Across Five Aprils

by Irene Hunt

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What does John write to Nancy in Chapter 11 of Across Five Aprils?

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Three of John's letters are actually recounted in Chapter 11.  In the first, which arrives sometime during the fall or early winter of 1863, John tells about the infamous Battle of Chickamauga and its aftermath.  Outnumbered by the Confederates "by as many as twenty thousand", the Army of the Cumberland had suffered a terrible defeat, but the defeat was not complete, as the left wing of the Army held out to regroup and fight another day.  John tells how his brigade had been near starvation in the days after the Battle, with strategically placed Southern snipers preventing "food or provender to get through to either men or animals", and how, when reinforcements finally arrived, led by Hooker and Sherman, the Army of the Cumberland was treated like "a third rate army", but fought bravely and effectively alongside their haughty brothers nonetheless.  John proudly relates how the Army of the Cumberland "had so broken the center of the Confederate line", that the Confederates had to "retreat and...leave Chattanooga in the hands of the Federals".

John's next letter comes "weeks later", and in it, John expresses praise for Jethro and pride that his little brother at home "is close to (John's) littel boys".

In the last of his letters described in the Chapter, John tells about a clash at Nashville, which occurred in December of 1864.  A "second sheet" is added to this letter, containing "news that those at home had almost despaired of hearing".  John had been "put in charge of helpin to feed the reb prisners" taken in Tennessee, and was stunned to recognize among their ranks his brother Bill, "growed to look as old as pa looked a fue years back".  John got permission from his captain to spend some time with his "own blood brother", and the two sat and talk for awhile, "like brothers ought to talk".  John related the news from home, and after awhile, when it was time to leave, the two "shook hands fer a long time like as if (their) fingers didnt want to let go".  Bill's parting request was that John tell their mother that he was not at Pittsburg Landing, and so could not have fired the bullet that killed their brother Tom (Chapter 11).

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