Jethro Creighton was only nine years old when word reached his family farm in southern Illinois that Confederate forces under the command of Brigadier General Beauregard had fired upon the 1st U.S. Artillery stationed at Fort Sumter in Charlestown, South Carolina. Important news traveled very slowly in April 1861; for four years the youngest son of the farmer Matt Creighton would rely on old newspapers and slowly delivered letters and wounded soldiers for news of the war and of the fates of his older brothers, cousins, and friends. Though he and his parents were many miles from the battlefields, the war brought sorrow and hardship to them daily. When his father fell ill, Jethro took on most of the farm work.
What I like most about Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt is the authenticity of the story. In the notes at the back of the book, the author says that stories her grandfather told her inspired her novel to which she added much historical detail. The result is a blending of family saga and military history. The names of battles and generals become meaningful to the reader because they are important to Jethro, who must know what has become of his brothers and his sister’s fiancée.
Across Five Aprils has several great characters: Jethro’s sister Jenny who worked as hard as Jethro, her fiancée Shadrach Yale who was his school teacher and mentor, and the local newspaper editor Ross Milton who befriended the young man. It was Milton who explained that the freeing of the slaves by the Emancipation Proclamation was only a beginning in a long quest for justice and equality for blacks; he foresaw the Ku Klux Klan and bitter reconstruction of the South.
Southern Illinois was an interesting place during the Civil War. Many of the residents with families living in the southern states sympathized with the Confederacy; some of the young men joined the “Southern Cause.” Others hated the South; local vigilantes burned barns and killed livestock to punish anyone they thought disloyal. The woods also filled with deserters. The night was dangerous.
Across Five Aprils gives readers much to ponder. I recommend this Newberry Medal Honor book to readers of all ages. Every library should have a couple of copies.
Hunt, Irene. Across Five Aprils. New York : Berkley Jam Books, 2002, c1964. ISBN 0425182789