"Fighting on Two Fronts":
Henry Fleming in Red Badge of Courage
The Civil War forced many young boys out of childhood and into adulthood. Most of these young boys were not prepared for war, and Henry Fleming was one of these boys.
Henry Fleming's life in New York was routine. He had his normal share of friends and lived on a farm. When Henry got up in the mornings, he always knew exactly what the day had in store for him. This simple and boring life drove Henry to enlist.
Henry wanted some excitement and to be seen by everyone as a hero. He wanted to be a man. However, his mother was strictly against his joining the Union Army. She thought that the Army was for rough and uncivilized heathens.
His mother's greatest fear was that these heathens would influence Henry to start drinking and swearing. Despite his mother's concerns, Henry enlisted in the Army.
But being in the Army wasn't enough, Henry was anxious to go to battle. All along the way to his station he and his fellow recruits were treated kindly. Old men patted them on their backs and young boys admired them when they stopped for rest. This warm feeling faded when they reached the camp. Here life was boring for Henry. The only thing his company did was drill day in and day out. All of the experienced soldiers told war stories every night by the campfire. Henry could only listen because he was still 'wet behind the ears'. He felt left out and often sat alone wondering about battle. War was like an illusion to him. He couldn't imagine people slaughtering each other. "Aren't we too civilized to massacre ourselves?" he often wondered. After hearing the tales of battle, Henry began to be intimidated by fear. Would he run when faced with death or would he have the courage to fight? This question was always on Henry's mind. Finally, after many months of monotonous camp life, the question was
answered. After hours of marching one day, Henry's regiment met with a Rebel battalion. When gunfire erupted, Henry sprung up and ran. He ran with "the zeal of an insane sprinter." Now Henry had the answer to his question, he was a coward. After his flight from battle, Henry met a group of soldiers who were wounded. He felt guilty because he was unmarked. He wanted to be wounded like them so he could have his own "Red Badge of Courage."
Henry did get his badge of courage on his return to his detachment. Ironically, it was from the butt of a fellow soldier's rifle. Now he was determined to prove himself and show that he would not run again. War used to be something Henry could not imagine fighting in, but now it was his obsession. When the time came he did more than just stand up to his fear, he led the charge against the Rebels and was noticed for his heroic actions by the commander. After the battle he felt as if he had crossed a bridge from being an inexperienced, frightened young boy to a strong and heroic soldier.
The war was the catalyst that propelled Henry into manhood. Henry leaped into manhood by having to face every man's greatest fear, death, instead of maturing slowly into adulthood. War seemed to be not even imaginable to Henry, but he ended up smack in the middle of it in an effort to find some excitement and become a hero.
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