I don't know if anybody ever "wins" a war, Jeth. I think that the beginnin's of this war has been fanned by hate till it's a blaze now; and a blaze kin destroy him that makes it and him that the fire was set to hurt.
In Chapter 3, Bill and Jethro talk about the war. Bill knows how high the stakes are in the war, and he also knows that no matter who wins and who loses, everyone will, in a sense, lose. He knows that the causes for the war have bred hatred and that in the end, everyone will end up paying for that. Bill is right about the war but goes and fights anyway, defying not only his fears and his feelings, but also the North.
The hardships one endured had a purpose; his mother had been careful to make him aware of that.
This quote comes in Chapter 4, as Jethro goes to see Shadrach for the last time before Shadrach leaves to fight. The quote itself refers to the cold weather that he endures for fifteen miles each way, but the quote is relevant to more than the winter. This quote extends to the hardships Jethro and his family face throughout the war—missing and worrying about their loved ones, grieving Tom's death, anxiously wondering if the North would ever pull out a victory, wondering what the country would be like when the war was all over. If Jethro embraces this sentiment, then perhaps at the end of the five years he has something positive to take away. Ellen's statement to him seems prophetic in light of what the boy endures during the war.
The world was turning upside down for Jethro. He felt as if he were someone else, someone looking from far off at a boy who had started from home with a team and wagon on a March morning that was at least a hundred years ago.
In Chapter 5, Mr. Burdow escorts Jethro partway home to avoid Jethro being ambushed by one of the men from the store. Jethro is frightened at Mr. Burdow's presence and at Mr. Burdow's explanation for why he is there. Jethro is so scared he is nearly out of himself—this fear is nothing like any he has experienced before. He has aged years in a single day, and has crossed the threshold from boy to man in a seemingly single leap. By the end of the book, Jethro has several such moments that propel him from where he was to an entirely different place.
May God bless you for the earnestness with which you have tried to seek out what is right; may He guide both of us in that search during the days ahead of us.
At the end of Chapter 9 Jethro receives a letter back from President Lincoln. These are the closing words. Regardless of Jethro's actions, Lincoln recognizes in them an honest attempt to do the right thing, and he seizes upon that and commends Jethro for it. This reaffirms Jethro's faith that the president is letting the same desire to do what is right guide his actions. The president may make decisions that some disagree with, but this letter represents his humanity, which is something that there is precious little of throughout the war.
It was the saddest and most cruel April of the five. It had held out an almost unbelievable joy and had then struck out in fury at those whose hands were outstretched.
At the end of Chapter 12, Jethro is inconsolable over the death of the president. The end of the war was supposed to bring relief and happiness, but instead it brought only deeper grief. To make the people of the country endure five years of war and then offer only the briefest respite before hitting them with another tragedy was more than Jethro could be, and it seemed the cruelest irony imaginable. The book ends on a darker, sadder note than one might have expected, with the death of Lincoln overshadowing what life was spared during the war.