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In this part of the battle the young soldier acts extremely bravely, trying to halt the retreat by encouraging the men, and then by raising the flag high.
The images are all somewhat familiar. The regiment is likened to a machine
running down, and also to an animal "vicious" and "wolflike."
It is also compared to a broom, an image that was used in Chapter 18 when
the officer "spoke of the regiment as if he referred to a broom.
Some part of the woods needed sweeping, perhaps, and he merely indicated
a broom in a tone properly indifferent to its fate." Now the unimportant
broom has become terribly aggressive as the young soldier thinks to himself
"that if the enemy was about to swallow the regimental broom as a
large prisoner, it could at least have the consolation of going down with
bristles forward." The image of the young lieutenant as a baby is
also familiar. In Chapter 19, for example, there is reference to his "infantile
features" and the "soft and childlike curve" of his lips.
When the enemy troops pulled back, the 304th regiment returned to its own lines. But to their surprise, the veterans who were waiting there made fun of them. "Goin' home now, boys?" The youth was furious, and some of the men challenged the veterans to fights, but most of them hung their heads. As the youth looked around, he realized that they had not in fact covered much ground, and that the engagement had not lasted very long. He was annoyed at his comrades, although he took pleasure in the way he had conducted himself.
The general who had called them mule drivers galloped up, and began to yell at Colonel MacChesnay. "If your men had gone a hundred feet farther you would have made a great charge, but as it is-what a lot of mud diggers you've got anyway!" The colonel seemed ready to argue with him, but instead he shrugged his shoulders and said that they had fought as well as they could. The lieutenant insisted to the colonel that the boys had put up a good fight, but the colonel brushed him away.
Fleming and Wilson were talking together when another soldier came up to tell them that Lieutenant Hasbrouck had praised them both to the colonel. The colonel had asked who carried the flag, and the lieutenant had told him "That's Flemin', an' he's a jim-hickey." He added that Wilson had headed the charge the whole time. "They deserve t' be major generals," the colonel said. The two delighted friends thought that both the colonel and the lieutenant were terrific.