The Little Regiment by Stephen Crane
The fog made the clothes of the men of the column in the roadway seem
of a luminous quality. It imparted to the heavy infantry overcoats a
new colour, a kind of blue which was so pale that a regiment might have
been merely a long, low shadow in the mist. However, a muttering, one
part grumble, three parts joke, hovered in the air above the thick
ranks, and blended in an undertoned roar, which was the voice of the
The town on the southern shore of the little river loomed spectrally, a
faint etching upon the grey cloud-masses which were shifting with oily
languor. A long row of guns upon the northern bank had been pitiless in
their hatred, but a little battered belfry could be dimly seen still
pointing with invincible resolution toward the heavens.
The enclouded air vibrated with noises made by hidden colossal things.
The infantry tramplings, the heavy rumbling of the artillery, made the
earth speak of gigantic preparation. Guns on distant heights thundered
from time to time with sudden, nervous roar, as if unable to endure in
silence a knowledge of hostile troops massing, other guns going to
position. These sounds, near and remote, defined an immense
battle-ground, described the tremendous width of the stage of the
prospective drama. The voices of the guns, slightly casual, unexcited
in their challenges and warnings, could not destroy the unutterable
eloquence of the word in the air, a meaning of impending struggle which
made the breath halt at the lips.
The column in the roadway was ankle-deep in mud. The men swore piously
at the rain which drizzled upon them, compelling them to stand always
very erect in fear of the drops that would sweep in under their
coat-collars. The fog was as cold as wet cloths. The men stuffed their
hands deep in their pockets, and huddled their muskets in their arms.
The machinery of orders had rooted these soldiers deeply into the mud,
precisely as almighty nature roots mullein stalks.
They listened and speculated when a tumult of fighting came from the
dim town across the river. When the noise lulled for a time they
resumed their descriptions of the mud and graphically exaggerated the
number of hours they had been kept waiting. The general commanding
their division rode along the ranks, and they cheered admiringly,
affectionately, crying out to him gleeful prophecies of the coming
battle. Each man scanned him with a peculiarly keen personal interest,
and afterward spoke of him with unquestioning devotion and confidence,
narrating anecdotes which were mainly untrue.
When the jokers lifted the shrill voices which invariably belonged to
them, flinging witticisms at their comrades, a loud laugh would sweep
from rank to rank, and soldiers who had not heard would lean forward
and demand repetition. When were borne past them some wounded men with
grey and blood-smeared faces, and eyes that rolled in that helpless
beseeching for assistance from the sky which comes with supreme pain,
the soldiers in the mud watched intently, and from time to time asked
of the bearers an account of the affair. Frequently they bragged of
their corps, their division, their brigade, their regiment. Anon they
referred to the mud and the cold drizzle. Upon this threshold of a wild
scene of death they, in short, defied the proportion of events with
that splendour of heedlessness which belongs only to veterans.
"Like a lot of wooden soldiers," swore Billie Dempster, moving his feet
in the thick mass, and casting a vindictive glance indefinitely:
"standing in the mud for a hundred years."
"Oh, shut up!" murmured his brother Dan. The manner of his words
implied that this fraternal voice near him was an indescribable bore.
"Why should I shut up?" demanded Billie.
"Because you're a fool," cried Dan, taking no time to debate it; "the
biggest fool in the regiment."
There was but one man between them, and he was habituated. These
insults from brother to brother had swept across his chest, flown past
his face, many times during two long campaigns. Upon this occasion he
simply grinned first at one, then at the other.
The way of these brothers was not an unknown topic in regimental
gossip. They had enlisted simultaneously, with each sneering loudly at
the other for doing it. They left their little town, and went forward
with the flag, exchanging protestations of undying suspicion. In the
camp life they so openly despised each other that, when entertaining
quarrels were lacking, their companions often contrived situations
calculated to bring forth display of this fraternal dislike.
Both were large-limbed, strong young men, and often fought with friends
in camp unless one was near to interfere with the other. This latter
happened rather frequently, because Dan, preposterously willing for any
manner of combat, had a very great horror of seeing Billie in a fight;
and Billie, almost odiously ready himself, simply refused to see Dan
stripped to his shirt and with his fists aloft. This sat queerly upon
them, and made them the objects of plots.
