There was a short thread on Stephen Crane in one of the Usenet discussion groups with folks weighing in on how much they enjoyed Red Badge of Courage. The undercurrent was very much of a piece with "contemporary ACW novel" and "best ACW novel."

Both views are wrong. Crane and I were schoolmates, not that our time overlapped, so I get no joy in pulling him from his pedestal. But Red Badge of Courage was written 20 years after the war from imagination. And it lacks the whole social dimension of the war.

John DeForest completed Miss Ravenel's Conversion in 1865. He drew on his combat experiences along the Mississippi interleaving them with a keen sense of people and social situations. Where Red Badge of Courage is spare, Ravenel is lush and detailed. The comaprison is somewhat like Tolstoy and Remarque.

I have been reading Ravenel again, which is filled with little surprises and delights, such as when (Southern) Lilly Ravenel asks (Yankee) Edward Colburne, "Why will you all be so square?" (They appear to be discussing New England architecture.)

Likewise the author notes at one point "New Boston is not a lively or sociable place. The principal reason for this is that it is inhabited chiefly by New Englanders."

The combat is, as William Dean Howells once noted, "realism" before American literature had a name for "realism." The stockade assault scene is superb; everything about it is unexpected and at the same time utterly plausible.

DeForest was a great American novelist who has been forgotten. He was, unfairly I think, consigned to the second rank of writers. Give Crane a rest and seek out the Johns Hopkins hardback or the Penguin paperback of this classic. It's the one DeForest book most large bookstores will carry.