The silence in the woods is suddenly broken by the awesomely loud noise of new fighting, "like the grinding of an immense and terrible machine." Henry thinks that the earlier fight must have been nothing compared to this battle. Curious, Henry starts running back toward the battle from which he had fled.
Henry runs into a column of bloodied wounded soldiers returning from the front. One laughs and sings hysterically; another complains about their general; almost all of them groan. Another "spectral soldier," gray and ghostlike, walks silently with eyes that seem to stare into the unknown.
These soldiers, wounded after battle, offer Henry his best chance to discover if wounds and death can be glorious. The soldiers' complaints, groans, and silent, staring eyes suggest not.
Walking along, Henry is approached by a dirty, tattered man with two wounds in his head and arm. The tattered man tries to strike up a conversation about how well the fight went and how bravely the soldiers fought. Because Henry is in the column, the tattered man assumes Henry is wounded and asks about his wound. Henry stutters nervously and escapes through the crowd.
The tattered man embodies Henry's guilt about running from the battle. Henry isn't wounded and has no reason for being where he is. He abandons the tattered man, just as he wants to escape his own conscience.