Summary and Analysis
Henry and the other soldiers are exultant about their first triumph in battle. Indeed, Henry is in "an ecstasy of self-satisfaction." He is proud of his efforts and of his comrades' efforts. But, suddenly, a shout is heard, "Here they come again!" The regiment is surprised, and Henry's previous fears return to plague him. He imagines that this enemy isn't an enemy of men but of machines. As he begins to reload his rifle for the inevitable battle, he no longer sees an enemy of men, but a group of monsters consumed with the goal of devouring him. As his imagination continues to run wild, he notes that one or two of his comrades have dropped their guns and fled.
As the "red and green monster" comes closer, Henry throws down his gun and runs "like a rabbit." As he flees from the front line, he notes that the batteries continue to fire. He overhears the conversation of a general and his initial irritation with the deployment of his troops, which is followed by a show of exuberance as he hears that the line has held. The general eagerly exhorts his commanders to go after the enemy "to go in — everlastingly — like blazes — anything." As the chapter ends, the general is so happy that he does "a little carnival of joy on horseback."
In this chapter, Crane shows Henry's instability as he goes from a state of euphoria after repelling the enemy's charge in the first battle to a state of total panic at the beginning of a second battle.
Henry can't understand how the enemy can possibly regroup to do battle again so quickly. Crane reveals Henry's confusion in these words, "He [Henry] waited, as if he expected the enemy to suddenly stop, apologize, and retire bowing. It was all a mistake." He can't imagine that his regiment could, or would, do such a thing, and he speculates that the enemy can't really be a group of individual men similar to the men in his regiment. His thoughts show his increasing fear of the enemy as Crane tells the reader that "He began to exaggerate the endurance, the skill, and the valor of those who were coming. Himself reeling from exhaustion, he was astonished beyond measure at such persistency. They must be machines of steel."
Henry's deteriorating physical condition — "His neck was quivering with nervous weakness and the muscles of his arms felt numb and bloodless" — foreshadows his eminent mental collapse. When the soldier next to him drops his rifle and runs, Henry's imagination takes total control over his reasoning ability, and he runs.
It is also interesting to note that Crane's characterizations of the Union officers are consistent and believable. The officers of all ranks don't panic; they are in control; they lead their troops and exhort their units to fight aggressively. For example, when the enemy begins its second offensive, the reader sees that "The lieutenant sprang forward bawling" (hollering at his troops to continue fighting). Henry is surprised at this officer's singular focus and courage.
As Henry runs away from the front, he comes upon a meeting of officers, and he overhears the general discussing strategy with the other officers. There is no panic in the general's voice when he says, "Tompkins go over and see Taylor and tell him to halt his brigade in the edge of th' woods." And later, when the officers hear that the regiment has repelled the enemy's offensive, the general says, "Yes, by heavens, they've held 'im!. . .We'll wallop 'im now. We've got 'em sure." These comments show clearly the confidence and courage of the officers. Indeed, it is only when Henry overhears the rational observations of the general that he is able to suppress his panic and gain some level of stability.
Crane's images, as seen through Henry's thoughts, make it clear that Henry has lost all his rational powers, and he is in a total state of panic. Crane uses figurative language, including metaphor, personification, and simile, to create powerful mental images. The enemy soldiers are metaphorically "machines of steel," "redoubtable dragons," and "a red and green monster"; the men who were nearest the battle would make the "initial morsels for the dragons"; "the shells flying past him have rows of cruel teeth that grinned at him." These images show that Henry's perception of the enemy has gone wild.
Crane again uses figurative language in this chapter to develop nature images related to war and to the beauty of nature for nature's sake. The reader should note the use of metaphor in the image, "the shells looked to be strange war flowers bursting into fierce bloom," and the use of personification in the line, "The sore joints of the regiment creaked as it painfully floundered into position." The reader can observe Crane's continued use of similes to make comparisons in these examples: the rebel forces were "running like pursued imps" and Henry, at first, "ran like a rabbit" and, later, "like a blind man."
Also the reader sees the continuing use of images of nature, particularly color images, to make the setting more vivid. Examples include "The clouds were tinged an earthlike yellow in the sunrays and in the shadow were a sorry blue" and the flag was "sun-touched." Sun and clouds — images of nature — play a role in setting a tone of contrasts. The natural, innocent, colorful beauty of the sun and clouds provides a backdrop for the unnatural actions of men in war.