Not long after, Henry is shocked to see the very same column of soldiers he had thought so brave come running crazily back through the woods. Confused and caught up again in the raw chaos of war, Henry frantically asks the fleeing soldiers about what's happened. Henry grabs a soldier and stammers "Why—why—" The soldier struggles, demands to be let go, and finally slams his rifle butt on Henry's head to escape.
A major moment of disillusionment for Henry: how could these men, who in Chapter 11 seemed to him to be "chosen beings," now flee in terror? Henry's simple but poignant "Why" implies a lot of questions about war and its purpose—the only answer he gets is a brutal rifle butt to the head.
Henry collapses in pain from the bleeding wound on his head, struggling even to crawl. He imagines somewhere safe he can collapse and struggles forward to find it.
Henry isn't wounded by an enemy, but by an ally. His "badge" (wound) is a mark of dishonor and betrayal, not of courage.
On his way to find refuge, Henry passes screaming officers, artillery batteries that "belched and howled like brass devils," and more soldiers rushing to the breached line. Henry pushes on, disoriented, remembering pleasant scenes of his past, and contemplating giving up.
The parallel descriptions of the frenzy of battle and Henry's dazed sensations emphasize how unimportant a single man is in a huge army, and how little he can comprehend.
Just then, a cheerful soldier comes along and assures Henry that he'll return him to the regiment. Though the dark woods seem like a huge hive of confusion, the cheerful soldier guides Henry with an amazingly accurate sense of direction. On finding Henry's regiment, the cheerful soldier shakes Henry's hand and leaves. Henry realizes that "he had not once seen his face."
The cheerful soldier represents pure selfless human kindness. His actions contrast Henry's treatment of the tattered man in Chapter 10 The cheerful soldier is also a divine guide, a Christlike shepherd who returns Henry to the fold (his regiment).