When Dan jumped through a ring of eager soldiers and dragged forth his
raving brother by the arm, a thing often predicted would almost come to
pass. When Billie performed the same office for Dan, the prediction
would again miss fulfilment by an inch. But indeed they never fought
together, although they were perpetually upon the verge.
They expressed longing for such conflict. As a matter of truth, they
had at one time made full arrangement for it, but even with the
encouragement and interest of half of the regiment they somehow failed
to achieve collision.
If Dan became a victim of police duty, no jeering was so destructive to
the feelings as Billie's comment. If Billie got a call to appear at the
headquarters, none would so genially prophesy his complete undoing as
Dan. Small misfortunes to one were, in truth, invariably greeted with
hilarity by the other, who seemed to see in them great re-enforcement
of his opinion.
As soldiers, they expressed each for each a scorn intense and blasting.
After a certain battle, Billie was promoted to corporal. When Dan was
told of it, he seemed smitten dumb with astonishment and patriotic
indignation. He stared in silence, while the dark blood rushed to
Billie's forehead, and he shifted his weight from foot to foot. Dan at
last found his tongue, and said: "Well, I'm durned!" If he had heard
that an army mule had been appointed to the post of corps commander,
his tone could not have had more derision in it. Afterward, he adopted
a fervid insubordination, an almost religious reluctance to obey the
new corporal's orders, which came near to developing the desired strife.
It is here finally to be recorded also that Dan, most ferociously
profane in speech, very rarely swore in the presence of his brother;
and that Billie, whose oaths came from his lips with the grace of
falling pebbles, was seldom known to express himself in this manner
when near his brother Dan.
At last the afternoon contained a suggestion of evening. Metallic cries
rang suddenly from end to end of the column. They inspired at once a
quick, business-like adjustment. The long thing stirred in the mud. The
men had hushed, and were looking across the river. A moment later the
shadowy mass of pale blue figures was moving steadily toward the
stream. There could be heard from the town a clash of swift fighting
and cheering. The noise of the shooting coming through the heavy air
had its sharpness taken from it, and sounded in thuds.
There was a halt upon the bank above the pontoons. When the column went
winding down the incline, and streamed out upon the bridge, the fog had
faded to a great degree, and in the clearer dusk the guns on a distant
ridge were enabled to perceive the crossing. The long whirling outcries
of the shells came into the air above the men. An occasional solid shot
struck the surface of the river, and dashed into view a sudden vertical
jet. The distance was subtly illuminated by the lightning from the
deep-booming guns. One by one the batteries on the northern shore
aroused, the innumerable guns bellowing in angry oration at the distant
ridge. The rolling thunder crashed and reverberated as a wild surf
sounds on a still night, and to this music the column marched across
The waters of the grim river curled away in a smile from the ends of
the great boats, and slid swiftly beneath the planking. The dark,
riddled walls of the town upreared before the troops, and from a region
hidden by these hammered and tumbled houses came incessantly the yells
and firings of a prolonged and close skirmish.
When Dan had called his brother a fool, his voice had been so decisive,
so brightly assured, that many men had laughed, considering it to be
great humour under the circumstances. The incident happened to rankle
deep in Billie. It was not any strange thing that his brother had
called him a fool. In fact, he often called him a fool with exactly the
same amount of cheerful and prompt conviction, and before large
audiences, too. Billie wondered in his own mind why he took such
profound offence in this case; but, at any rate, as he slid down the
bank and on to the bridge with his regiment, he was searching his
knowledge for something that would pierce Dan's blithesome spirit. But
he could contrive nothing at this time, and his impotency made the
glance which he was once able to give his brother still more malignant.
The guns far and near were roaring a fearful and grand introduction for
this column which was marching upon the stage of death. Billie felt it,
but only in a numb way. His heart was cased in that curious dissonant
metal which covers a man's emotions at such times. The terrible voices
from the hills told him that in this wide conflict his life was an
insignificant fact, and that his death would be an insignificant fact.
