Having entered the war for the selfish reason of attaining personal glory, Henry Fleming does not perceive himself as part of the corps of soldiers.
- Dialogue from Chapter I and II
In Chapter I, despite his mother's admonition to not be a fool, Henry envisions war as the opportunity for private glory. And yet he is not entirely certain that he will not run from battle when the time comes. "Good Lord, what is wrong with me?" However, he reassures himself that he is not alone with his fears after he talks with the "loud soldier" and "the tall soldier," Jim.
"How do you think the reg'ment'll do?"
"Oh, they'll fight all right, I guess, after they once get into it," said the other....
"Think any of the boy's 'll run?" persisted the youth.
"Oh, there may be a few of 'em run, but there's them kind in every regiment...."
In Chapter II, Henry becomes angry at the loud soldier's "belief in success." Bitterly, he says to this soldier, "Oh, you're going to do great things, I s'pose!"
"Oh, I don't know," he remarked with dignity; "I don't know. I s'pose I'll do as well as the rest. I'm going to try like thunder."
"How do you know you won't run when the time comes?"....
"Run?" said the loud one; "run?--of course not!" He laughed.
- Narrative from Chapter III
In Chapter III because they have yet to be in a battle, Henry views the regiment with a certain skepticism; he views it simply as "a blue demonstration." To him, there is no variance in the the soldiers; there is nothing resembling a veteran in their appearance. All have uniforms that appear as new as the others'; for instance, there are no differences among the men's hats--"no letters of faded gold speaking from the the colors."
Later, he feels himself trapped and bewildered by what action the soldiers take. When there is firing and the soldiers run, Henry feels that the regiment
...enclosed him. And there were iron laws of tradition and law on four sides. He was in a moving box.
It occurs to Henry that he has not really enlisted out of the exercise of his free will; "...he had been dragged by the merciless government." Strange and absurd ideas enter Henry's mind: "He thought that he did not relish the landscape. It threatened him."
- Dialogue in Chapter III
The men are ordered to run ahead of the sounds of explosions and bullets. Henry is astounded that they have moved forward and are now digging in, building hills before them. "Well, then, what did they march us out here for?" he asks the tall soldier. "I'd rather do anything 'most than go tramping 'round the country all day doing no good to nobody and jest tiring ourselves out."
Henry realizes how irrelevant his thoughts are when the "loud soldier" lays his hand upon Henry's shoulder as he dies. He tells Henry,
"I'm a gone coon this first time and--and I w-want you take these here things--to--my--folks."
"Why, what the devil--" began the youth again.
Before he can finish his question, the loud soldier expires in this, only the first battle.
- Narrative in Chapter IV
During the Civil War, there was so much smoke from the canons that it was difficult for the men to perceive what transpired. This is the case as Henry's regiment waits for orders. The men discuss those that they know who have been pulled out of battle because they are wounded. When the lieutenant of Henry's regiment is hit in the hand, he swears loudly; the swearing has a familiarity and it releases the
...tightened senses of the news men. It was as if he had hit his finger with a tack hammer at home.
But, despite not being able to see clearly, the new regiment is horrified by the chaos and bloodshed of war. Again, Henry feels himself outside the action, an outcast mentally.
The youth achieved a little thought in the midst of this chaos....he might very likely run better than the rest of them.
- Dialogue in Chapter IV
(In this very short chapter, there is little dialogue.)
In the tremendous smoke of battle, the men can do little more than conjecture.
"Hannises' batt'ry is took."
"It ain't either. I saw Hannises' batt'ry off on the' left not more'n fifteen minutes ago...."
"No sech thing. Hannises' batt'ry was 'long here 'bout a minute ago."
In the midst of all this, Henry says nothing, merely listening. Again, he perceives the regiment all as one: "The youth shot a swift glance along the blue ranks of the regiment." Nor does he entertain any thoughts about the other men; instead, he contemplates his own safety, considering running with "the best of them."