the fight. Since joining his regiment, Henry has experienced nothing but boredom. He secretly worries that he will run when the battle comes.

Chapter 2: Jim Conklin’s rumor proves to be false. Henry still worries that he will run in battle. The regiment marches all day, but nothing comes of it.

Chapter 3: The soldiers march through a dark forest and hear gunfire. They run forward, feverishly building and abandoning trenches each time they stop. Henry is convinced the regiment commanders are leading him to be slaughtered. Henry and his fellow soldiers accuse the commanders of being incompetent.

Analysis: Henry finds out war isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. He grew up reading of Homeric battles but only experiences boredom, confusion, and marching–kind of like when your teacher told you how great this novel was, so you got really excited and now you’re convinced nothing is ever going to happen.

Chapters 4-7

Chapter 4: Henry’s regiment stops in a grove. Veteran soldiers mock him and his fellow rookies. The enemy charges and Henry is still not sure if he’ll run or fight.

Chapter 5: The fight begins. Henry becomes part of the regimental machine. The fight ends and Henry notices the sunshine and blue skies.

Chapter 6: Henry feels he’s overcome his fears…until the enemy charges again. Henry, no longer feeling part of the team, pictures the enemy as super human soldiers about to trample him. He runs. He overhears generals celebrating their victory. He can’t believe it.

Chapter 7: Henry resents the victory, accusing his fellow soldiers of being stupid and lucky. He throws a pine cone at a squirrel, watches it scurry, and philosophizes that the natural order of things is to run from danger.

Analysis: I’ve never been shot at, but I have been punched in the face several times. I marvel at boxers and MMA fighters who get punched in the face for a living. It goes against all natural instincts to move forward, knowing there’s a likelihood that you will be punched in the face. I’m guessing the feeling is magnified when guns are involved.

You gotta love Henry’s rationalization for running. He uses the “I’m smarter” than every one and “the squirrel ran up the tree so that proves I’m right” line of argument. It’s like when you quit the school basketball team and they go on to win the state championship, but you insist they really missed you and that you’re happier even though you listened to the state championship game in your bedroom corner in the fetal position whimpering while the rest of the school was in attendance.

Chapters 8-12

Chapter 8: Henry hears the battle and, ironically, runs towards it. He joins a column of wounded soldiers. A tattered soldier asks Henry where he’s been wounded. Henry runs to the back of the line to avoid answering.

Chapter 9: Henry envies the injured soldiers and their “red badge of courage.” He spots Jim Conklin who requests Henry move him out of the way when he dies so as to avoid the artillery wagons. Jim eventually runs off the road and dies.

Chapter 10: Henry and the tattered man marvel at Jim Conklin’s strength. The tattered man mistakes Henry for his friend back home and starts gibbering about his family. Henry runs back to the road and lets the tattered man die.

Chapter 11: Henry sees an enthusiastic column of soldiers and wishes to join them. He excuses himself for lack of a rifle. He wanders aimlessly, thinking up an excuse as to why he’s been missing.

Chapter 12: Henry spots a column of soldiers fleeing. He grabs one by the arm to ask him what was happening. The soldier answers with the butt of his gun upside Henry’s head, giving him a wound. A compassionate soldier helps Henry back to his regiment.

Analysis: Don’t you hate it when you know you’re in trouble so you wander aimlessly thinking of an excuse? That’s what Henry does.

Chapters 13-17

Chapter 13: Henry returns to his regiment. Everyone is asleep except Wilson, who’s on guard, and a corporal. The two take care of Henry’s wound.

Chapter 14: Henry awakes. Nearly half the regiment had fled during the battle, only to return in the night.

Chapter 15: Henry scorns his fellow soldiers for running wildly as he ran with discretion.

Chapter 16: Henry’s regiment is led into the woods. Henry curses the commanders and is rebuked by a fellow soldier. He shuts his mouth in order to not be exposed as a coward.

Chapter 17: The enemy attacks and Henry feels rage toward the enemy. The regiment marvels at his ferocity.

Analysis: Henry continues rationalizing his running from battle. He redeems himself by withstanding the enemy attack and fighting like a “wildcat.” As long as Henry remains an individual he is worthless. As part of “the machine” he is unbeatable.

Chapters 18-24

Chapter 18: Henry goes to get water and overhears generals calling his regiment a bunch of expendable “mule drivers.”

Chapter 19: Henry is angry. His regiment charges. Many are killed. Henry is mesmerized by the regiment’s flag. The flag bearer is shot down. Henry takes it from him and leads the charge.

Chapter 20: Henry’s regiment successfully fends off the enemy, despite heavy losses. Henry and his fellow soldiers feel confident in their abilities.

Chapter 21: Other soldiers poke fun at Henry’s regiment for stopping so short of their goal. Henry is stunned to realize how short the distance was. Henry and Wilson are told that the colonel considers them the best fighters in the regiment.

Chapter 22: The regiment suffers many losses. Henry continues fighting.

Chapter 23: Henry’s regiment makes one final charge and forces the enemy to flee. Wilson grabs the enemy’s flag as a trophy.

Chapter 24: The regiment is ordered back to the river and Henry contemplates his actions.

Analysis: The book goes about 6 chapters too long. If you just read these Red Badge of Courage chapter summaries and skip the last six chapters, you’ll be fine

This post is part of the series: Red Badge of Courage Study Guide

Don’t run from a good grade, read this study guide instead.

  1. Red Badge of Courage Chapter Summaries
  2. Symbolism in The Red Badge of Courage
  3. Themes in The Red Badge of Courage
  4. Realism in The Red Badge of Courage: Quotations
  5. Red Badge of Courage Study Questions