Stephen Crane’s “Veteran”

Crane-displayMany Civil War buffs have read Stephen Crane’s Red Badge of Courage, lauded as one of the best war novels of all time, of any war. The book “stands by itself in nineteenth-century English and American war fiction,” literary scholar Eric Solomon once said. “Indeed, it  is still the masterwork in English among the abundance of war novels that two world conflicts and dozens of smaller wars have produced.” First published in October of 1895, the book reads as if written by a veteran, but Crane wasn’t even born until 1871. (If you haven’t read it, go out and read it as soon as possible!)

What many Red Badge fans don’t know is that Crane wrote a short sequel to the novel, a short story called “The Veteran,” which appeared in the August 1896 issue of McClure’s Magazine. You can read the short story online for free

While Crane never outright said the short story was a follow-up to Red Badge, the main character in each work is named “Henry Fleming.” And in the short story, Fleming, now an old man, tells his grandson about getting shot at during battle and running away. “That was at Chancellorsville,” Fleming tells the boy.

This is another circumstantial link between the two stories. Nowhere in Red Badge does Crane ever identify the battle in the novel as being Chancellorsville, although a close reading of the text pretty clearly identifies it as such for anyone who knows the battle well. (The subject for another post sometime, for sure, but here’s a good piece by NPR that goes into more depth.) A display at the Chancellorsville battlefield visitor center highlights the connection (see photos above and below).

Crane-book

I don’t want to give away the end of “The Veteran,” but it’s a perfect if bittersweet vindication of Fleming’s flight on the battlefield all those years earlier. I encourage you to take the time to read it.