They portended the whirlwind to which he would be as necessary as a
butterfly's waved wing. The solemnity, the sadness of it came near
enough to make him wonder why he was neither solemn nor sad. When his
mind vaguely adjusted events according to their importance to him, it
appeared that the uppermost thing was the fact that upon the eve of
battle, and before many comrades, his brother had called him a fool.
Dan was in a particularly happy mood. "Hurray! Look at 'em shoot," he
said, when the long witches' croon of the shells came into the air. It
enraged Billie when he felt the little thorn in him, and saw at the
same time that his brother had completely forgotten it.
The column went from the bridge into more mud. At this southern end
there was a chaos of hoarse directions and commands. Darkness was
coming upon the earth, and regiments were being hurried up the slippery
bank. As Billie floundered in the black mud, amid the swearing, sliding
crowd, he suddenly resolved that, in the absence of other means of
hurting Dan, he would avoid looking at him, refrain from speaking to
him, pay absolutely no heed to his existence; and this done skilfully
would, he imagined, soon reduce his brother to a poignant sensitiveness.
At the top of the bank the column again halted and rearranged itself,
as a man after a climb rearranges his clothing. Presently the great
steel-backed brigade, an infinitely graceful thing in the rhythm and
ease of its veteran movement, swung up a little narrow, slanting street.
Evening had come so swiftly that the fighting on the remote borders of
the town was indicated by thin flashes of flame. Some building was on
fire, and its reflection upon the clouds was an oval of delicate pink.
All demeanour of rural serenity had been wrenched violently from the
little town by the guns and by the waves of men which had surged
through it. The hand of war laid upon this village had in an instant
changed it to a thing of remnants. It resembled the place of a
monstrous shaking of the earth itself. The windows, now mere unsightly
holes, made the tumbled and blackened dwellings seem skeletons. Doors
lay splintered to fragments. Chimneys had flung their bricks
everywhere. The artillery fire had not neglected the rows of gentle
shade-trees which had lined the streets. Branches and heavy trunks
cluttered the mud in driftwood tangles, while a few shattered forms had
contrived to remain dejectedly, mournfully upright. They expressed an
innocence, a helplessness, which perforce created a pity for their
happening into this caldron of battle. Furthermore, there was under
foot a vast collection of odd things reminiscent of the charge, the
fight, the retreat. There were boxes and barrels filled with earth,
behind which riflemen had lain snugly, and in these little trenches
were the dead in blue with the dead in grey, the poses eloquent of the
struggles for possession of the town, until the history of the whole
conflict was written plainly in the streets.
And yet the spirit of this little city, its quaint individuality,
poised in the air above the ruins, defying the guns, the sweeping
volleys; holding in contempt those avaricious blazes which had attacked
many dwellings. The hard earthen sidewalks proclaimed the games that
had been played there during long lazy days, in the careful, shadows of
the trees. "General Merchandise," in faint letters upon a long board,
had to be read with a slanted glance, for the sign dangled by one end;
but the porch of the old store was a palpable legend of wide-hatted
This subtle essence, this soul of the life that had been, brushed like
invisible wings the thoughts of the men in the swift columns that came
up from the river.
In the darkness a loud and endless humming arose from the great blue
crowds bivouacked in the streets. From time to time a sharp spatter of
firing from far picket lines entered this bass chorus. The smell from
the smouldering ruins floated on the cold night breeze.
Dan, seated ruefully upon the doorstep of a shot-pierced house, was
proclaiming the campaign badly managed. Orders had been issued
Suddenly he ceased his oration, and scanning the group of his comrades,
said: "Where's Billie? Do you know?"
"Gone on picket."
"Get out! Has he?" said Dan. "No business to go on picket. Why don't
some of them other corporals take their turn?"
A bearded private was smoking his pipe of confiscated tobacco, seated
comfortably upon a horse-hair trunk which he had dragged from the
house. He observed: "Was his turn."
"No such thing," cried Dan. He and the man on the horse-hair trunk held
discussion in which Dan stoutly maintained that if his brother had been
sent on picket it was an injustice. He ceased his argument when another
soldier, upon whose arms could faintly be seen the two stripes of a
corporal, entered the circle. "Humph," said Dan, "where you been?"
