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[Note: Page numbers are from the paperback, Berkley edition/March 1986.]
1) “Shad’s leavin’ fer Newton now. I guess Jenny has to say good-bye like as if he was goin’ to the North Pole” (p.9)
This lighthearted comment, spoken by Jethro, shows his childishness and immaturity before the war. It also illustrates his undeveloped use of English and the author’s use of dialect.
2) “War meant loud brass music and shining horses ridden by men wearing uniforms finer than any suit in the stores at Newton; it meant men riding like kings, looking neither to the right nor the left, while lesser men in perfect lines strode along with guns across their shoulders, their heads held high like horses with short reins.” (p. 15)
This excerpt explains Jethro’s initial impression of war. At this point he is confident that his brothers will dress up, fight, and come home safely. Death will only come to distant strangers.
3) “I don’t know if anybody ever ‘wins’ a war, Jeth. I think that the beginnin’s of this war has been fanned by hate till it’s a blaze now; and a blaze kin destroy him that makes it and him that the fire was set to hurt.” (p. 41)
Bill’s insight into war causes the internal struggle that will eventually result in his fighting for the South. This quote prefaces his presentation to Jethro of both sides of the conflict.
4) “When one found comfort, he was grateful, but he was never such a fool as to expect a great deal of it.” (p. 53)
This description accompanies Jethro’s ride to Shadrach’s house in the bitter cold, tears streaming down his cheeks. It expresses the mood of determination and Jethro’s knowledge that hardships have a purpose.
5) “Now he was to know labor from dawn till sunset; he was to learn what it meant to scan the skies for rain while corn burned in the fields, or to see a heavy rainstorm lash grain from full, strong wheat stalks, or to know that hay, desperately needed for winter feeding, lay rotting in a wet quagmire of a field.” (p. 92)
By the second April of the war (1862) Jethro has to assume full responsibility for the farm along with the accompanying farm chores. The other young males of the family have gone to fight and Matt has had a heart attack. There will be no further characterization of Jethro as a boy.
6) “It’s a sight easier to be a general in a newspaper office, I reckon, than it is to be one out on a battlefield.” (p. 93)
This expresses Ed Turner’s disdain toward those who change their opinions according to the latest newspaper report. It follows his discussion with Jethro about the battle of Pittsburgh Landing and how the public who had been praising Grant has now turned against Grant.
7) “And how does it happen, if we’re in the right, that the Lord lets Jeff Davis get men like Lee and Jackson and gives us ones like McClellan and Halleck?” (p. 118)
Jethro speaks aloud to his dog, sharing troubled thoughts that the Union generals don’t compare to the Confederate leaders. Lincoln was worrying about the same thing, foreshadowing the slaughter at Fredericksburg.
8) “There will be much criticism of that decision, but you will understand when I say if it be a wrong one, I have then erred on the side of mercy.” (p. 147)
This excerpt of Lincoln’s letter to Jethro shows both the power and the compassion of the President. This steadfast evenhandedness inspires Jethro’s respect and love.
9) “ ‘Don’t expect peace to be a perfect pearl, Jeth,’ Ross Milton had warned... ‘the hate that burns in old scars, and the thirst for revenge...are the things that may make peace a sorry thing.’ ” (p. 179)
This is Ross Milton’s prophetic truism. Though Jethro hates to hear it, he knows it is true. He and Milton agree at this point to place their hope in the President.
10) “It was the saddest and most cruel April of the five.” (p. 184)
Jethro, who has withstood so much during the war years and shown such forbearance, is struck with grief at the news of the President’s assassination. The contrast between the fifth April and the first underscores the dramatic changes both Jethro and the nation have endured. This last, devastating change proves to be almost too much.