Summary and Analysis
After resting briefly from the last battle, Henry watches the battle lines reform. Then Henry's regiment is called into action. The men respond enthusiastically, at first, as they return the fire of the enemy, but soon the incessant whiz of bullets from undiminishing Rebel rifle fire leaves them more discouraged and besmirched than after their last battle. The lieutenant tries to prod his troops to move forward, but they don't move. Henry continues his role as flag bearer, and, as such, as an observer of all that is happening.
Suddenly, the regiment sees the enemy troops charging so rapidly and at so close a range that they can see the excitement of the charge in the faces of the enemy. Without waiting for an order, the 304th fires a "flock of bullets" in one great volley. This stops the charge as the opposing troops take cover behind a fence line. They immediately return fire and, because of their protected position, do considerable damage.
However, the regiment continues to fight with enthusiasm. Henry is impressed with the bravery of his comrades, so impressed that he decides that his final act of revenge on the officer who called the 304th "mule drivers" and "mud diggers" would be to die upon this field. As the chapter ends, Henry realizes that the regiment is losing its resolve to fight.
The themes of duty and honor come to the fore in this chapter. The men are tired, hungry, and thirsty, yet when their unit is called up to do battle, Crane tells the reader that "the emaciated regiment bustled forth with undiminished fierceness." The troops, on both sides, achieve honor by their continued willingness to do battle even when objectives are unclear, supplies are low, wounds are matter-of-fact, and death, whether painfully slow or mercifully quick, is a reality for each soldier in the battle. Duty and honor are the products of courage. The troops fighting in this war on both sides show unbelievable courage.
Henry initially embraced the Greek ideal of dying in battle as a part of his romantic view of war — as seen in his talk with his mother about enlisting. However, as he experiences war, he matures. The romanticizing Henry transforms into a realistic Henry — first as he overcomes his fear in his first battle, then as he runs from his second battle, next, as he leads a charge against the enemy, and finally, as flag bearer, as he watches his comrades dying, and he wishes to honor them and, at the same time, to gain revenge on the name-calling general by leaving "his dead body lying, torn and gluttering, upon the field."
Henry's wish is one of a veteran soldier, a wish that has moved Henry beyond his selfish, romantic view of dying in battle for personal glory to an understanding that death, whether in support of a cause or in support of comrades, isn't to be feared, but, in fact, is to be accepted — as an act of love. This shows a mature Henry, a selfless, veteran who is a product of war experiences which have moved him to a level of maturity well beyond his chronological age. Henry is no longer a selfish, fearful rookie; he is now a confident, veteran team player.