Chapter 12 Summary
In December of 1864, the nation learns that General Sherman has won Savannah for the North while advancing through Georgia from Atlanta to the sea. The Union at first rejoices, but then stories of the nature of that infamous march begin to filter in. In Georgia, Sherman had allowed his men to run wild, pillaging, burning, and leaving utter destruction in his wake. After taking Savannah, he had turned north into South Carolina, where his army continued its lawless plundering, hungry for revenge and "enraged at the stubborn tenacity of the South in holding onto a cause that was already lost."
Jethro turns thirteen in the first part of 1865. Over the course of the past four war-torn years, he has remained slender, but has grown tall. While he works tirelessly and is unfailingly kind to the members of his family, his nature is increasingly characterized by a certain reserve that renders him introspective, and, at times, almost brooding. In temperament, he has become much like Bill, "the gentlest of [the Creighton] sons." Jethro is deeply troubled by both the war, and the prospect of peace when it comes. Ross Milton has told him not to expect peace to be "a perfect pearl," because the nation so ravaged by years of war has been destroyed, both physically and spiritually. The editor says that "the hate that burns in old scars, and the thirst for revenge that has distorted men...may make peace a sorry thing." Milton's only hope lies with Abraham Lincoln, and he says:
...if [the President] can control the bigots, if he can allow the defeated their dignity and a chance to rise out of their despair...then maybe peace will not be a mockery.
Echoing the sentiments of Jethro's cousin Wilse Graham, from that 1861 April which seems so far in the past, Milton says that though slavery has been officially abolished through the passage of the thirteenth amendment, the benefits of freedom for those who "have known nothing but servitude all the days of their lives" will be elusive at best. He wonders what will happen to these "men and women with dark faces," who will be set adrift in a hostile land without experience or education; he fears "they'll be pawns in the hands of exploiters all over the nation."
Spring comes again, and finally, in the fifth April of the war, the guns fall silent. At Appomattox Court House in Virginia, two tired generals sign terms of peace.
The Union celebrates, and hope abounds; Jethro is allowed to ride into Newton with Ed Turner to join in the festivities. A few short days later, however, "unbelievable joy" turns to "grief and desolation" when, in a small theater in Washington, President Abraham Lincoln is "senselessly slain by the hand of a madman."
Devastated by the loss of the great man in whom he, as had so many others, had placed his hopes, Jethro longs to pay tribute to the slain president as his funeral train passes through Springfield, only a hundred miles from home. The "yoke of the farm," however, lies squarely on the young boy's shoulders, and there is neither time nor opportunity for him to make the journey. Overcome with sorrow and rage at the death of "the humblest and...most magnificent" man...
(The entire section is 848 words.)