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As it grows dark, the men return from the fields. Jenny and Nancy prepare a deliciously described farm fresh “compn’y supper”. The pleasurable conversation of family, weddings, births, deaths, and occasional good fortune gradually gives way to the troubles of the nation. Matthew asks Wilse about the possibility of Kentucky seceding. Wilse confirms that possibility and argues for the South. Matt, Ellen and John argue against slavery. Then Bill, quiet and pensive at first, asks accusing questions of both sides and reminds John, “We’re from the South.” Ellen calls the troubled, uncomfortable exchange to a halt and the conversation is awkwardly directed away from “hard talk”.
The dinnertime exchange causes feelings of turmoil and frustration for Jethro. He had been excited and confident about the shining horses and easy victory the war would bring, but now he begins to realize war is something beyond that. He fights the urge to cry as Jenny pours him some more milk.
After dinner Bill helps Jenny in the kitchen and the rest of the family waits outside for Shadrach Yale to arrive with news from town. Shad arrives wearily with news that, “The Confederates have fired on Fort Sumter.” The details of the battle, as reported in the papers, are discussed. Wilse angrily accuses “Ol’ Abe” of fixing the situation to incriminate the South. Eb vows to get involved in the war and he and Tom leave the group. Jethro falls asleep, tired and worried as the men continue talking. “It’s war.”
This chapter again illustrates the bond of family. All are pleased and excited to see Cousin Wilse and hear news of those they hadn’t seen for years. When the conversation turns into an angry debate about the war, Ellen stops the argument and reminds Wilse that he is welcome and loved. However Wilse’s comments and Bill’s reticence and reluctance to choose a side foreshadow how the family will be strained as the war progresses.
The family argument, which explains the historic argument between North and South, deeply affects Jethro. He begins to realize that war is more than patriotism and public display. He understands the seriousness of his mother’s comment in the previous chapter that Lincoln must pick between two fearsome choices. Jethro feels conflicted. The family debate not only serves to awaken Jethro’s realization, but also describes to the reader that in the animosity between North and South, neither side is entirely right or wrong.
Chapter 2 thereby establishes the flow of the novel. Rather than being a mere historical backdrop, the events of the Civil War actually drive the action of the story. The family exchange over dinner is typical of the arguments of the time. Shad’s report about the attack on Fort Sumter briefly, but accurately describes the events surrounding the attack. Even Wilse’s seemingly biased comments are interpretations of the historically supported motives and purposes behind Lincoln’s plan to resupply the fort. The comment, “Not from seven of ‘em,” shows that Wilse knows there are seven Southern states confirmed against Lincoln that will fight the seventy-five thousand volunteers the President has summoned.
The remainder of the novel, though fiction, is the result of Hunt’s extensive historical research and the stories from her grandfather who lived Jethro’s part during the American Civil War.