Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt

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Chapter 4 Summary

The first real victory for the North comes in February of 1862, when forces led by General Ulysses S. Grant capture Fort Henry, in Tennessee. Two weeks later, Fort Donelson, another Confederate stronghold, falls to the Union. People are "wild with joy," and the general feeling is that the war will be over "in a matter of weeks." Matt Creighton, however, sees no end in sight to the hostilities, and is disappointed with the much-touted General McClellan, who has so far made no move with the famed Army of the Potomac. Matt is intrigued, however, with the fact that two opposing generals, Grant and his Confederate counterpart S.B. Buckner, had been comrades at West Point. Ellen notes that their sons Bill and Tom, fighting on opposite sides now, had once been even closer than that.

A letter finally comes from Tom, who assures the family that he and Eb are all right. Tom reports that the two of them had been at both Fort Henry and Fort Donelson. While most of the work at Fort Henry had been done by Navy battleships called "ironsides," the foot soldiers had engaged in heavy fighting at Donelson, and Tom and Eb had seen many of their friends "bad hurt" or killed. Tom writes with a sad air of disillusionment:

I am not so proud about Donelson as mebby I ought to be...you tell Jeth that bein a soljer aint so much.

The letter leaves Jethro with "a great loneliness" inside, but later, to his delight, Ellen sends him over to Shadrach Yale's cabin so that the schoolmaster can read the letter too. Jethro makes the arduous trip alone on foot through bitter weather to the teacher's cabin about a mile away. Shad is pleased to see him, and invites him in to share a meal. Even though he is eleven years Jethro's senior, the young teacher has an amiable way of talking with him, man-to-man. Shad asks about Jenny. When Jethro admits that she had been crying when he set out, the schoolmaster expresses his frustration with Matt Creighton, who will not let his daughter marry him because he thinks she is too young.

Shad tells Jethro that if it were not for the war, he and Jenny would be willing to wait for years to be married, but as it is, uncertainty about the future imposes a sense of urgency over all their plans. Jethro tentatively suggests that perhaps the war will be over soon, but Shad points out the ludicrousness of the idea that just because the Union has finally won a couple of battles, a swift victory is in sight.

After reading Tom's letter thoughtfully, Shad, ever the educator, takes paper and pencil and draws out a map of the country so that Jethro can better understand the events of the day. He marks rivers and towns, and the Confederate line starting in eastern Kentucky, crossing the Missouri, and extending over into Indian territory. Shad points out two rivers, the Tennessee and the Cumberland, which also cross the line and which are vital to the South because they are used to transport supplies for its forces. The Union victories at Fort Henry and Fort Donelson are significant because they cut rebel supply lines, securing Kentucky for the side of the North.

Shad demonstrates to...

(The entire section is 846 words.)