The Red Badge of Courage Chapter 4
The men continued to fling rumors as they watched others go into action from the edge of a grove. The men talked about Bill Smithers, the man whose fingers had been stepped on during the first march out of camp. He had gone to the hospital as a result, they said, not because he was scared, but because he was mad at having been injured by a comrade instead of sacrificing it to his country.
The noise of battle became louder and drew closer until they were amidst bullets. The lieutenant of the youth's company was shot through the hand; he swore and the regiment laughed nervously. The swearing eased their tension because it was so conventional. A captain helped him bind his wound with a handkerchief and they argued on how to do it correctly.
The youth's regiment watched the battle in front of them. Suddenly the battle flag of the fighting regiment sank slowly, as if dying, and the regiment retreated out of the smoke to jeers from the veteran Union soldiers waiting in reserve on the flanks of the youth's regiment. The youth's regiment, full of untried men, was horrified at the retreat. The officers of the retreating regiment were trying desperately to check the retreating flow of men by standing their ground and flailing with their swords and fists. It was to no avail. The looks on the faces of the retreating men was appalling. The men, including the youth, who were waiting in reserve, began to quake with fear.
The youth had one thought during the chaos - throughout the retreat had had not glimpsed the great fearful monster that he had built up in his mind. He resolved that he wanted to see it up close - and then run away faster than these men had.