The Little Regiment written by naturalist Stephen Crane in 1896, is an American Civil War short story. The story follows a military regiment during the American Civil war and the protagonists of the story are two brothers named Billie and Dan. The brothers argue all the time and they seem to despise each other, yet they protect each other and secretly care for each other’s wellbeing. This story is very much about being human and doing what you have to do to survive, which, in the soldiers’ perspective, is to kill.
The Little Regiment | Summary
The story starts with a violent war scene, where men are firing arms at each other on the northern bank of a river, while they were surrounded by thick fog and heavy raindrops. A picturesque place on the bank of a river, which was once a beautiful village with many inhabitants, was now turned into a stage show, where life, death, and violence were the lead characters. The general of one side, who was an influential personality, had put some soldiers at bay, and soon they are supposed to be fighting. The focus shifts to two brothers whose quarrels served as entertainment to the whole camp. Like typical siblings, they crossed each other’s paths only to utter insults; however, one also saved the other in case he had a dispute in the camp. It was like they were longing for a conflict, but failed to find a reason for it. When one of the brothers, Dan is promoted to the post of Corporal, Billie, his brother, had a blood rush, and he started ignoring the Corporal’s order like it was his second nature.
The afternoon of the battle, as men were fighting covered by thick fog and heavy raindrops, and Dan had called his brother a ‘fool’, Billie took his brother’s words to the heart. He desired to pierce Dan’s spirit. Even with martyrdom looming over his head, Billie found himself pondering over his brother’s profane speech. Soon, it was evening; the whole day was spent fighting on the frontlines and going up and down the pits and banks for the soldiers, but for Billie, the majority of the day was spent pondering over his brother’s word, while the memories of the battle were a blur.
Dan was proclaiming the badly-managed campaign. Higher authorities had issued orders forbidding campfires after sun-down. Dan was worried about Billie, who had disappeared from the group. The fellow soldiers notified Dan that he had gone on a picket, enraged. Soon, Billie returned, but making offhanded comments and ignoring his brother. When Dan asked him what was wrong, Billie ignored him once again. So, Dan continued to issue orders for the next day. Soon, it was nightfall, and everyone went to rest. Billie lay in his bed uncomfortable, unable to stop his brain to repeat Dan’s profanities. He twisted and turned, murmuring profanities as well. A fellow soldier woke up everyone personally for the approaching battle and told everyone that Dan hadn’t returned back to the camp after his special duties. Billie cursed silently, but soon enough, Dan returned back and looked at his brother, who was convincingly asleep.
The battle started again, raining bullets, missiles, and cries of men. The next day too, a full-fledged battle was fought, and men on the frontline were injured. Dan, and the soldiers next to him, paid no heed to them- they were too engrossed in assuring the enemies’ tombs. That day, death was seen running around the camp, collecting souls, and turning the battle into a very ugly scene. The number of soldiers in the camp shrunk at a speedy rate, and soon, they were named ‘The little regiment’. Soon, Dan and his regiment come to a conclusion that Billie was not among the group, and the search for him was still on. In anger, Dan picks up a fight with another soldier, who told him about Billie’s anger that night. Bound by fear at the disappearance of his brother, everything enraged him.
At the sight of the battle, a man arose, surrounded by lifeless martyrs. It looked like he was resurrected, rising amid the lifeless. Confused at first, he looked around with dull eyes, and then, ran his hands around his body but found no wounds. He did find some blood on his fingers, but it was not clear if it was his or someone else’s – he was numb. Slowly, with a lost mind, he started walking towards the camp, when a fellow soldier noticed him and called for Dan. Dan looked up at the man for a few seconds, who had a bandage the size of a helmet on his head, receiving a furious demonstration of the scene from the company. It was, indeed, Billie. Dan, already knowing that it was his brother, but still displaying an act of defiance, refused to look at him. Soon, Billie approached and said, “Hello, Dan”. The words “Hello, Billie” left the Corporal’s mouth.
The Little Regiment | Analysis
The language used in the story is poetic which makes the reader feel like they are present in the environment where the story is being told. “The enclouded air vibrated with noises made by hidden colossal things. The infantry tramplings, the heavy rumbling of the artillery, made the earth speak of gigantic preparation. Guns on distant heights thundered from time to time with a sudden, nervous roar, as if unable to endure in silence a knowledge of hostile troops massing, other guns going to position”. There is a lot of tension, anxiety, and chaos present between the pages. The soldiers are aware of the battle that they are going to fight but the enemy seems hidden in the shadows only revealed through the sounds in the ear which the author describes in a highly sensory manner.
In The Little Regiment by Stephen Crane, we have the themes of conflict, love, responsibility, pride, vulnerability, and camaraderie. Set during the American Civil War both Billie and Dan are both on the same side yet one would not think this by the way that both brothers interact with one another. The brothers act hostile towards each other. However, it is interesting that both Billie and Dan are protective of each other. They won’t let the other get into trouble. Which is somewhat ironic considering the open hostility between both men.
There is also a sense of paralysis in the story. Throughout all the fighting that takes place between both sides. Very little is gained. This may be the point that Crane is attempting to make. He may be suggesting that the war between both sides was in reality futile. Billie in particular holds a grudge against Dan and tries to punish him by using silence. Though ironically he is concerned about Dan’s well-being when Dan is called to do special duty. The end of the story is also interesting as the reader realizes that Billie has broken his vow of silence when it comes to Dan. It is as though he has realized how serious things are and has swallowed his pride. Acknowledging his brother and being happy that he is still alive. On the other hand, it is also clear to the reader that Dan had concerns for Billie’s well-being which would explain his quietness around the other men. In reality, Dan was worried about Billie.
The Little Regiment | About the Author
Stephen Crane (November 1, 1871 – June 5, 1900) was an American poet, novelist, and short-story writer. Stephen Crane was one of America’s foremost realistic writers, and his works have been credited with marking the beginning of modern American Naturalism. Although recognized primarily for The Red Badge of Courage, which has become an American classic, Crane is also known for his poetry, journalism, and short stories such as “The Open Boat”, “The Blue Hotel”, “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky”, and The Monster.