Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.

The Capriciousness of Public Opinion

Every time Hunt describes a newspaper article or the general opinion about a battle or decision, she shows us just how erratic and extreme the public opinion can be. The public opinion alternately reveres and devastates every general involved in the war effort. It also both criticizes and compliments the president. The public thinks that the North will win the war, then suddenly they believe the South will win it. The public opinion contributes to the general fatigue of the war, as everyone's intensities are drawn out by what they hear from others. Hunt also draws a distinction between peoples' real motivations and their motivations according to the newspapers. All of the public figures are human, but the way in which the public reacts to them almost suggests that they are not.

The Power of the Presidency

Jethro and Ross Milton, among others, secure their faith ultimately in the president. The Northern army swaps generals, the war ebbs and flows, the citizens fall victim to the back and forth of gossip and public opinion, but the one constant is Abraham Lincoln. His constancy is of great personal significance to Jethro when they exchange letters, and Lincoln reveals the same issue that plagued Jethro troubled him. Lincoln commends Jethro on seeking out what was right and reminds Jethro that even in the midst of war, people must continue to value rightness as most important. Lincoln, indirectly, rescues Eb. He provides a way for Southern deserters to rejoin the Union without penalty. He does not want to enter into war but knows he must and remains steadfast in his decision. When everyone else falters with worry and when everyone doubts the war effort and that any good can come of it, there is still the president, firm and proud.

The Importance of Redemption and Forgiveness

Grudges are especially dangerous during wartime. Hatred and anger seem to prevail, and Hunt emphasizes the Creightons' ability to forgive. Matt persuades the town not to hurt or kill Travis Burdow, who killed his own daughter. The Creightons forgive Mr. Burdow, who redeems himself by helping Jethro and by sending materials to rebuild the barn. John forgives Bill and talks to him as a brother while they are on different sides of the war. The townspeople support the Creightons against the few who try and punish them for Bill's actions. In this book, forgiveness is crucial in cases where people are motivated by good. The ability to redeem and forgive, especially during a time when everyone must exist among hatred and anger, helps the Creightons manage through the five years of the war.