The Red Badge of Courage was published in 1895, when its author, an impoverished writer living a bohemian life in New York, was only twenty-three. It immediately became a bestseller, and Stephen Crane became famous. Crane set out to create "a psychological portrayal of fear." Henry Fleming, a Union Army volunteer in the Civil War, thinks "that perhaps in a battle he might run....As far as war was concerned he knew nothing of himself." And he does run in his first battle, full of fear and then remorse. He encounters a grotesquely rotting corpse propped against a tree, and a column of wounded men, one of whom is a friend who dies horribly in front of him. Fleming receives his own "red badge" when a fellow soldier hits him in the head with a gun. "The idea of falling like heroes on ceremonial battlefields" Ford Madox Ford remarked later, "was gone."
The Red Badge of Courage has long been considered the first great 'modern' novel of war by an American—the first novel of literary distinction to present war without heroics and this in a spirit of total irony and skepticism." (Alfred Kazin)