Sunday, 12 June 2011

Virginia and Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane (1895)

The Battle of Chancellorsville, the principal engagement of the Chancellorsville Campaign, was the fifth costliest battle of the American Civil War. 17,197 Union and 13,303 Confederate casualties were counted in the fighting which lasted from April 30 to May 6, 1863 (May 3 was the second bloodiest day of the Civil War). The campaign was the most unevenly balanced of the war, and is known as Confederate General Robert E. Lee's "perfect battle" for his victory against a Union army better supplied, better rested and twice their size (60,892 against Maj. Gen Joseph Hooker's army of 133,868). Although the result was a victory for Lee's Army of Northern Virginia he lost some 22% of his force in the campaign, and just as seriously, he lost his most aggressive field commander, Lt. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, to friendly fire, a loss that Lee likened to "losing my right arm." In reaction to the Union defeat President Abraham Lincoln was quoted as saying, "My God! My God! What will the country say?" Although Stephen Crane was born six years after the end of the Civil War he surprised critics with his realistic portrayal of the battlefield in Red Badge of Courage, and it is widely believed that he based the battle on that of Chancellorsville, possibly taking inspiration from war stories told by members of the 124th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment (the Orange Blossoms), who first saw battle at Chancellorsville, in the town square of Port Jervis, New York where he resided. An overnight success at the age of 24, Crane died in 1900 following a severe hemorrhage of the lungs, aged just 28.

Red Badge of Courage was adapted into a 1951 film by director John Huston. Huston felt the film was his best to date but MGM were troubled by poor audience test results and what they felt was an anti-war tone to the film, and cut 19 minutes from the film. The Battle of Chancellorsville was also depicted in the 2003 film Gods and Generals, based on the novel of the same name. In the novel of Red Badge of Courage though, there are no references to the time and place of the action, and in a sense they are not important, as the novel is a study of the psychological fear felt by the soldier. In fact, because it follows a battle from one soldier's pespective it is (intentionally so) hard to follow what is happening on the larger scale, or even who is winning the battle (at times the private can barely see beyond ten feet for all the smoke on the battlefield), and it's to its credit that it effectively places the reader in the thick of the battle. At the time Red Badge of Courage was praised as a modern work and it still holds up as one of the most vivid fictional accounts of war on the front-line written.

Next: North Carolina...

No comments:

Post a Comment