Chapter 3 Summary
War fever is promoted shamelessly among the little towns in southern Illinois that summer. Every weekend, farming families pack children and picnic baskets into wagons to attend holiday-like gatherings, where speakers regale them with inflamed oratory about war. In late July, the first actual battle of the war takes place at Bull Run, in Virginia. Carriages filled with finely-dressed onlookers descend upon the scene, "all apparently eager to see the spectacle of young men butchering one another." The Union troops are soundly defeated and forced to make a hasty retreat. The battalion travels back along chaotic roads choked with the vehicles of witnesses who have come to celebrate what they had believed would be a quick and easy victory. News of a second resounding loss for the Union at a field called Ball's Bluff, also in Virginia, comes shortly thereafter. Reality sets in as the nation finally begins to understand that a long, bloody ordeal lies ahead.
Shadrach Yale decides to fulfill his contract and finish up the school year and John opts to wait until the harvest is in before they leave. Tom and Eb however set out at the end of summer to fight for the North. A short time later, the Union suffers another defeat, now at Wilson's Creek in Missouri. This development holds special significance for the people of southern Illinois because it is so close to home. Turmoil in the border states intensifies and Jethro, listening to the the men who gather frequently in the Creightons' yard to talk of war, becomes acquainted with a fascinating array of new names and places. These terms only later will begin to form a meaningful picture in his mind as the "great drama" unfolds.
Bill remains alone among the men, keeping silent throughout the upheaval of those days. He tells Jethro, who has taken to sleeping with him in the loft since the departure of Tom and Eb, that he has been "roamin' the fields" at night; the stillness and space help him unravel his thinking, which "is all of a tangle" of late. Bill is tormented by the terrible events that are taking place around the nation. Jethro asks, "The North will fin'ly win, won't it, Bill?" He responds:
I don't know if anybody ever 'wins' a war, Jeth. I think that the beginnin's of this war has been fanned by hate till it's a blaze now; and a blaze kin destroy him that makes it and him that the fire was set to hurt. There oughtn't to be a war, Jeth; this war ought never to ha' bin.
Bill expresses his anguish at not being able to be sure about things like his father and John. He wants to "be one with 'em" in their fervor for the cause of the Union, but when he looks at things one way, he sees them from the other perspective as well. Bill tells his young brother:
I hate slavery...but I hate another slavery of people workin' their lives away in dirty fact'ries fer a wage that kin scarce keep life in 'em; I hate secession, but at the same time I can't see how a whole region kin be able to live if their way of life is all of a sudden upset.
(The entire section is 840 words.)