Henry Fleming enlists in the army against his mother's wishes; he has an idealized image of war and of a war hero. With too much time on his hands, even when marching, Henry contemplates whether he will run or not when in battle. He fights well in his first battle and is pleased with himself. However, his regiment is tested again, and he flees in fear. He then has a protracted internal debate about whether he did the right thing. He envies the wounded with their visible signs of courage. He gains confidence when he realizes his regiment believes his story of getting shot in the head by the enemy. On the second day he fights valiantly and realizes "he had been a barbarian, a beast" and battle is "fine, wild, and in some ways, easy." Henry grabs the flag and leads the men in battle, working in tandem with the lieutenant. He is praised by the lieutenant and noticed by the colonel. By the end Henry is modest yet confident and brave yet calm.
As the loud soldier Wilson seemingly argues just to argue and gets irritated at the slightest comment. After a day of fighting he no longer minds criticism and looks after Henry "with tenderness and care." Henry notices the "remarkable change" in Wilson, from the loud solider who was always trying to prove his point to one who '"showed a quiet belief in his purposes and his abilities." Henry now realizes it will be easy to be Wilson's friend. Wilson proves to be an effective soldier who works well with Henry, the lieutenant, and the regiment.
The lieutenant beats Henry with his sword when Henry starts to lag behind during a long march; Henry thinks he is a "brute" who has "no appreciation of fine minds." Another soldier praises him, saying he isn't afraid of anything. The lieutenant is shot twice, once in the hand in an early battle and in the arm in a later battle. He returns to the line both times. He frequently tells the men to stop complaining and states, "Less talkin' an' more fightin' is what's best for you boys." The two men develop a rapport and work together to motivate and lead the men. When questioned by the colonel, the lieutenant says Henry is a "jimhickey," or fine fellow.
The tall soldier brings the news that the regiment is going to march the next day after their long winter encampment. The news excites the men, who argue whether or not it is true. The information proves to be false. When questioned by Fleming, Conklin says that if others flee, then he would flee too, but if everyone stays and fights, then he will stay and fight, too. The tall soldier's calm demeanor soothes Henry. When Henry encounters the wounded soldiers, he sees one with "the gray seal of death already upon his face," and is shocked to realize it is Conklin. Jim keeps walking, refuses any help, but then worries about being run over by artillery wagons. Henry leads him to a field and Jim starts to run. His strength surprises Henry and the tattered soldier. Jim falls in death, revealing a wound in his side that looks like "it had been chewed by wolves."
The tattered soldier
The tattered soldier serves two possible functions in the novel. In one sense he is a model of the anti-man in war. He uses too many words and speaks too frequently, and he is needy, always begging for company. His bigheartedness contrasts with the tough-guy attitude necessary for success in war. When Henry rejects the tattered soldier, he rejects characteristics viewed as weak in a soldier. On the other hand, the tattered soldier may personify Henry's conscience because he conjectures endlessly over the source of Henry's wound.