Across Five Aprils Chapter 9
With the flux of deserters, the Point Prospect campground becomes a base for these soldiers, and people are careful not to go near this place. It is said that the soldiers are desperate and armed. Early in 1863, there are minor thefts of food, but in March, there is a murder. A man named Hig Phillips is murdered by a group of young soldiers. Lazy Phillips who was known to favor a comfortable life of good food and bed had supposedly bought someone to go to war for him. Thus, he had not been very popular in the community, but his murder frightens everyone. Nancy shuts down her house and comes to live with the Creightons, and Jenny is careful about leaving home for errands.
One night in February of 1863, three men come from the Federal Registrars. They are looking for Eb who they claim has deserted from the Army of Tennessee. After looking around the house to search for Eb and telling Jethro that they must report to the office when they know of his whereabouts, the men leave.
One spring day, Jethro goes to John's place to work. While working in the field, he hears strange bird calls from the nearby woods. Walking toward the source of noise, he discovers that it is Eb: "Then a skeleton came out from among the trees. It was the skeleton of a Union soldier, though the uniform it wore was so ragged and filthy it was difficult to identify. The sunken cheeks were covered with a thin scattering of fuzz; the hair was lank and matted. It fell over the skeleton's forehead and down into its eyes." Chapter 9, pg. 134 Eb admits to having deserted the army because he could no longer endure the fighting and had felt homesick. He has been at the Point Prospect camp, but the soldiers there are jittery and tense. Eb longingly asks about the rest of the family. Jethro gives him his own food which Eb eats hungrily. When Jethro tells him about the men who came from the Federal Registrars, Eb becomes frightened, saying that he has nowhere to go. He would do anything to go back to fight again, but he has shamed himself by deserting.
Jethro is troubled by the prospect of having to make a decision about Eb. He remembers what the men from the Registrars had said about not turning in deserters. He also remembers Tom and others who died fighting, and thinks that it is unfair to them to harbor a quitter. But having never been in battles himself, he has no idea what soldiers must endure. He can consult his father, but his father would be equally powerless to do anything for Eb.
Jenny notices that Jethro is troubled by something, but he does not tell her about Eb. At night, Jethro thinks of people he could consult. Ross Milton is in Newtown which is too far. Ed Turner has problems of his own with two sons in the army. Suddenly, Jethro has an idea to consult Mr. Lincoln because he thinks that Mr. Lincoln will understandingly look at a problem from different perspectives.
Jethro begins writing a letter that night, consulting Ross Milton's book on correct English usage. The next day, Eb seems to be in a better condition. Jethro takes him some food, and the quilt he had given him from Nancy's seems to have given him some comfort. Eb says that he would like to go back to the army, but a deserter cannot return. That noon, Jethro goes to Hidalgo to mail his letter, and everyday, he waits for a reply.
One day, Ed Turner brings a letter from Washington D.C. addressed to Jethro from Mr. Lincoln. In the letter, Mr. Lincoln writes that the problem of desertion in the army has been something that has long troubled him, but he has made a decision regarding the matter. He has decided that all deserters who report at certain locations by April 1 will be pardoned and allowed to return. He writes: "If it be a wrong [decision], I have then erred on the side of mercy." Chapter 9, pg. 147 He ends the letter by praising Jethro's desire to do what is right.