Jim Conklin: Jim Conklin is a friend of Henry’s. They have known each other since childhood, and are both privates in the Union army. Jim is a good soldier, accepting whatever circumstances come his way. He is badly wounded in the first battle. Henry encounters him by chance as he joins the procession of wounded men after his own act of cowardice. Jim dies of his injuries soon after this, and Henry witnesses his death. Jim is a contrast to Henry and a reproach to him: in battle, Jim stood his ground, fought and died for his courage, whereas Henry ran away at the first sign of danger.
Henry Fleming: Henry Fleming is the protagonist of the novel. He is an untested young man who leaves his mother’s farm in order to enlist in the Union army. He has grand, romantic ideas about the glory of war, but he soon finds out that the real thing is very different from what he imagined it to be. During his period of military service, Henry learns a great deal about himself. Before the first battle, he is unsure of how he will react to it. He is concerned that he may run away. Sure enough, as soon as the bullets begin to fly, this is exactly what happens. Henry is filled with guilt and shame about his cowardice, but he makes his way back to his regiment and later distinguishes himself in battle, showing outstanding bravery and leadership. His lieutenant and his general recognize Henry’s contribution and offer him great praise. By the end of the novel, Henry has attained maturity. He is confident that he has proved his worth as a man. Even though for a time he was caught up in the savage joy of battle, on reflection he realizes that he has no love of war.
The Lieutenant: The lieutenant is Henry’s immediate commander in the battle. He swears and curses as he tries to motivate and cajole the men (“he could string oaths with the facility of a maiden who strings beads,” ch. 19 p. 121). Before the first battle, as the men are marching, he beats Henry with his sword and tells him to hurry up. Henry despises the lieutenant’s crude manner. But after Henry proves himself in battle, the lieutenant gives him high praise. After this, whenever the lieutenant has some profound thoughts about the science of war, he unconsciously addresses them to Henry. In the final battle, the lieutenant and Henry join together in urging the men on. They feel a sense of fellowship and equality.
The Tattered Soldier: The tattered soldier is a soldier Henry encounters in the procession of wounded men. He has been wounded in the head and arm. He is friendly to Henry, but when he asks where Henry is wounded, Henry runs off, in spite of the soldier’s desire for him to stay. Like Jim Conklin, the tattered soldier serves to prick Henry’s guilty conscience, reminding him that the wounded men had showed a courage that he lacked. Henry last sees the tattered soldier wandering helplessly in a field.
Wilson: Wilson is a loud private, and Henry’s friend in the regiment. Early in the novel he is belligerent and always ready for a quarrel. He is young but he swears like an old soldier, and he has no doubts at all that he will perform well in battle. In the early part of the novel, he serves as a contrast to Henry, who doubts himself in a way that Wilson never could. When Henry returns to his regiment after deserting, Wilson greets him with great warmth, and looks after him selflessly. He is generous, and the experience of battle seems to have matured him. Instead of instigating quarrels, he now acts as a peacemaker between the men. In the battles that follow, Wilson and Henry are comrades-in-arms, and Wilson matches Henry for valor. Indeed, it is Wilson rather than Henry who succeeds, in the final charge, in capturing the enemy flag.