Summary and Analysis
Henry's regiment moves toward the front line to relieve a unit which has been engaged in battle. While marching toward the battle line, the men are surrounded by the noise of battle. Henry and Wilson march together. As they march, they hear talk of disasters befalling their comrades, and the troops begin to grumble about their leadership. Henry, whose confidence is soaring, voices his criticism of their situation as he places the blame for the army's losses on their generals. At one point, a soldier walking next to Henry questions his bravery by asking him if he thinks that he fought the whole battle on the previous day. This comment has a chilling effect on Henry because it forces him to think about his retreat on the previous day.
The troops take up their positions and wait. As they wait, they note the enemy's movements, and the troops again become restless. At this point, their company's lieutenant loses his temper after listening to the men's complaints, and the lieutenant's comments silence the soldiers.
Finally, the regiment hears the increasing sounds of rifle fire and the roar of guns, and the battle begins. There is little enthusiasm for what is to come because the men are already worn out and exhausted from previous battles.
In this chapter, Crane uses conversation among the soldiers to advance the character development of both Henry and the other soldiers in the regiment. Henry vocalizes his new-found confidence by criticizing the generals who are leading the troops. On two occasions he calls the generals "derned old lunkheads." This is quite a confident statement from one who not so many hours ago had no confidence.
What's more, Henry also talks about the great effort of these troops, and he includes himself in those efforts. He says, "Well, don't we fight like the devil? Don't we do all that men can? The brigadier said he never saw a reg'ment fight the way we fought yestirday, didn't he?" Again, Henry includes himself in this review, and since no one challenges his being a part of the fighting, he presses his point that their lack of success is the fault of their leaders.
At one point in his tirade Henry is challenged by a soldier who suggests that perhaps he fought the whole battle yesterday. This makes Henry revert to his fear mode, but when no one picks up on this challenge, Henry regains his confidence and continues his attack on what he considers to be their poor leadership.
Crane also reasserts his previous characterization of officers as being strong leaders as the reader sees the lieutenant cool Henry's verbal heat. The lieutenant tells the grumbling company, "You boys shut right up! You've been jawin' like a lot a ol' hens. Less talkin' an' more fightin' is what's best for you boys. I never saw sech gabblin' jackasses." Not one soldier challenges the lieutenant (certainly not Henry). The lieutenant is strong; he is in control; he is, without question, a leader. It's easy for Henry to criticize a distant general, but Henry can't criticize his company's leadership because, of course, the company leaders, including the lieutenant, do lead, and both Henry and the men know it.
Regarding the themes of duty and doubt, if a reader were to begin the novel at this chapter, the reader would assume that Henry is a confident, battle-ready veteran. Indeed, the reader would most certainly identify Henry with the theme of duty, not doubt. Henry's confidence, which stems from his having rationalized his fleeing as being more acceptable than the others who fled from battle, is very high, so high that he even engages in criticizing the general of his army. His confidence has led him to a spirit of duty which has overcome his prevalent attitude of doubt.