Stephen Crane, best known for his Civil War novel The Red Badge of Courage and his 1893 novella Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, also wrote poetry and a number of short stories. Below are a few mini reviews for some of his stories set in the Civil War.
“A Mystery of Heroism”
Thirsty and taunted by a distant well, separated from his regiment by a field under artillery bombardment, soldier Fred Collins ponders the qualities that make a hero. Crane’s trademark realism and unique descriptions make reading this an incredible sensory experience. Check ou this representative paragraph:
“As the eyes of half the regiment swept in one machine-like movement, there was an instant’s picture of a horse in a great convulsive leap of a death-wound and a rider leaning back with a crooked arm and spread fingers before his face. On the ground was the crimson terror of an exploding shell, with fibres of flame that seemed like lances. A glittering bugle swung clear of the rider’s back as fell headlong the horse and the man. In the air was an odour as from a conflagration.”
“Crimson terror of an exploding shell”–talk about a remarkable gift with words.
“A Gray Sleeve”
This was always one of my favorite Crane stories because, though it’s set during a battle, it’s really a romance. A group of Union soldiers come upon a house and think they see a gray sleeve at the window and so attempt to search the house. A young girl, however, thwarts them. The depiction of the unnamed girl does make her seem a bit too childlike for modern tastes, but there’s still something endearing about the Southern girl, the Union captain, and their forbidden love. The captain in particular is really endearing in his switch from confident soldier to uncertain lover:
But now he began, for one thing, to wonder if his uniform was so dusty
and old in appearance. Moreover, he had a feeling that his face was
covered with a compound of dust, grime, and perspiration. He took a step
forward and said: “I didn’t mean to frighten you.” But his voice was
coarse from his battle-howling. It seemed to him to have hempen fibres
“Three Miraculous Soldiers”
A young girl, Mary, discovers three Confederate soldiers in the barn and offers to feed them–but then a troop of Union soldiers arrives! Mary tries to hide her new friends in the feed box, but worries they will be discovered and captured when the Union forces set up camp in the yard and take over the barn to house another prisoner. Mary’s curiosity, fear, and determination make the pages of this short story come alive as she watches the events of history unfold. And, in typical Crane style, the surprise ending does not disappoint.