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This chapter is a portrait of two armies at war. As the flag bearer, the youth observed the next phase of the battle almost as a spectator. He saw two regiments slugging it out together as if they were playing a game; another regiment marched proudly into the woods, made an enormous racket, and marched just as proudly out. On the left there was "a long row of guns, gruff and maddened, denouncing the enemy"; their "red discharges" formed a "crimson flare." The gray soldiers drew back, and the blue ones cheered. For a minute all was quiet and "churchlike."
Suddenly the noise began again, "the whirring and thumping of gigantic
machinery." The men surged at each other. The youth saw some gray
soldiers "go in houndlike leaps" toward the blue ones; they
"went away with a vast mouthful of prisoners." Then a "blue
wave" dashed against a "gray obstruction," while the flags
flew like "crimson foam." The regiment occasionally let forth
"barbaric cries," and the lieutenant kept inventing new oaths.
This is the language we have come to recognize. The guns speak ("denouncing"), the brave soldiers are like animals ("houndlike") or savages ("barbaric cries"). Religious imagery appears too; the occasional silence is "churchlike." You can almost imagine what this would look like as a painting-the blue waves dashing against gray rocks, with crimson foam splashing. In this comparison of the battle to a sea, Crane suggests that war is a force of nature.
The enemy soldiers took shelter behind a fence, and the regiment battered against it. Many of them remembering that the general had called them mud diggers tried especially hard to get rid of the Confederates. The youth imagined his dead body in the middle of the field as proof to the general that the regiment had fought well. The lieutenant appeared to be on "his last box of oaths," and Wilson looked frazzled and dirty. The regiment seemed to be foundering.