When word comes that "the terms of peace had been signed by two tired men somewhere in Virginia at a place called Appomattox Court House", the Union can finally celebrate. Many people flock to town, where "bunting (is) spread out by the yard, flags (fly) from almost every house, a long unused cannon boom(s) from the cliffs above the river". Prisoners in the county are allowed a brief reprieve "so their voices might add to the clamor...men (dance) in the streets and (embrace) one another". Toasts are raised "to Lincoln, Grant, and...others", but many weep even as they shout in jubilation, for the cost of the war in lives had been enormous, and "there (is) hardly a home in the county that (has) not felt the fiery lash of the war's tongue".
Despite the rejoicing and sense of relief that accompanies the news that the war is over, there is a sense of grim exhaustion and perhaps foreboding that tempers the celebrations. Those who can reflect upon the situation with realistic eyes cannot help but know that the road to reconstruction will be long and hard. Even though it has been evident that the South could not ultimately win for some time, the Confederacy would not admit defeat, and many lives have been lost and destruction wrought even when "hopes of homecoming and peace (have been) just within realization". In the closing months of the war, the South has been pillaged and burned by Union forces allowed to run wild, and anger and enmity on both sides still prevail. Although slavery has been officially abolished, the question of what will happen to all those newly emancipated has not been addressed.
Then, while the final awareness of the war's end is still fresh, comes the worst news of all. President Lincoln, on whose shoulders the hope of a nation rests, is assassinated at a theater in the capital (Chapter 12).