As the battle continues in Chapter 16 and soldiers grow fatigued from the relentless marching and fighting, morale in Henry’s regiment suffers. Henry starts complaining about the army’s commanders, alleging that the Union army's recent battle losses are due to the stupidity of its leadership. The regiment’s lieutenant uses idiom to rebuke Henry:
There’s too much chin music an’ too little fightin’ in this war, anyhow
Here, the lieutenant uses the phrase “chin music” to deride what he thinks of as Henry's idle gossip. “Chin music” is an idiom because the words carry a figurative significance that goes beyond their literal meaning.
It’s notable that Henry has begun to gossip. At the beginning of the novel, he stayed silent while other soldiers exchanged rumors, seeming to consider these conversations undignified. War has transformed Henry but not, as he hoped, by making him into a hero—rather, by turning him into the kind of soldier to whom he once condescended.
In the midst of a bleak sequence of marches and charges, this idiom also inserts a moment of comic relief. In giving color to the lieutenant’s speech, Crane establishes him as a memorable, individual character. While individual soldiers have little significance in the vast war machine, Crane insists on differentiating them, causing the reader to become invested in their safety and implicitly protesting the dehumanization of war.