The corporal made no answer. Presently Dan said: "Billie, where you
His brother did not seem to hear these inquiries. He glanced at the
house which towered above them, and remarked casually to the man on the
horse-hair trunk: "Funny, ain't it? After the pelting this town got,
you'd think there wouldn't be one brick left on another."
"Oh," said Dan, glowering at his brother's back. "Getting mighty smart,
The absence of camp-fires allowed the evening to make apparent its
quality of faint silver light in which the blue clothes of the throng
became black, and the faces became white expanses, void of expression.
There was considerable excitement a short distance from the group
around the doorstep. A soldier had chanced upon a hoop-skirt, and
arrayed in it he was performing a dance amid the applause of his
companions. Billie and a greater part of the men immediately poured
over there to witness the exhibition.
"What's the matter with Billie?" demanded Dan of the man upon the
"How do I know?" rejoined the other in mild resentment. He arose and
walked away. When he returned he said briefly, in a weather-wise tone,
that it would rain during the night.
Dan took a seat upon one end of the horse-hair trunk. He was facing the
crowd around the dancer, which in its hilarity swung this way and that
way. At times he imagined that he could recognise his brother's face.
He and the man on the other end of the trunk thoughtfully talked of the
army's position. To their minds, infantry and artillery were in a most
precarious jumble in the streets of the town; but they did not grow
nervous over it, for they were used to having the army appear in a
precarious jumble to their minds. They had learned to accept such
puzzling situations as a consequence of their position in the ranks,
and were now usually in possession of a simple but perfectly immovable
faith that somebody understood the jumble. Even if they had been
convinced that the army was a headless monster, they would merely have
nodded with the veteran's singular cynicism. It was none of their
business as soldiers. Their duty was to grab sleep and food when
occasion permitted, and cheerfully fight wherever their feet were
planted until more orders came. This was a task sufficiently absorbing.
They spoke of other corps, and this talk being confidential, their
voices dropped to tones of awe. "The Ninth"—"The First"—"The
Fifth"—"The Sixth"—"The Third"—the simple numerals rang with
eloquence, each having a meaning which was to float through many years
as no intangible arithmetical mist, but as pregnant with individuality
as the names of cities.
Of their own corps they spoke with a deep veneration, an idolatry, a
supreme confidence which apparently would not blanch to see it match
It was as if their respect for other corps was due partly to a wonder
that organisations not blessed with their own famous numeral could take
such an interest in war. They could prove that their division was the
best in the corps, and that their brigade was the best in the division.
And their regiment—it was plain that no fortune of life was equal to
the chance which caused a man to be born, so to speak, into this
command, the keystone of the defending arch.
At times Dan covered with insults the character of a vague, unnamed
general to whose petulance and busy-body spirit he ascribed the order
which made hot coffee impossible.
Dan said that victory was certain in the coming battle. The other man
seemed rather dubious. He remarked upon the fortified line of hills,
which had impressed him even from the other side of the river.
"Shucks," said Dan. "Why, we——" He pictured a splendid overflowing of
these hills by the sea of men in blue. During the period of this
conversation Dan's glance searched the merry throng about the dancer.
Above the babble of voices in the street a far-away thunder could
sometimes be heard—evidently from the very edge of the horizon—the
boom-boom of restless guns.
Ultimately the night deepened to the tone of black velvet. The outlines
of the fireless camp were like the faint drawings upon ancient
tapestry. The glint of a rifle, the shine of a button, might have been
of threads of silver and gold sewn upon the fabric of the night. There
was little presented to the vision, but to a sense more subtle there
was discernible in the atmosphere something like a pulse; a mystic
beating which would have told a stranger of the presence of a giant
thing—the slumbering mass of regiments and batteries.
With tires forbidden, the floor of a dry old kitchen was thought to be
a good exchange for the cold earth of December, even if a shell had
exploded in it, and knocked it so out of shape that when a man lay
curled in his blanket his last waking thought was likely to be of the
wall that bellied out above him, as if strongly anxious to topple upon
the score of soldiers.
