Set during the Civil War, we follow the Youth (Henry) as he deals with the reality of modern war compared to his expectations based on the stories of wars set in ancient Greece and Rome. He has to master his disappointment as his troop just continues to sit around and then deal with all of his thoughts of wondering how he will perform when they are finally called to action. When the call does finally come down, he gets his answer when he runs from his first battle. We then watch as he goes from berating himself for cowardice to turning his actions around that they are what any sane person would have done and the others in his regiment were fools if they didn't run as he did. This turns around again when he happens upon a member of his regiment who has been mortally injured but found that the regiment won their battle. Now he is with a group of wounded and he is moaning about his lack of a "red badge of courage" and is wondering how he will explain his actions to his regiment upon his return and how he can return without a proper explanation since he is doubting now that they will see the wisdom in his actions as he did. We continue to watch his ability to move in and out of situations and think his way around what his actions show to put a positive light on them.
The language and descriptions throughout the book were incredibly powerful but I definitely found it hard to like the main character even though I felt he was drawn very true to life. Overall I can see why it's a classic and I'm glad to have finally read it.
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