The Red Badge of Courage Chapter 5
The youth's regiment waited. Suddenly the youth's thoughts flashed to a scene from his childhood - the day that the circus would come to his town in the spring. He remembered the faded chariots, the dirty woman with a white horse, and the long lines of waiting people.
Someone shouted that the enemy was charging; the reserve lines readied their cartridges. The Tall Soldier took out a red handkerchief and knotted it around his neck. A swarm of men rushed toward them, led by a flag tilted forward. The youth realized that he could not remember having loaded his rifle. A general wheeled in on his horse and screamed to a colonel that they had to stop the oncoming charge. The colonel stammered an assent. The youth's company's captain coaxed the men softly and the youth sweat profusely. He saw the enemy and forgot to think of his rifle being loaded. He brought the rifle into position before he could think and fired a shot.
"He suddenly lost concern for himself, and forgot to look at a menacing fate. He became not a man but a member. He felt that something of which he was a part - a regiment, an army, a cause, or a country - was in crisis. He was welded into a common personality which was dominated by a single desire. For some moments he could not flee no more than a little finger can commit a revolution from a hand." Chapter 5, pg. 34
The youth felt suddenly to be part of a new fraternity born of battle and death. He became automated - he did not think, but shot and reloaded mechanically. His eyes began to hurt and there was a constant roar in his ear - the youth felt a rage coming on, like a pestered caged animal, and cursed the ineffectiveness of his single-shot rifle. He was angry not at the oncoming men, but at the choking smoke and heat. He fought not for the country, but for respite. The men were in every possible attitude - very unlike the picturesque Greek ideal created in the youth's mind. Even the officers failed - they darted in and out of the line and barked orders. Behind the battle line, the lieutenant of the youth's company had stopped a man who had fled after the first volley of bullets. The man blubbered as the lieutenant pummeling him with his fists. He forced the man back into the ranks.
Here and there men crumpled up wounded or dead along the line. The captain of the youth's company had been killed early on in the action. Finally the firing dwindled; the charge had been repulsed. Some men cheered, while others were silent. The youth felt joy at having time to look around him and drink from his canteen. He watched as artillery began to fire in the direction of his line; he felt all the cannons to be aimed at him. Wounded men limped to the rear. The youth realized that there was fighting going on all over the fields around him. He wondered at the fact that nature could continue to go on with its simple processes amid such chaos.