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In this chapter the young soldier participates in a battle for the first time. The 304th regiment, to which he belongs, stands firm. Yet the battle itself is more horrible than anything that we, or the young soldier, have seen yet.
As the Confederate troops suddenly appeared, the young soldier tried to remember whether his rifle was loaded. He heard a general shout savagely to the colonel of the 304th, "You've got to hold 'em back!" while the colonel stammered, "we-we'll d-d-do-do our best, General."
Perspiration streaming down his face, his mouth slightly open, the young soldier began to fire his gun.
Then "He suddenly lost concern for himself.... He became not a man but a member.... He was welded into a
Unlike the pictures he had seen in schoolbooks, in this battle the soldiers didn't seem to be posing for statues. Officers bobbed to and fro and almost stood on their heads as they tried to see the enemy through the smoke. Rifles jerked, and the lids of cartridge boxes flapped unfastened.
One of the soldiers tried to run away. The lieutenant went after him and beat him back into the ranks. His hands were shaking too much for him to reload his gun, so the lieutenant had to help him. Now men were dying. The crying man who had tried to desert was grazed by a bullet. Another grunted and sat down as he was hit in the stomach, a look of reproach in his eyes.
Eventually the firing slowed down, and the men realized that the line had
held. Looking around, the youth saw the bodies of the dead in strange
positions, arms bent and heads turned in unbelievable ways. He was amazed
to observe that fighting was still going on in other places, that the
battle just ended was not the only one of the day. And he was also amazed
to notice the blue sky and shining sun above. To think that the sun would
keep shining through all that!
This chapter is a skillful portrayal of the horror and unreality of war, its strange sounds and smells and movements. Crane describes it in swift, sure strokes, sketching character in a phrase (the "passionate gesture" with which the general rides away) or describing something awful in one sentence ("It seemed that the dead men must have fallen from some great height to get into such positions").
A number of image patterns continue. Going into battle, Jim Conklin knots a red handkerchief around his neck; Henry, in the heat of battle, feels a "red rage." Crane also continues to personify inanimate objects. "The guns squatted in a row, like savage chiefs. They argued with abrupt violence. It was a grim pow-pow.
Their busy servants ran hither and thither." Crane describes a line of wounded men as "a flow of blood from the torn body of the brigade."
Crane goes on with the imagery of hands, and of amputation begun in the previous chapter. The young soldier feels as firmly a part of his regiment as the fingers of a hand, reminding us of Bill's crushed fingers or the lieutenant's wounded hand. "If he had thought the regiment was about to be annihilated perhaps he could have amputated himself from it," Crane tells us, making us think of Bill's refusal to have his hand amputated, or of the description of the lieutenant's hand as a "wounded member." Several hands are hurt in these chapters, but none of them is cut off.
The young soldier is able to fight successfully now because he feels like part of a group. He is a member, a finger on a hand. Because he is not thinking of himself but of the group, he is able to behave courageously. There have been references to the sun before in the book, but this is the first chapter that closes with the image of the sun shining above the field of battle. Several other chapters will also end this way, and we must be alert for them.