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Ultimately the night deepened to the tone of black velvet. The outlines of the fireless camp were like the faint drawings upon ancient tapestry. The glint of a rifle, the shine of a button, might have been of threads of silver and gold sewn upon the fabric of the night. There was little presented to the vision, but to a sense more subtle there was discernible in the atmosphere something like a pulse; a mystic beating which would have told a stranger of the presence of a giant thing – the slumbering mass of regiments and batteries.
Stephen Crane’s “The Little Regiment” makes me wonder what I may have been missing all these years in which I’ve put off reading his novel The Red Badge of Courage. I’ve read other stories by Crane that I’ve enjoyed but for some reason have not picked up his most well-known work. I’ll say that needs to change – but I’ve said it before. It’s a novel I want to read, though.
“The Little Regiment” centers around two brothers, Billie and Dan, in the same regiment during the American Civil War. Billie and Dan don’t like each other and Crane makes it obvious that this is not simply playful sibling rivalry. I found it interesting that Crane would go this route with a Civil War story as so much is made of brothers (who perhaps don’t hate each other) being on separate sides of the war having to fight each other. Billie and Dan are on the same side.
The hardness these brothers already have for each other mirrors the hardness the soldiers have to muster in doing their jobs in battle. But it contrasts with Cranes eloquent and emotional descriptions of the war’s landscape and atmosphere. As beautiful as his writing is, there is no glorification of war – only the fear and futility of it. Behind the writing lies a silent “Why?”
This story is included in The Oxford Book of American Short Stories edited by Joyce Carol Oates. In her introduction to the story, she indicates that “The Little Regiment” is not a story that has been often anthologized. I’m glad she includes it in this collection.