An Episode of War

Crane, Stephen

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Annotated by:
Willms, Janice
  • Date of entry: Dec-10-1996


In this very short piece, the author plunges the reader immediately into a scene from the American Civil War. A lieutenant, never named, is wounded in the right arm while resting with his troops during an active battle. The next segment of the vignette, almost surreal in its presentation, is comprised of the lieutenant's perceptions of the war going on around him as he walks to the rear in search of the field hospital. At the hospital, the wounded man has a brief, terse, and most unpleasant encounter with the surgeon, who is rude and lies to him. The lieutenant's fear and despair is captured by single lines of tightly controlled metaphor and stark description.


The power of this short piece resides in the author's exquisite control of language. No word is wasted and the reader walks in the lieutenant's shoes as he moves to the field hospital. The particular values of this piece to the medical humanities are its ability to draw the reader into the lieutenant's reactions to his wound and the dramatic illustration of the surgeon's absence of empathy.


First published: 1890. The source cited here is the shorter fourth edition.

Primary Source

Norton Anthology of American Literature


W. W. Norton

Place Published

New York