Henry and Wilson scuffle to carry the flag, each wanting to put himself at greater risk. Henry pushes Wilson off roughly.
Both Henry and Wilson are inspired by a mix of selflessness and the desire for glory.
Facing incredible fire, the regiment gives up the charge again and slinks back to the trees. The soldiers feel stunned and betrayed by their unsuccessful attempt to beat an enemy that suddenly seems invincible. More enemy soldiers start to close in around them. The lieutenant has been shot in the arm but continues to urge the men on, swearing wildly.
The soldiers' faith in their flag and leaders makes them feel invincible. But realizing that they're not, they feel as if their faith was futile. Just as their flag nearly fell, the lieutenant gets shot—another assault on the regiment's symbols of strength.
Henry realizes that his wish to prove the insulting officer wrong will not come true. Ashamed and angry, Henry joins the lieutenant in trying to inspire the regiment to fight, but the men are run down.
Wanting revenge on the officer, Henry is still fighting a battle for self-esteem.
The regiment starts to scatter in panic. Suddenly, the lieutenant sees gray soldiers advancing through the smoke and a vicious and desperate fight breaks out at close range. Henry sits on the ground with the flag, consoled only that his regiment will go down fighting.
Henry has no gun in this battle. But he does have the flag, which serves as a more powerful symbolic weapon. The men are finally motivated by their own desperation.
Soon the enemy fire dwindles away. The smoke clears and the field is empty, except for some twisted corpses. Victorious, the blue soldiers cheer hoarsely, proud for having proved that "they were men."
The soldiers had felt trapped and powerless. They fought to push back the enemy, but also to prove their manhood to themselves and to others.