Billie looked at the bricks ever about to descend in a shower upon his
face, listened to the industrious pickets plying their rifles on the
border of the town, imagined some measure of the din of the coming
battle, thought of Dan and Dan's chagrin, and rolling over in his
blanket went to sleep with satisfaction.
At an unknown hour he was aroused by the creaking of boards. Lifting
himself upon his elbow, he saw a sergeant prowling among the sleeping
forms. The sergeant carried a candle in an old brass candlestick. He
would have resembled some old farmer on an unusual midnight tour if it
were not for the significance of his gleaming buttons and striped
Billie blinked stupidly at the light until his mind returned from the
journeys of slumber. The sergeant stooped among the unconscious
soldiers, holding the candle close, and peering into each face.
"Hello, Haines," said Billie. "Relief?"
"Hello, Billie," said the sergeant. "Special duty."
"Dan got to go?"
"Jameson, Hunter, McCormack, D. Dempster. Yes. Where is he?"
"Over there by the winder," said Billie, gesturing. "What is it for,
"You don't think I know, do you?" demanded the sergeant. He began to
pipe sharply but cheerily at men upon the floor. "Come, Mac, get up
here. Here's a special for you. Wake up, Jameson. Come along, Dannie,
Each man at once took this call to duty as a personal affront. They
pulled themselves out of their blankets, rubbed their eyes, and swore
at whoever was responsible. "Them's orders," cried the sergeant. "Come!
Get out of here." An undetailed head with dishevelled hair thrust out
from a blanket, and a sleepy voice said: "Shut up, Haines, and go home."
When the detail clanked out of the kitchen, all but one of the
remaining men seemed to be again asleep. Billie, leaning on his elbow,
was gazing into darkness. When the footsteps died to silence, he curled
himself into his blanket.
At the first cool lavender lights of daybreak he aroused again, and
scanned his recumbent companions. Seeing a wakeful one he asked: "Is
Dan back yet?"
The man said: "Hain't seen 'im."
Billie put both hands behind his head, and scowled into the air. "Can't
see the use of these cussed details in the night-time," he muttered in
his most unreasonable tones. "Darn nuisances. Why can't they——" He
grumbled at length and graphically.
When Dan entered with the squad, however, Billie was convincingly
The regiment trotted in double time along the street, and the colonel
seemed to quarrel over the right of way with many artillery officers.
Batteries were waiting in the mud, and the men of them, exasperated by
the bustle of this ambitious infantry, shook their fists from saddle
and caisson, exchanging all manner of taunts and jests. The slanted
guns continued to look reflectively at the ground.
On the outskirts of the crumbled town a fringe of blue figures were
firing into the fog. The regiment swung out into skirmish lines, and
the fringe of blue figures departed, turning their backs and going
joyfully around the flank.
The bullets began a low moan off toward a ridge which loomed faintly in
the heavy mist. When the swift crescendo had reached its climax, the
missiles zipped just overhead, as if piercing an invisible curtain. A
battery on the hill was crashing with such tumult that it was as if the
guns had quarrelled and had fallen pell-mell and snarling upon each
other. The shells howled on their journey toward the town. From
short-range distance there came a spatter of musketry, sweeping along
an invisible line, and making faint sheets of orange light.
Some in the new skirmish lines were beginning to fire at various
shadows discerned in the vapour, forms of men suddenly revealed by some
humour of the laggard masses of clouds. The crackle of musketry began
to dominate the purring of the hostile bullets. Dan, in the front rank,
held his rifle poised, and looked into the fog keenly, coldly, with the
air of a sportsman. His nerves were so steady that it was as if they
had been drawn from his body, leaving him merely a muscular machine;
but his numb heart was somehow beating to the pealing march of the
The waving skirmish line went backward and forward, ran this way and
that way. Men got lost in the fog, and men were found again. Once they
got too close to the formidable ridge, and the thing burst out as if
repulsing a general attack. Once another blue regiment was apprehended
on the very edge of firing into them. Once a friendly battery began an
elaborate and scientific process of extermination. Always as busy as
brokers, the men slid here and there over the plain, fighting their
foes, escaping from their friends, leaving a history of many movements
in the wet yellow turf, cursing the atmosphere, blazing away every time
they could identify the enemy.
