Chapter 8 Summary
In looking back to the spring and early summer of 1862, Jethro sees that things had been going relatively well for the North. There had been victories at Forts Henry and Donelson in Tennessee, and only a small strip of the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Vicksburg, in the state of Mississippi, had been under Southern control. As Shad had explained, the Union had only to seize that area, and the Confederacy would essentially have been cut in two. Jethro remembers also, however, his teacher's intimation that the fighting to secure this end would be horrific beyond belief. Indeed, the boy cannot but perceive the recent battle at Shiloh as an empty victory for the North, because of the deaths of Tom and so many thousands of others.
The tide seems to turn in favor of the South in the autumn of that year. Rebel forces make inroads into Kentucky, which had previously been won for the side of the Union at Fort Donelson. In addition, a second confrontation between the opposing armies takes place at Bull Run, in Virginia. This time, the Northern army is defeated by Confederates under the commands of Generals Lee, Jackson, and Longstreet.
Despite the devastating news from the battlefield, work on the farm goes on. In late September, more than twenty men from the surrounding areas gather to build a new barn for Matt Creighton. Though he is crippled with arthritis and unable to work, Ross Milton, the newspaper editor, comes by too, to Jethro's great delight. Milton brings a load of logs for the project, sent by Dave Burdow; the outcast would not come himself, but the editor reports that since word has gotten around about how he saved Jethro from harm on his way home from town, Burdow has gained the respect of many in the community, and has "shaken several hands that have been extended to him" since that fateful day back in March.
Ellen, Jenny, and Nancy prepare a feast for the helpers at noon, and the atmosphere during the meal is jocular and almost celebratory. Later in the afternoon, however, talk returns to the subject of war. Although Israel Thomas still has faith in the Northern generals, and counsels patience, many of the men are harshly critical of the Union leadership, especially the disappointingly ineffective General McClellan, and even President Lincoln himself.
A few days after the barn-raising, another correspondence comes from Shadrach Yale. This time, Jenny shares the missive with the whole family; she seems to have attained a new level of maturity and dignity after receiving Shad's letter from Antietam. Shad is serving under the much-maligned McClellan and reports that the men who have been with the diminutive general for some time defend him fiercely. Shad himself respects his commander and believes that he is "personally brave and devoted to the cause for which his men are fighting." He senses, however, that something is lacking in the general: "he does not have the cold approach to killing, the...
(The entire section is 766 words.)