At the beginning of the book Henry Fleming is naive about war and most other things, and fears being exposed as a coward worse than anything else. This is made even worse when he flees with his regiment. After suffering a head wound, though, Henry changes. He is no longer crippled by the fear of cowardice, and becomes self-confident. He becomes, as one scholar has observed, "a veteran." He even displays extraordinary bravery and leadership, saving his unit's colors from the Confederates and encouraging his wavering comrades to rally. Crane makes the point of Henry's journey to manhood explicit near the end of the book:
He felt a quiet manhood, non-assertive but of sturdy and strong blood. He knew that he would no longer quail before his guides wherever they should point. He had been to touch the great death, and found out, after all, that it was but the great death. He was a man.
Henry's maturation seems to be common for many young soldiers, and it is difficult to say whether Crane views this loss of innocence as a positive. It is clear that Henry's anxieties are gone, as his thoughts turn away from fears of cowardice:
The sultry nightmare was in the past. He had been an animal blistered and sweating in the heat and pain of war. He turned now with a lover's thirst to images of tranquil skies, fresh meadows, cool brooks...an existence of soft and eternal peace.