Jethro does not know what to do. He feels sorry for Eb, but he knows that the family can get into a lot of trouble. He knows he cannot tell his parents or ask them for advice, and he blames his silence and preoccupation at dinner on being tired. Jenny presses him on it, and guesses Jethro has been smoking. Jethro says yes, to divert her, and asks her to sneak him a little bit of food later. She agrees. That night, Jethro cannot sleep. The only thing he can think of to do is to write President Lincoln and ask for his advice. In the morning he takes the food Jenny gave him, some tea, and a quilt to Eb. At noon Jethro goes into town and mails his letter.
Weeks later, Jethro gets his response. The family sees the postmark and waits for Jethro to open the letter. In the letter Lincoln says that he has been pondering the problem and had just decided that deserters could rejoin their posts without punishment if they report to a recruitment office by April. Lincoln commends Jethro on seeking out "what is right."
Chapters 8 and 9 are grim. Jethro and the Creightons continue to survive, but the situations both at home and in the war are deteriorating. Perhaps the worst indication is that the soldiers themselves are giving up. Hunt makes a point here about what it means to believe in what one is doing. The outsiders who get newspapers and hear reports about what is happening in the war are afforded the luxury of an outsider's opinion. Those people can decide that they support and admire Ulysses Grant or General McClellan or Abe Lincoln, or they can decide they do not like or support them. People on the outside have the luxury of judgment without having to spend any moment in peril or making the difficult decisions. People on the outside take for granted that those involved in the war cause actually support it. They believe in their generals and their soldiers without ever stopping to realize how lucky they are that they can believe in them. People on the outside are blessed and can afford to believe in the soldiers and the war effort because of what they do not know and what they will never know.
This section marks the time when the soldiers begin to lose faith. They stop believing in the war effort and they stop believing in themselves. The reason the trend of desertion is so daunting is because of what it represents. If the fighters cannot make themselves believe in the cause, then the situation is so bad that they are willing to break a promise and put themselves at risk. Jethro and the rest of the country struggles to make sense of the war, and one of the ways they do is that to put stock in heroes. Everyone needs a hero in a war to represent triumph and confidence and faith, but in this war the people have been denied that. Generals have seesawed back and forth, riding a public wave of alternating exultation and disappointment. Soldiers desert the effort, leaving no one in whom the people or the soldiers can put any faith.
Abraham Lincoln's letter fills a void that Hunt carefully created. Jethro longs for a guiding voice to help him decide what to do about Eb, because like many other people Jethro does not know what to do. The choices seem to all be wrong and wrong. The president's letter reminds Jethro that first and foremost, seeking the right thing is commendable and never shameful. The president also provides Jethro with a concrete answer to his particular problem. The president's decision indicates recognition of the grimness of the war effort, and the president's willingness to forgive the deserters if they rejoin is indicative of tolerance and understanding for what the soldiers have been through. He may not be a fighter or a general, but in a time when voices are hushed and leaders virtually nonexistent, the president steps in to take command and demonstrate mercy.