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The soldiers are poised on the edge of battle, trying to see through the smoke to figure out which way to point their guns. There is gossip about how other regiments and commanders are doing. "That young Hasbrouck, he makes a good off'cer. He ain't afraid 'a nothin'."
One of the soldiers tells a comic story about someone named Bill: "Bill
wasn't scared either. No, sir! It wasn't that.... He was jest mad, that's
what he was." Bill's hand had been trampled during the march (an
episode we heard about in Chapter 2). Bill announced that he was willing
to give his hand to his country (an ironic echo of Nathan Hale's "I
only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country"), but
left the battle to go to the hospital anyway. When the doctor threatened
to amputate the three crushed fingers, Bill fought with him and stormed
As the young soldier and the others watch, the regiment ahead of them is being defeated. Shells whistle by, leaves fall from the trees, and wild yells are heard. Through it all, the veterans continue to joke. The lieutenant of the young soldier's company is shot in the hand. He swears so angrily that the men laugh. He holds the hand carefully so that the blood doesn't drip on his pants, and the captain helps him to wrap the wound in a handkerchief.
In this chapter as in the last we see a variety of kinds of courage. Some of the commanders the troops gossip about are said to have it. The soldier named Bill apparently does not; the comment that he wasn't scared, just mad at the doctor, seems to be sarcastic. For all his boasting, Bill wasn't willing to give up his hand. We also see the reaction of the lieutenant to the wound in his hand. This is the young soldier's first real view of battle, and it is wild and frightening.
As the young soldier's regiment is surrounded by troops fleeing the battle they have just lost, he looks fearfully at their faces. Now it is up to the reserves, his own group. He has not yet seen the monster that drove his troops away, but he expects to, and then, he thinks, he really might run himself.