In one mystic changing of the fog as if the fingers of spirits were
drawing aside these draperies, a small group of the grey skirmishers,
silent, statuesque, were suddenly disclosed to Dan and those about him.
So vivid and near were they that there was something uncanny in the
There might have been a second of mutual staring. Then each rifle in
each group was at the shoulder. As Dan's glance flashed along the
barrel of his weapon, the figure of a man suddenly loomed as if the
musket had been a telescope. The short black beard, the slouch hat, the
pose of the man as he sighted to shoot, made a quick picture in Dan's
mind. The same moment, it would seem, he pulled his own trigger, and
the man, smitten, lurched forward, while his exploding rifle made a
slanting crimson streak in the air, and the slouch hat fell before the
body. The billows of the fog, governed by singular impulses, rolled
"You got that feller sure enough," said a comrade to Dan. Dan looked at
When the next morning calmly displayed another fog, the men of the
regiment exchanged eloquent comments; but they did not abuse it at
length, because the streets of the town now contained enough galloping
aides to make three troops of cavalry, and they knew that they had come
to the verge of the great fight.
Dan conversed with the man who had once possessed a horse-hair trunk;
but they did not mention the line of hills which had furnished them in
more careless moments with an agreeable topic. They avoided it now as
condemned men do the subject of death, and yet the thought of it stayed
in their eyes as they looked at each other and talked gravely of other
The expectant regiment heaved a long sigh of relief when the sharp
call: "Fall in," repeated indefinitely, arose in the streets. It was
inevitable that a bloody battle was to be fought, and they wanted to
get it off their minds. They were, however, doomed again to spend a
long period planted firmly in the mud. They craned their necks, and
wondered where some of the other regiments were going.
At last the mists rolled carelessly away. Nature made at this time all
provisions to enable foes to see each other, and immediately the roar
of guns resounded from every hill. The endless cracking of the
skirmishers swelled to rolling crashes of musketry. Shells screamed
with panther-like noises at the houses. Dan looked at the man of the
horse-hair trunk, and the man said: "Well, here she comes!"
The tenor voices of younger officers and the deep and hoarse voices of
the older ones rang in the streets. These cries pricked like spurs. The
masses of men vibrated from the suddenness with which they were plunged
into the situation of troops about to fight. That the orders were
long-expected did not concern the emotion.
Simultaneous movement was imparted to all these thick bodies of men and
horses that lay in the town. Regiment after regiment swung rapidly into
the streets that faced the sinister ridge.
This exodus was theatrical. The little sober-hued village had been like
the cloak which disguises the king of drama. It was now put aside, and
an army, splendid thing of steel and blue, stood forth in the sunlight.
Even the soldiers in the heavy columns drew deep breaths at the sight,
more majestic than they had dreamed. The heights of the enemy's
position were crowded with men who resembled people come to witness
some mighty pageant. But as the column moved steadily to their
positions, the guns, matter-of-fact warriors, doubled their number, and
shells burst with red thrilling tumult on the crowded plain. One came
into the ranks of the regiment, and after the smoke and the wrath of it
had faded, leaving motionless figures, every one stormed according to
the limits of his vocabulary, for veterans detest being killed when
they are not busy.
The regiment sometimes looked sideways at its brigade companions
composed of men who had never been in battle; but no frozen blood could
withstand the heat of the splendour of this army before the eyes on the
plain, these lines so long that the flanks were little streaks, this
mass of men of one intention. The recruits carried themselves
heedlessly. At the rear was an idle battery, and three artillerymen in
a foolish row on a caisson nudged each other and grinned at the
recruits. "You'll catch it pretty soon," they called out. They were
impersonally gleeful, as if they themselves were not also likely to
catch it pretty soon. But with this picture of an army in their hearts,
the new men perhaps felt the devotion which the drops may feel for the
wave; they were of its power and glory; they smiled jauntily at the
foolish row of gunners, and told them to go to blazes.
