Two days of fighting on a woodland battlefield are focused through the excited senses of a raw Union recruit, Henry Fleming. Dreaming of heroism, but shamefully discovering his own mortal fear of danger and death - and of fear itself - he flees from his first encounter with Confederate troops. But when he is drawn back into the battle he wins by accident his "red badge", the wound that signifies initiation into manhood and possession of courage to join the world of men.
The Red Badge of Courage conveys with intense immediacy the sensations, colours, fever and chaos of battle. It concentrates on the experience of an individual soldier, and it is one of the few novels written before this century that meets our modern sense of the realities of mass warfare.