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In the autumn of 1862 it seems the war is going fairly well—the Confederates only control a tiny piece of the Mississippi River. The optimism is short lived, however, when news comes that the Confederates have driven Union forces away and are marching north toward Kentucky. Soon after, news arrives that McClellan's army is faltering and disorganized. "[C]riticism of the President poured in from all sides, armies were demoralized, and desertion began . "
The men of the county help the Creightons build a new barn, and Mr. Burdow sends up a shipment of wood and logs. Ross Milton tells Jethro that Mr. Burdow has been accepted into the community again, largely for helping Jethro a few months back. The men talk about the war as they work, and one speculates that McClellan is actually a "reb" and will never attack. The men argue about whether Lincoln is right or wrong. A few days letter they get a letter from Shadrach, just after the battle of Antietam. Shadrach says that the soldiers worship McClellan and rally around him but that he does not think McClellan has what it takes to lead the army to victory. Antietam is much like Shiloh—a victory in technical terms, but it resulted in a tragic loss of life as well as military blunders. A general named Ambrose Burnside replaces McClellan in the news as the new star.
After the devastating battle in Fredericksburg, they hear from Shadrach who tells them what an awful mistake the battle was and how Burnside now has the blood of thousands of Union soldiers on his hands. Similarly, John is in the battle of Stones River, which results in the death of over 13,000 soldiers. After these battles, "they were losing faith in their leaders and in the cause of union the deserters began pouring back into Illinois."
Deserters start arriving, and many of them are still armed. They camp out at a place called Point Prospect and until March of 1863, they do little besides steal food. Later, a story emerges about a soldier named Hig Phillip who paid a replacement to fight in his stead. Unlike other people who hired replacements, Hig Phillips did not have children or a condition that made fighting difficult—he simply did not want to fight. A while later, a group of former soldiers murder him. People are afraid of these men so scarred from war that they do not think anything of hurting or killing others.
One night, men representing the Federal Registrars come to the house asking about Eb. They say they have reason to believe he is a deserter, and they ask the Creightons if anyone has seen him lately. They all say no and allow the men to search the house. Jenny tells them that if they want to find deserters they should go to Point Prospect, but they make it clear they will not go there. The men leave, saying that if anyone sees Eb they must report it or suffer severe penalties.
That spring Jethro is plowing the field when he hears a strange noise. He finds Eb hiding. Eb is embarrassed that he has deserted the war, but he said that after losing battle after battle and burying man after man, he had to leave. Eb says he cannot go to the house because he does not want Ellen and Matt to know or to get into trouble. Eb says Point Prospect is an awful place—all the deserters are angry and violent. Jethro fills him in on everyone in the family and tells him about the Federal Registrars that came looking for Eb. Eb is upset, and says "I was an awful fool—at least you got a chance in battle—maybe it's once in a hundred, but it's a chance. This way, I got none." Eb goes on to say he wish he were back there, in the war. Jethro promises Eb that he will bring out a quilt and some food and returns to his work.
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