Summary and Analysis
As the battle ends, Henry and Wilson volunteer to go for water. Unfortunately, they can't find the stream, and the two start back to their lines. In the distance, they see a group of officers riding in a hurry. The officers include the commander of their division. As the two infantrymen slowly walk past the officers, they listen to the discussion and hear that the enemy is forming another charge. They hear the general ask the other officers what troops could be spared for launching an offensive against the enemy. When the two infantrymen hear that their regiment has been chosen for the charge, they hurry back to their company with the news. The lieutenant is upset with their dallying, but when they announce that their company is going to charge the enemy, the officer is very excited for the opportunity. Henry and Wilson, however, don't tell the final words which they hear the general say: ""I don't believe many of your mule drivers will get back."
The officers begin organizing the troops for the charge. The soldiers realize what they need to do; they are not hesitant. They simply await the command. Just as they are ready to charge, one of the soldiers makes the prophetic statement, "We'll git swallowed."
This chapter allows Crane to set the stage for an action which the regiment hasn't yet engaged in — an offensive charge. This offensive is a major event for the 304th, even if it is only one small battle in the larger war.
Henry, on realizing that there will be a charge, comes to the realization that he is really "insignificant." The entire regiment, in the eyes of one of the officers, isn't more than a "broom" needed to sweep out "some part of the woods." For the men of the 304th, however, this is their war, this is their first offensive, and they will do their best. The reader sees that the regiment is blindly willing to do what is considered their duty.
The characterization in this chapter focuses on the officers, who are realists. One of them calls the troops of the 304th "mule drivers," meaning that they are rough-and-tumble troops, not a smooth and polished unit of veterans. At the same time, however, the general of this division recognizes that these men are needed, and he shows both compassion and realism when he says, "Get 'em ready, then. I'll watch developments from here, an' send you word when to start them." As the other officer salutes, the general adds, "I don't believe many of your mule drivers will get back." Crane creates an implication of resolution with a touch of sorrow in this response, but the general must send men into battle knowing that many will die. This is his responsibility, his duty, and this decision must be his, so he makes it.
Crane continues to characterize the officers as strong, motivated, enthusiastic leaders. At the same time, they recognize the courage shown by their troops, and they know that the lives of these men are in their hands.