Ed Turner's young son Sammy is in South Carolina. The war is coming to an end, and in the South, Union soldiers, led by the likes of William Sherman and others, are running wild, looting and burning everything in their path. Ed's son has written about "the burning of Columbia, of how the soldiers laughed as a great wind fanned the flames, of the loot carried off...of intimate family treasures scattered by the wind by men who seemed to have gone mad". Public opinion is encouraging these acts of excess, as the North, angry at the South for starting a war in which "hundreds of thousands of boys hev been lost", are declaring that the South is only getting what they deserve. Ed Turner, appalled at the wanton destruction, is worried about what his son's involvement is doing to him, wondering "kin a lad come through weeks of this kind of actions without becomin' a hardened man...is human life goin' to be forever cheap to him and decency somethin' to mock at?"
Ed is especially concerned because Sammy, who is only eighteen, has always been the type of boy who "goes with the crowd without thinkin'"; Ed and his wife "has had to guard aginst that way of his". Now, soldiers like his son are "bein' cheered on...Congress...the whole country...is happy with 'em, these boys air goin' to believe that they be heroes fer lootin' and burnin', fer laughin' at distress, fer smashin' the helpless without pity". Ed, who, with his wife, have tried hard to raise their son to be a good and decent human being, is afraid that his experiences in war will rob him of his sense of compassion and integrity, undermining the strong moral character they have tried to instill in him (Chapter 12).