The column trotted across some little bridges, and spread quickly into
lines of battle. Before them was a bit of plain, and back of the plain
was the ridge. There was no time left for considerations. The men were
staring at the plain, mightily wondering how it would feel to be out
there, when a brigade in advance yelled and charged. The hill was all
grey smoke and fire-points.
That fierce elation in the terrors of war, catching a man's heart and
making it burn with such ardour that he becomes capable of dying,
flashed in the faces of the men like coloured lights, and made them
resemble leashed animals, eager, ferocious, daunting at nothing. The
line was really in its first leap before the wild, hoarse crying of the
The greed for close quarters, which is the emotion of a bayonet charge,
came then into the minds of the men and developed until it was a
madness. The field, with its faded grass of a Southern winter, seemed
to this fury miles in width.
High, slow-moving masses of smoke, with an odour of burning cotton,
engulfed the line until the men might have been swimmers. Before them
the ridge, the shore of this grey sea, was outlined, crossed, and
recrossed by sheets of flame. The howl of the battle arose to the noise
of innumerable wind demons.
The line, galloping, scrambling, plunging like a herd of wounded
horses, went over a field that was sown with corpses, the records of
Directly in front of the black-faced, whooping Dan, carousing in this
onward sweep like a new kind of fiend, a wounded man appeared, raising
his shattered body, and staring at this rush of men down upon him. It
seemed to occur to him that he was to be trampled; he made a desperate,
piteous effort to escape; then finally huddled in a waiting heap. Dan
and the soldier near him widened the interval between them without
looking down, without appearing to heed the wounded man. This little
clump of blue seemed to reel past them as boulders reel past a train.
Bursting through a smoke-wave, the scampering, unformed bunches came
upon the wreck of the brigade that had preceded them, a floundering
mass stopped afar from the hill by the swirling volleys.
It was as if a necromancer had suddenly shown them a picture of the
fate which awaited them; but the line with muscular spasm hurled itself
over this wreckage and onward, until men were stumbling amid the relics
of other assaults, the point where the fire from the ridge consumed.
The men, panting, perspiring, with crazed faces, tried to push against
it; but it was as if they had come to a wall. The wave halted,
shuddered in an agony from the quick struggle of its two desires, then
toppled, and broke into a fragmentary thing which has no name.
Veterans could now at last be distinguished from recruits. The new
regiments were instantly gone, lost, scattered, as if they never had
been. But the sweeping failure of the charge, the battle, could not
make the veterans forget their business. With a last throe, the band of
maniacs drew itself up and blazed a volley at the hill, insignificant
to those iron entrenchments, but nevertheless expressing that singular
final despair which enables men coolly to defy the walls of a city of
After this episode the men renamed their command. They called it the
"I seen Dan shoot a feller yesterday. Yes, sir. I'm sure it was him
that done it. And maybe he thinks about that feller now, and wonders if
he tumbled down just about the same way. Them things come up in a man's
Bivouac fires upon the sidewalks, in the streets, in the yards, threw
high their wavering reflections, which examined, like slim, red
fingers, the dingy, scarred walls and the piles of tumbled brick. The
droning of voices again arose from great blue crowds.
The odour of frying bacon, the fragrance from countless little
coffee-pails floated among the ruins. The rifles, stacked in the
shadows, emitted flashes of steely light. Wherever a flag lay
horizontally from one stack to another was the bed of an eagle which
had led men into the mystic smoke.
The men about a particular fire were engaged in holding in check their
jovial spirits. They moved whispering around the blaze, although they
looked at it with a certain fine contentment, like labourers after a
day's hard work.
There was one who sat apart. They did not address him save in tones
suddenly changed. They did not regard him directly, but always in
little sidelong glances.
At last a soldier from a distant fire came into this circle of light.
He studied for a time the man who sat apart. Then he hesitatingly
stepped closer, and said: "Got any news, Dan?"
"No," said Dan.
The new-comer shifted his feet. He looked at the fire, at the sky, at
the other men, at Dan. His face expressed a curious despair; his tongue
was plainly in rebellion. Finally, however, he contrived to say: "Well,
there's some chance yet, Dan. Lots of the wounded are still lying out
there, you know. There's some chance yet."
