The protagonist a Union soldier named Henry Fleming has grown up infatuated with the glory of war and combat, but when the time comes for recruitment, he is filled with doubts and worries. As his regiment spends most of their time waiting, his doubts accumulate and he becomes fearful of combat. He fills his mind with scenarios of himself fleeing from battle. These thoughts haunt him endlessly.
When the troop finally marches to combat, Henry realized that he cannot escape. During the combat, the union solders defeated the confederates. Thinking that the battle is over, he lays down to go to sleep only to awake to the confederate soldiers charging for a second round. He is frightened and flees as he predicted. As he flees, he rationalizes in his head that he did not do anything wrong because his troop was going to lose regardless. His rationalization only appeases him until he hears that his troop did actually fight off the charging confederates.
He comes upon a decaying corpse while wandering in the woods. This image greatly serves to support the underlying theme in the novel. It depicts the brutal reality behind all the glory of war. It is dehumanizing. The exposure to the atrocious sight shook Henry's mental state. He realizes that the universe is indifferent to his existence and disregards his wellbeing. The initial "red badge of courage" and its represented honor give people a sense of worth in preservation of life; however, the common occurrence of death on the battlefield compels Henry to question the relevance of these qualities. This realization shakes his naive, unrealistic, and idealistic beliefs about courage and manhood.
After he escapes from the forest, Henry runs into a group of wounded soldiers coming from down the road. He views their wounds as "red...