Across Five Aprils appeals to a rather specialized audience. The sophisticated treatment of the Civil War themes requires some familiarity with the great upheaval in American history. This quiet story unfolds in a rural corner of southern Illinois and describes the effects of the war on a human scale, concentrating on the experiences of Jethro Creighton. There are no firsthand accounts of battles from Jethro: everything about the fighting is filtered through letters from older brothers who have gone off to fight.
The novel presents some events not often depicted in stories about the Civil War: troops deserting their regiments, barns burned because the owners are suspected of Confederate sympathies, the bitterness that follows the end of the war, and the unpopularity of Abraham Lincoln. This account does not mythologize or glorify war; instead it offers a realistic view.