In June of 1777, Tim and his mother find out that Mr. Meeker is dead. He died of cholera on a prison ship, and his last words were that he loved his family and forgave Sam. Two days later, Tim finds out that Jerry Sanford also died on a prison ship, and the soldiers buried his body at sea. Mrs. Meeker says war turns men into animals, a phrase she will repeat several times. Even Betsy, who vehemently supported Sam's efforts, no longer cares who wins the war as long as it ends soon. Conditions are worsening for the soldiers and the civilians. Mrs. Meeker quotes her husband, saying that "In war, the dead pay the debts for the living." She says sadly that her husband did not expect to have to pay. Tim has lost sympathy for both sides.
Tim continues tending to the tavern. Prices are rising and merchandise is short, and everybody is buying things on credit. Tim has eight cows as pay from people who owe him money, and is debating about how to make the greatest profit from them. Tim is constantly hungry. In the winter of 1778, Sam returns, looking emaciated and shabby, but still grinning and happy to be home. He tells his family that he will be nearby until the spring, and warns them of cattle thieves. He speaks of the horrors of the war and how the men involved are hardened by it. He admits to stealing cattle when desperately hungry. Tim asks whether the army punishes stealing, and Sam answers that his leader, General Putnam, will hang anyone for it as an example to the rest. Sam advises Tim to butcher their cattle and freeze it in the barn over the winter, but Tim hesitates, still hoping to sell them.
For the next few weeks and months, the officers remain in Redding and come to the tavern for rum. Sam returns as often as he can, continually pressuring Tim to get rid of the cattle and speaking of the exhaustion of the soldiers. One evening as Sam sits talking with Tim, the two brothers hear strange noises outside. They dash to the barn and see that four cows are missing. Sam follows the tracks while Tim ties up the remaining cows. Within minutes Sam returns, tied up and held by the two cattle thieves, who had overpowered him and were reporting him to General Putnam as a cattle thief.
Tim runs to Colonel Parsons to proclaim Sam's innocence. Colonel Parsons is asleep, and his men instruct Tim to return the next day. Tim goes to tell his mother the news. She has an awful foreboding feeling and insists that they pray together. They kneel in prayer before going outside, cutting up the dead cow, and herding the three remaining ones into the barn. When Tim finally speaks with Colonel Parsons the next day, he learns that General Putnam wants to make an example of someone. Mrs. Meeker dresses warmly and goes to speak with General Putnam. Betsy Read visits the tavern, and when she hears the news she promises to ask her father to speak with the officers in charge. In the evening, Tim's mother returns, deeply sad, and says that Sam's situation seems hopeless. The cattle thieves framed Sam efficiently, and Sam was supposed to be on duty at the Betts' house instead of outside or at home. Mrs. Meeker drinks two glasses of rum while she speaks, and throughout the next few weeks she begins to drink more and more.
Colonel Read tells Tim that several other men are to be tried in front of a jury along with Sam, but that the trial is not necessarily fair. During the weeks before the trial, Sam is locked in a cabin and forbidden to see anyone. Sam is found guilty, and sentenced to be shot and killed. Mrs. Meeker is unsurprised. Tim feels numb, and runs to talk again with Colonel Parsons, who believes Tim but is not very empathetic. Finally, Parsons gives Tim a note to see General Putnam. Tim gets to speak only a few sentences to the General, proclaiming Sam's innocence, before being cut off with the excuse that the General's time is valuable. General Putnam says severely that he will consider his case, and that Tim can see Sam if they stand six feet apart. Tim is brought to a wooden hut, and a guard brings Sam to one of the holes in the wall. The brothers speak briefly, and Tim tells Sam that his case is being considered. Sam seems interested, but not hopeful. Sam is relatively humorous and upbeat, managing to grin before the guard takes Tim away.
After hearing the conformation of his father's death, Tim truly takes charge of the tavern. He must make his own decisions about its upkeep knowing that they are permanent, not a stopgap measure until Mr. Meeker returns. When Tim and Sam disagree about what to do with the cattle, it is the first time Tim's opinion stands above Sam's regarding household decisions. Tim hesitates and disregards his brother's advice, hoping for a good deal on the cattle. Sam's insight about cattle thieves is sound and born out of experience. Sam has suspected that someone would try to steal the cattle, and admits that even he has stolen before to feed himself and his friends. Sam, like his father, predicts certain awful inevitabilities about the war, but never thinks that he himself will be a victim of the disasters he anticipates. Both Sam and Mr. Meeker must pay war debts they did not expect to pay. Father lived through his own war experience but was taken prisoner during his son's war. Sam was not caught when he actually stole cattle, but framed when someone else did.
The combination of Tim's indecision about the cattle, Sam's boldness in running after the thieves, and the cattle thieves' simple terror of being caught and executed, combine to doom Sam. It seems brutally unfair that Sam, who so longs for glory, reaches a crisis point entirely free of camaraderie, glory, or romance. The authors seem to be gently pointing out the youthful foolishness of assuming that your wartime experience will bring you glory and honor. Sam survived every battle and hardship, but he cannot survive the fussy and underhanded bureaucracy of his own side. He is wrongly convicted as an example to the rest of the men. In these chapters, Tim has his first longed-for chance to show off his tavern-running expertise to Sam by opting against slaughtering the cattle, and he fails catastrophically. He harms not himself or his tavern but his brother. Like any adult, Tim has done his best to make a good decision, but has chosen wrong.
Chapter Thirteen deals primarily with the hierarchies of armies and their lack of concern with the death of an individual. Sam has served his side loyally for three years and yet when he is caught in a suspicious situation, his good track record is forgotten. To even speak with the officers, Tim must beg for permission, wait hours on end, plead his case repeatedly, and simply hope for good luck and good timing. The meetings with Putnam and Parsons show Tim only that military high-ups consider themselves too important and busy to spend time defending or sympathizing with their men.
The trial is predetermined according to the whims of people in charge. It does not operate on a system of fairness or actual inquisition into facts and histories. Putnam needs a scapegoat, and Sam's life is worth nothing to him. Tim and Mrs. Meeker are helpless in the face of General Putnam's decision, and their repeated efforts to free Sam only emphasize how thickly guarded and quick to judge the officers of war have become. The men with whom Tim deals lack emotion, and we sense that Sam never belonged with them in the first place. He is a passionate, loyal, loving man, and he has an idealism these officers lack.
The changes in Mrs. Meeker show how the strain affects her. She loses hope entirely and hardens more than she did after her husband's death. Seeing her son placed in such a dire and unjust situation breaks Mrs. Meeker's heart and leaves her silent and vacant. She finds comfort in drinking. Tim responds by acting practically and pressing on in his mission to free Sam. Tim does not mention feeling responsible for Sam's capture, but he steps fully into the responsibility of helping Sam escape his unlucky and unfair fate. Oddly enough, the person who seems most calm about Sam's sentence is Sam himself. He seems resigned to what will happen and he understands it, given the smart lies told by the cattle thieves and his absence at the Betts' house. He is even able to make jokes, keeping up his demeanor and courage. We admire Sam here more than ever, as he makes the valiant effort to bolster his own and his brother's morale.