Across Five Aprils
Everyone is still wondering where Sherman's army is. People take solace in Grant's trust in Sherman, but others worry that he is crazy. Suddenly, in December, Sherman wires Washington telling them that he marched from Atlanta to the ocean and wanted to present the "city of Savannah as a Christmas gift." A few weeks later, stories of Sherman's march begin to circulate—they army had ransacked farms, eating all the food and burning everything in sight. Some people think that Sherman's army only gave the south what they deserve, but others think the behavior is cruel and unwarranted.
Sherman's army then turns north to meet Grant. The armies together moved into South Carolina, carrying with them Sherman's momentum. Again, the armies indulged in horrifying behavior. "The role of this state in bringing on the war served as a 'just' excuse for atrocities that no thoughtful man could excuse." Ed Turner, the Creighton's neighbor, has a son in the army that marched through South Carolina and reads of the events in a letter. He worries about the effect it will have on his son. When Matt tells him that he taught his son right from wrong, Ed responds that everyone, including Congress, is cheering on the army's behavior and that he thinks he son will go with the crowd.
The papers predict the end is near—seaports and railroads have been cut off, and many southerners are starving. A letter from Eb echoes the papers and announces his intentions to come home and help Jethro in the fields. However, the war persists, soldiers from each side dying, the South refusing to give up.
Jethro turns thirteen in the beginning of 1865, and his family notices that he seems more reserved and quiet. One day, Jethro says to his mother, "Somehow I don't have the heart for things that used to set me up so much," and Jethro confirms that he has aged well beyond his thirteen years. Jethro explains that is it hard to share his thoughts, because even he does not understand them.
Later, Ross Milton warns Jethro not to "expect peace to be a perfect pearl." He explains that the scars from the war—especially the resulting hatred—will take a long time to heal. Jethro realizes that Milton is right, especially because even with the arrival of peace, his brothers Tom and Bill will not come home. Jethro seeks comfort in the fact that they "still have the president." Jethro is upset when, after destroying his vision of peace, Milton does the same to the thirteenth amendment (the amendment that abolished slavery). Milton says that an amendment will not change how people think or feel and that many ex-slaves will wonder when that amendment will change their lives for the better and are able to get jobs or be equal to others.
Finally, in April, news comes that the war is over and that two men signed for peace at the Appomattox Court House in Virginia. Citizens over the north celebrated, drinking toasts, singing and crying in joy. Milton takes Jethro back to the same restaurant they visited years before. Jethro says he wants to shake Abraham Lincoln's hand. The Creightons are still celebrating, anticipating the arrival home of their sons, brothers, father, and friend when they receive the news that the president has been killed.
Jethro goes on with his daily business, but "there was no longer any beauty in the world about him or any serenity in his heart." Jethro never quite comes to peace with Lincoln's death and spends much time thinking and grieving. One day, he is lying on his back contemplating the tragedy when Shadrach Yale comes up to him. Shadrach says that Jenny is home too and that they wanted to surprise him. Shadrach tells him that he will help Jethro in the fields until John comes home, and then Jethro will move in with Shadrach and Jenny, to study. Jethro says that the family depends on him, but Shadrach says that his parents want what is best for him and that others can work the fields. Jethro runs up to the house to reunite with his sister.
The final chapter in the book is surprisingly downcast, despite the Union victory and despite the return of family members Jethro and the rest of the Creightons have missed for years. Hunt demonstrates that even the "right" outcome in a war is still, in a sense, wrong—she echoes previous sentiments that there was no right option in the situation. The way the North acts toward the conclusion of the war is reprehensible. They do not act like patriots or soldiers, but rather like undisciplined boys indulging their anger. The whole point of the war was to fight for the Union and fight to end slavery, not simply to fight for the sake of it. The Union's sacking of the South, and ruining of many lands and homes did not further the cause of the North. Instead, it was a show of cruelty and strength and happened simply because the North could do it.
Milton wisely tells Jethro that peace will not be perfect, and it is not. The world has changed, and even though the war is over, everyone bears the scars. Life does not—indeed, it cannot—return to the way it was before the war. Many men are dead, many animosities have only intensified, and many people including Jethro have aged much too quickly during the years of war. Milton's statement is also prophetic, as President Lincoln is assassinated very shortly after the war ends. For Jethro, this is the final blow. Throughout the war, the only person Jethro had real faith in was the president. The Generals came and went, the soldiers fought and deserted, and the citizens of the country quarreled. The president was the only unfaltering presence, and Jethro felt a particular kinship with him after they exchanged letters. Jethro, Milton, and the rest of the country relied on Lincoln to lead the nation through the post- war reconstruction, but, with his leadership suddenly and violently obliterated, the country seems directionless. Lincoln's assassination irreparably shatters any faith Jethro had not yet lost.
The final few paragraphs twist upward in hope but do not erase or reconstruct the tragedies that have occurred on the previous pages. Jethro gets to live with Jenny and Shadrach and gets to devote his life to study. Hunt leaves the reader to wonder how this will affect Jethro, and whether he will ever be able to make peace with the war and Lincoln's death. The ending has a glimmer of hope because we and Jethro realize that if anyone could change the direction of Jethro's life, it is Shadrach. If Jethro could seek solace in any activity, it is learning. However, the book closes with a feeling of finality, as everyone knows that no matter what else could happen to the characters, the mark the war and the assassination has left on them is indelible.
Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!