Across Five Aprils Chapter 4
In 1862, there is a first Northern victory in Tennessee, and the name Ulysses S. Grant becomes familiar. When the news of Fort Donelson's fall reaches the town, people begin expressing their joy and admiration for Grant, but Matt doubts that the war will be over soon. Matt picks up the paper and reads a note sent to the Confederate general from Grant who demands unconditional and immediate surrender. The family is worried about Tom and Eb who have gone to fight for Grant's army. The battles are so intensely fought that Matt and Jenny choose not to read some of the details of it to Ellen.
One day, Ed Turner brings the family a letter from Tom. In the letter, Tom writes about the Union soldiers taking Fort Henry and the fight at Donelson. He writes that on the way to Donelson, many of the soldiers threw away their heavy blankets and coats to lighten their loads. When they arrived at Donelson, however, the weather turned cold, and many froze to death in the snow. Tom ends his letter by adding: "bein a soljer aint so much." Chapter 4, pg. 50
After reading the letter, Ellen with a sorrowful look on her face goes out into the pantry, not saying anything. When she comes back, she tells Jethro to go visit Shad at his place and to take him Tom's letter. In anticipation of a visit to Shad, Jethro quickly does his chores. As he is working, Jenny comes to him in tears. She complains that Matt will not let her marry Shad before he leaves for the war. Offering to help him get ready for the trip, Jenny makes Jethro promise her to tell him everything that Shad says.
It is a mile to Shad's dwelling that is by the schoolhouse where he teaches. Shad greets Jethro who has endured the freezing weather to come see him. To Jethro, Shad's dwelling seems cozy and warm. Shad immediately sets out to make dinner, and he asks about Jenny. When Jethro says that she has been crying about not being able to marry him, Shad shows resentment toward Matt for not allowing the two of them to marry. He explains that if it weren't for the war, he wouldn't be in such rush, but he and John will leave next week. He will go back to Philadelphia, and John will go to Chicago. Shad confesses that he is not eager to be a soldier; it is not something he had planned for his life. When Jethro shows Shad the letter from Tom, Shad calls war "a brutal business."
With a map, Shad shows Jethro the Confederate line that begins from eastern Kentucky. He points out the two rivers that are crossed by the Confederate line, where the Union gunboats are stationed, and the towns that the Confederates have been getting their provisions from as well as the railroad line. From this, Jethro understands that the Union generals attacked the forts that they did in order to cut off supplies. Shad further explains that winning a battle does not guarantee a victory in the war; small battles are only a part of a bigger plan. Their talk turns from that of generals to the President. When Jethro calls him "Ol' Abe," Shad immediately corrects him, telling him it is "Mr. Lincoln." Jethro hadn't meant any disrespect, but he knows that many people call him things far worse such as "the baboon" or "the ugly, ignorant backwoods Lincoln." Shad says that he can't explain it, but he has faith in Mr. Lincoln.
Shad also tells Jethro that Bill acted according to what he believed was right. Although Bill might be criticized by others in the county, Bill was courageous for doing what he thought to be the right thing.
Happy in Shad's company, Jethro tells him that he will remember this night for a long time. Shad tells him that when he comes back from the war, Jenny, Jethro, and he are going to live together. Jethro will go to school in the East and live with them. Shad says that he will leave Jethro all his books so he can read them with Jenny during his absence. Shad also instructs him to read newspapers: "The accounts you read in newspapers today will fill the pages of history by the time you're a man." Chapter 4, pg. 62
After supper, Shad takes his guitar to accompany Jethro who sings a song that his mother brought from Kentucky. Ellen used to say that people in Kentucky thought that the lyrics to the song had been witch-talk to the Devil. Shad does not believe in witches, and he explains that he is angry with people who hurt others based on beliefs that they cannot prove right or wrong. After talking, Jethro turns to the covers of Shad's bed. Flashes of their conversation keep him awake for a few minutes.