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In May 1963, news arrives that the Union lost a battle in Chancellorsville. The Union army had more soldiers, but Confederate general Robert E. Lee outsmarted them. The Creightons receive a letter from Shadrach a few months later and learn he was not one of the unfortunate soldiers. Shadrach expresses anger and pessimism at the prospect of future battles. They also receive a letter from John, who inquired mostly about the status of the family. Eb writes also, saying that rejoining the army was hard but that he is doing okay.
People begin criticizing Grant's slow and seemingly inexplicable movements in Vicksburg, but the president does not demote Grant. They also learn that Robert E. Lee's army is moving north to Pennsylvania. The people fear Pennsylvania could be an eventual gateway to Washington D.C. Soon they receive word about the battle of Gettysburg, the most horrific and violent battle of all, but eventually resulting in a Union victory. News of a victory at Vicksburg follows—Grant's army surrounded the Confederate army and cut off all supplies, starving them into surrender. The Creightons learn that Shadrach was critically injured at Gettysburg.
Ross Milton suggests to Matt that he let Jenny see Shadrach. Milton offers to accompany her. Matt says that it is probably too late, and Milton says that on the chance it is not, Jenny should go. Matt agrees, and Jenny and Milton leave the next morning. A long time passes before they hear from Milton, who tells them that Shadrach is still alive but critically ill. He credits Shadrach's ability to hold onto life to seeing Jenny. Months later, Jenny and Shadrach send a request that Matt give written consent for them to marry. He does. Jethro marks the marriage in the ledger in the Bible.
Nancy does not hear from John again until December, and the waiting almost makes her assume the worst. She knows that John fought at Chickamauga, which was reported as a chaotic and confusing battle. The Confederates outnumbered the Union soldiers and beat them, except for one army under the command of George Thomas, which had been able to hold fast. Their stubbornness eventually resulted in the Confederates retreating. In his letter, John says the battle was hard, but he is proud of the way they held up. He says that they nearly starved and ate "things that wood make you sick to think about" until reinforcements from other armies came. John explains that the armies came together and planned to flank and trap the Confederates and that each tried to outdo the other. John's army had climbed a ridge and broken a Confederate line.
That November, the president makes the Gettysburg address. His mother says it "has the ring of the Scriptures about it." In December, Lincoln announces that he will pardon any Confederate who promised to swear by the Constitution and be a part of the Union. He also promises that any Confederate state can rejoin the Union if ten percent of its voters could assemble a Union government. In early 1864, the president's bid for reelection begins. Both northerners and southerners are angry with him for various reasons. In the meantime, Lee is still winning battles. Finally, Grant and Lee meet head on, and although Grant does not win, he refuses to give up. Grant redirects the army south to Petersburg—a city through which the railroads Lee uses to get supplies run—there would have to be a siege.
President Lincoln gets his party's nomination for president, and Milton predicts, "Lincoln will win. When it comes to the final vote, the country will not admit that its sons have died for nothing." They learn that one of the Union navies sunk a Confederate war ship and that the armies were closing in on Mobile, Alabama. Soon after, General Sherman reports that they have taken Atlanta as well. The North was close to victory and that fall Lincoln is reelected.
Soon after, Sherman's army disappears—no one knows where they are. The people worry that Sherman was ambushed and defeated. The North loses a battle in Nashville, and then there is another battle in Nashville. John is in this second battle and writes home to tell them that while taking care of rebel prisoners, he saw Bill. He filled Bill in on news from home. Bill wanted John to tell them that he did not fire the bullet that killed Tom.
By chapters 10 and 11, even the war seems to drag on and on. Hunt does not even represent all of the battles in this book, but there are still too many of which to keep track. The tide switches between the north and the south often, although until these chapters there is an overriding sense that the south has the upper hand. Here, after a series of particularly violent battles, the north begins to struggle back. General Grant serves as an emblem of the war effort. He has struggled, oscillating between being referred to as a hero and a disappointment. Grant gets beaten by Lee, who is the better general. But Grant is stubborn and never gives up. He ends up winning battles by cutting off supplies, not by fancy legal maneuvers. Grant personifies the dogged nature of this war, which is part of the reason he remains an unsung hero up until the end.
Grant also underscores an important theme in this chapter—having faith. The North becomes cynical about its generals, realizing that most of them are inconsistent and disappointing. They feel this way about Grant too, and they question his tactics until he surprises them with a victory. The people feel the same way about President Lincoln. Northerners are angry with him for being merciful toward the South, and Southerners are mad at him because he demands their presence in the Union. In a show of faith—not just in him, but faith that the war will end in the near future—the country reelects Lincoln. Lincoln, in the famous Gettysburg Address, rewards that faith.
Faith in love is also a theme in these chapters, as Jenny makes her way to Washington D.C. to be with Shadrach. The couple's faith in each other is what ultimately makes this reunion happen and what results in Shadrach's recovery and their marriage. It is interesting to see that Matt does not put up an argument when Jenny asks for his consent to marry. War changes everything, including making life and love and happiness even more precious than it was before. Matt's former argument was that Jenny was "too young." Because of the war, however, Matt has seen much happen to people who are young. The young fought, suffered, and died just as the old did. The young became people who were old in experience and in body. Even Jethro is no longer young—it seems that no one in a war- torn country maintains his or her youth or the innocence that accompanies it. Thus, Matt knows that neither Jenny nor Shadrach is too young for marriage, given all they have struggled through.
John and Bill's reunion underscores the importance of family, even if, militarily, it seems they are consorting with the enemy. As Bill asks about the family, Hunt reminds the reader that Bill has had absolutely no contact with any of the Creightons since he left. At the very least, Tom, Eb, John, and Shadrach have had letters to which they can look forward, and some purpose and reason to return home. Bill, on the other hand, does not even have a home anymore. He knows that the conversation with John is as close as he will ever come to being with his family. As if to demonstrate his love and loyalty to them, he asks John not to wish them well, but to tell them that he did not kill Tom.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Across Five Aprils!