That summer, largely to distract themselves from the burgeoning war, people in southern Illinois convene on the weekends for parties and balls. They hear about the battle of Bull Run, and everyone realizes this will be a longer, harder battle than they thought: "no more confident statements of ending the whole affair in one decisive swoop." Tom and Eb want to join the war effort as soon as possible, and John and Shadrach plan to join in mid-winter.
Tom and Eb leave in late summer, amid news of more northern defeats, specifically one in Missouri. A Union commander and many soldiers from Illinois died there. Jethro absorbs all this information, particularly news of a brilliant Union general named McClellan. After Tom and Eb leave, Jethro sleeps in the same room as Bill and often wakes up having nightmares. One night Bill admits that his "'thinkin' is all of a tangle . '" and that he cannot sleep. Bill says that no one will really win this war and that it shouldn't have started in the first place. He says that he hates slavery but also hates "laws passed by Congress that favor one part of a country and hurts the other."
One day, while appreciating the trees and beauty of a nearby hilltop, Jethro finds Bill, beaten and bruised. Bill explains that he and John got into a big fight. Bill says that the two have had "hard feelings" for weeks and that he is going to fight, but not "fer arrogance and big money aginst the southern farmer." Bill says his heart is not in it, but he must fight and fight for the South.
Chapter 4 jumps ahead to February of 1862. The North has just won its first battle in Fort Henry, and the people learn of and begin to worship Ulysses S. Grant. A couple weeks later Grant takes another fort. Jenny asks if the war is almost over, and Matt speculates that McClellan and his army are floundering. The family constantly worries about Tom and Eb, knowing that the battles are becoming more and more fierce. The Creightons' neighbor, Ed Turner, finally brings them a letter from Tom. In it, Tom says that he and Eb are fine and describes some of the fighting and tells them how many of the soldiers froze to death after tossing away their blankets for easier travel. Ellen grows stiff and silent upon reading the account.
That afternoon Ellen tells Jethro that he should go visit with Shadrach and spend the night before Shadrach leaves for the service. She also wants Shadrach to read Tom's letter. Jethro and Jenny talk later, and Jenny bemoans the fact that Matt will not let her marry Shadrach before he leaves. Jethro makes the frigid walk to Shadrach's, and they warm up dinner and talk. Shadrach echoes Jenny's sentiments about wanting to get married and admits that he is worried that after he leaves he will not have the chance to marry her.
Shadrach and Jethro begin talking about the war, and Jethro suggests that it is almost over. Shadrach says that the two recent victories do not mean that the end is near—quite the opposite. Shadrach reads Tom's letter. Shadrach explains the logic behind the two last targets, and Grant's strategy at cutting off supplies. They talk about how Lincoln's son died only a few days earlier, and Jethro feels sorry for him. Talking about Lincoln's apparent indecision in the war leads to a conversation about Bill, and Jethro asks Shadrach if Bill was wrong. Shadrach defends Bill, saying he is just after the truth and that what he did took a lot of courage.