The Red Badge of Courage Chapter 24
The roars of battle grew weaker and more distant; it was evident that the remaining forces on both sides were on the move and departing. The youth and Wilson wondered to each other what was next. In a few minutes, the regiment received orders to retrace its steps. The men grunted and groaned, objecting as much as they would have to more fighting. The regiment rejoined its brigade, and marched in column with them, parallel to the enemy's former line. They marched past a place where artillery was still firing, then turned and headed back across the river, in the direction from which they had come. The youth realized this meant the battle was over, and he said so to Wilson, who mused with him.
It took some time for the youth to resume his normal course of thinking and shake off the clogged clouds from his mind. He realized suddenly that he had escaped from the previous upheavals of battle, and for the first time he rejoiced at this fact. Later, he was able to remove himself from his prior deeds and to critique them - he felt no regret, for everything he had done in public had been impressively lauded. He told himself that he was good as he remembered the praises flung in his direction. Nevertheless, the youth was haunted by the truth of his flight from the first engagement. He felt flickerings of shame in his soul. He remembered the Tattered Soldier, who had given the last of his strength in regard for the Tall Soldier, and the youth had left him to die in the field. He felt a chill at the thought that his actions might be discovered. The thought of his cowardice colored the glory and valor he felt on the outside.
Along the column men discussed. One man said that he had a report from Bill Smithers, who said that he would have given anything to not have been in the hospital - men cried incessantly, and shells dropped in among them all the time. The youth kept to himself - he felt that his desertion of the Tattered Soldier would be with him always, and he felt afraid.
"Yet gradually he mustered the force to put the sin at a distance. And at last his eyes seemed to open to some new ways. He found that he could look back upon the brass and bombast of his earlier gospels and see them truly. He was gleeful when he realized that he now despised them.
"With this conviction came a store of assurance. He felt a quiet manhood, nonassertive but sturdy and strong of blood. He knew that he would no more quail before his guides wherever they should point. He had been to touch the great death, and found that, after all, it was but the great death. He was a man.
So it came to pass that as he trudged from the place of blood and wrath his soul changed. He came from hot plowshares to prospects of clover tranquilly, and it was as if ho plowshares were not. Scars faded as flowers." Chapter 24, pg. 134
The remnant of the division trudged through the mud in the rain. The youth smiled - he saw that the world was for him; he had rid himself of the sickness of battle. He saw a soft, eternal peace spread out before him.