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The young soldier relaxed after the battle, picking his cap off the ground, wiping his sweaty face, chatting with the others. Suddenly a cry went up. The Confederate soldiers were attacking again.
But by now the men were exhausted, and they groaned loudly to each other. The youth was near exhaustion: his eyes looked like a tired horse's, his neck was quivering, his arm muscles felt numb, and his knees were weak.
The youth fired a shot. But the soldier next to him turned and ran. Then another young man, who had struck the youth as especially brave, also threw down his gun. Watching them, the young soldier yelled and headed for the rear. He ran wildly, without looking, bumping into trees, sometimes falling down. He thought that the whole regiment was fleeing, and he raced ahead in order to keep as far ahead of the enemy as possible. Eventually the youth came to a battery; the gunners continued to shoot them as if they didn't realize that the army was in retreat. They seemed to him to be fools. Looking to one side, he saw another brigade charging into action to come to their aid. They must be fools, too.
Why do you think Henry runs away? Is he a coward? Do you think (as some readers do) that he had no control over what he did, that he was as much an animal as the tired horse he resembled? Or do you think he could have forced himself to stay and fight? Many readers argue over this point.
Later he passed a general and tried to overhear what he was saying to the
staff members who surrounded him. He half expected that the general would
ask him for advice, and he would give him a piece of his mind for the
stupid way he was handling things. Instead, he heard the general order
one of his men to send in another regiment to support the center of the
line, in danger of breaking. But a moment later, the general jumped up
in his saddle. "Yes, by heavens, they've held 'im!" Sending
another messenger after the first, the general bounced up and down in
his saddle with joy.
The description of the young soldier's flight relies heavily on language Crane has already used. He speaks
again of the war god, but in this chapter, "The slaves toiling in the temple of this god began to feel
rebellion at his harsh tasks." In the previous chapter the regiment was likened to a body; here, "The sore
joints of the regiment creaked...." This language suggests to us that many of the soldiers are ready to flee,
In Chapter 4 the youth had been sure that he would flee "if he could have got intelligent control of his legs." In Chapter 2 he had seen the campfires across the river as "the orbs of a row of dragons advancing," and, in Chapter 4, he expected to get a glimpse of "The composite monster which had caused the other troops to flee." In Chapter 6 all of these images come together in his vision of the new Confederate attack as "an onslaught of redoubtable dragons. He became like the man who lost his legs at the approach of the red and green monster.... He seemed to shut his eyes and wait to be gobbled." This fantasy is all the more powerful because the youth has previously imagined monsters, and felt that his legs couldn't move.
Once again Crane depicts the machinery as alive. The exploding shells look like "strange war flowers bursting into fierce bloom," an image used before to describe tents in the camp. "The battery was disputing with a distant antagonist," and the gunners "seemed to be patting them on the back and encouraging them with words. The guns, stolid and undaunted, spoke with dogged valor." But while the guns are alive to the young soldier, he sees the gunners as machines: "Methodical idiots! Machine-like fools!" And we remember that he called the Confederate soldiers "machines of steel." Again, there is religious imagery; the decision to run is "a revelation," the general's eyes display "a desire to chant a paean," and there are several references to the war god. The color red appears several times, in a mention of "the red, formidable difficulties of war," in the color of the monster in the legend the young soldier recalls, and in the angry lieutenant's face as he tries to make the youth get back in line. In a way, this chapter, like the previous one, ends with an image of the sun-but this time, the happy general "beamed upon the earth like a sun."