"Yes," said Dan.
The soldier shifted his feet again, and looked miserably into the air.
After another struggle he said: "Well, there's some chance yet, Dan."
He moved hastily away.
One of the men of the squad, perhaps encouraged by this example, now
approached the still figure. "No news yet, hey?" he said, after
coughing behind his hand.
"No," said Dan.
"Well," said the man, "I've been thinking of how he was fretting about
you the night you went on special duty. You recollect? Well, sir, I was
surprised. He couldn't say enough about it. I swan, I don't believe he
slep' a wink after you left, but just lay awake cussing special duty
and worrying. I was surprised. But there he lay cussing. He——"
Dan made a curious sound, as if a stone had wedged in his throat. He
said: "Shut up, will you?"
Afterward the men would not allow this moody contemplation of the fire
to be interrupted.
"Oh, let him alone, can't you?"
"Come away from there, Casey!"
"Say, can't you leave him be?"
They moved with reverence about the immovable figure, with its
countenance of mask-like invulnerability.
After the red round eye of the sun had stared long at the little plain
and its burden, darkness, a sable mercy, came heavily upon it, and the
wan hands of the dead were no longer seen in strange frozen gestures.
The heights in front of the plain shone with tiny camp-fires, and from
the town in the rear, small shimmerings ascended from the blazes of the
bivouac. The plain was a black expanse upon which, from time to time,
dots of light, lanterns, floated slowly here and there. These fields
were long steeped in grim mystery.
Suddenly, upon one dark spot, there was a resurrection. A strange thing
had been groaning there, prostrate. Then it suddenly dragged itself to
a sitting posture, and became a man.
The man stared stupidly for a moment at the lights on the hill, then
turned and contemplated the faint colouring over the town. For some
moments he remained thus, staring with dull eyes, his face unemotional,
Finally he looked around him at the corpses dimly to be seen. No change
flashed into his face upon viewing these men. They seemed to suggest
merely that his information concerning himself was not too complete. He
ran his fingers over his arms and chest, bearing always the air of an
idiot upon a bench at an almshouse door.
Finding no wound in his arms nor in his chest, he raised his hand to
his head, and the fingers came away with some dark liquid upon them.
Holding these fingers close to his eyes, he scanned them in the same
stupid fashion, while his body gently swayed.
The soldier rolled his eyes again toward the town. When he arose, his
clothing peeled from the frozen ground like wet paper. Hearing the
sound of it, he seemed to see reason for deliberation. He paused and
looked at the ground, then at his trousers, then at the ground.
Finally he went slowly off toward the faint reflection, holding his
hands palm outward before him, and walking in the manner of a blind man.
The immovable Dan again sat unaddressed in the midst of comrades, who
did not joke aloud. The dampness of the usual morning fog seemed to
make the little camp-fires furious.
Suddenly a cry arose in the streets, a shout of amazement and delight.
The men making breakfast at the fire looked up quickly. They broke
forth in clamorous exclamation: "Well! Of all things! Dan! Dan! Look
who's coming! Oh, Dan!"
Dan the silent raised his eyes and saw a man, with a bandage of the
size of a helmet about his head, receiving a furious demonstration from
the company. He was shaking hands, and explaining, and haranguing to a
Dan started. His face of bronze flushed to his temples. He seemed about
to leap from the ground, but then suddenly he sank back, and resumed
his impassive gazing.
The men were in a flurry. They looked from one to the other. "Dan!
Look! See who's coming!" some cried again. "Dan! Look!"
He scowled at last, and moved his shoulders sullenly. "Well, don't I
But they could not be convinced that his eyes were in service. "Dan,
why can't you look! See who's coming!"
He made a gesture then of irritation and rage. "Curse it! Don't I know
The man with a bandage of the size of a helmet moved forward, always
shaking hands and explaining. At times his glance wandered to Dan, who
saw with his eyes riveted.
After a series of shiftings, it occurred naturally that the man with
the bandage was very near to the man who saw the flames. He paused, and
there was a little silence. Finally he said: "Hello, Dan."