officers call for a charge, and the men readily agree, even
though the regiment has been severely weakened. They charge
across a field toward a fence, behind which lies the enemy.
Henry goes ahead with the flag, feeling joy and strength, and
unconcerned about the bullets flying around him. He is in a
kind of “wild battle madness.” Some of the enemy
run; others hold fast. Henry sets his heart on capturing the
enemy flag, but it is Wilson who accomplishes this task, immediately
after the enemy standard-bearer is killed. The regiment drives
the enemy back and takes four prisoners.
The battle wanes.
The men of Henry’s regiment march back to join the other
Union forces. Their part in the battle is over. Henry reflects
on his experience. He studies his successes and his failures.
He rejoices in his feats of courage, and revels in the respect
he has gained from his comrades. But he cannot forget his moment
of shame, or the image of the tattered soldier deserted and
left to wander in a field. He is haunted by this, and feels
he may never forget it. But gradually he is able to put it behind
him. He feels that as a result of the battle he has attained
manhood. He looks forward to a more tranquil life.
The final charge is a stirring affair. The two armies are shown
fighting at closer range than earlier; the struggle becomes
more personal. As earlier descriptions have also shown, the
individual soldier in battle is lifted beyond rational feeling
into a realm of fanatical dedication. Henry feels like a “daring
spirit of a savage religion-mad” (p. 141), and the men
plunge on in an “exhibition of sublime recklessness.”
The capturing of the enemy flag is a fitting climax to the battle,
although the honor goes to Wilson not Henry.
As a result of his
war experience, Henry reaches a new maturity, just as Wilson
had done earlier. He knows life is not all glory or shame, success
or failure. It is a mixture. He has learned that he can redeem
himself even after a grievous failing. He has also learned what
it is to be a part of something bigger than himself. Although
he felt joy in battle, he seems also to be aware that peace
is more precious. Looking back on his experience, he views war
as a “red sickness of battle,” a “sultry nightmare”
which had turned him into an animal. He sees life more in a
more balanced way now. The emphasis is on the “quiet manhood”
he has attained, sturdy but not over-assertive. War has not
corrupted him; it has made him wiser.