In The Red Badge of Courage, how do the scenes at the encampment affect the characterization of the Union soldiers? How does Crane characterize them at the end of Chapter 18?
When the Union soldiers are at the encampment, they seem naive about the reality of war. Life in the camp is dull, and since Henry's regiment arrived at the camp, "the army had done little but sit still and try to keep warm" (page 50). Henry spends most of his time wondering if he will run in battle, and the other soldiers, who seem unconcerned with this subject, fight among themselves about when they will go into battle. The men march while laughing in a "careless line" (page 53). They are not a cohesive regiment and don't understand the reality of war.
By the end of Chapter 18, the Union soldiers have changed. As they retreat from the enemy, they have seen their fellow soldiers die, and they are shocked at having seen the carnage of war firsthand. The men, faced with enemy gunfire, "acted no more like sheep" (page 110). They realize that war is not a game and that they must act to protect themselves. As Henry retreats with the other men, he sees the flag and thinks, "It was a creation of beauty, secure from harm. It was like a woman, red and white, hating and loving, that called him with the voice of his hopes." He is motivated by patriotism. After the soldier carrying the flag is shot, two other soldiers gather the flag and move forward. They have coalesced around the meaning of the flag to protect the Union, and they are a more cohesive regiment.
The scenes of the Union army's encampment reinforce the idea that the Union army is simply waiting and not really fighting a real war. The constant drilling and various rumors that run through the camp only serve to instill a sense of fear in Henry who is convinced the rest of his regiment will be good fighters who will not run in the face of eventual conflict. In Chapter 18 however, Henry and Wilson are stunned to hear their regiment insulted. They keep the insults to themselves but prepare for battle. By the end of the chapter, the regiment does fight and Henry sees his comrades die in horrible ways. Finally, Henry himself, gains courage, pries the flag from the injured flag carrier, and along with Wilson, leads the charge against the enemy.