Across Five Aprils is a famous novel written by Irene Hunt.
- Jethro Creighton - Jethro, the protagonist, comes of age during the Civil War. He is forced to reckon with a national crisis, a tragic death in his family, a sudden assumption of responsibility, and a thorough loss of innocence. Jethro must deal with the effects of the war while trying to shape his vision of America.
- Jenny Creighton - Jethro's sister. Jenny and Jethro struggle together, talking about the war. They are the only Creighton children not fighting in the war, and they find solace in each other. They are also linked together by Shadrach, Jenny's romantic interest and Jethro's teacher, and both spend time wishing for his safe return. At the end of the book, Jethro moves in with Jenny and Shadrach.
- Shadrach Yale - Shadrach is Jethro's teacher and friend. He helps Jethro learn to read and speak and encourages the furthering of his education. Shadrach goes to fight in the war, leaving both Jethro and Jenny missing him intensely. Shadrach is wounded and nearly dies. Jenny visits him, helps him recover, and the two marry.
- Ross Milton - Ross Milton befriends Jethro on Jethro's first trip into town. Milton defends Jethro from remarks about Bill's loyalties. Milton also takes an interest in Jethro's education, giving him a textbook to accelerate his knowledge in proper grammar and speech. Milton accompanies Jenny to Washington DC to see Shadrach and is a soothing presence at the Creighton's throughout the war.
- Bill Creighton - Bill is Jethro's favorite brother. Bill toils over his decision of whether to fight and for which side, and ultimately he decides to fight for the South. During the war he and John see each other and speak. Bill tells John to tell the family that he did not fire the bullet that killed Tom.
- Mr. Burdow - Mr. Burdow is the father of Travis Burdow, who killed Jethro's sister Mary. Mr. Burdow protects Jethro from the men who are angry about Bill's betrayal and redeems himself by helping Jethro and sending supplies to help the Creightons rebuild the barn.
- Ellen Creighton - Ellen, Jethro's mother, is a calming influence around the house, and she does her best to nurture Jethro. She knows that Jethro is special and is bothered by the fact that Jethro must assume great responsibilities for one so young and is worried that the war takes some of the shine out of Jethro.
- Matt Creighton - Matt, Jethro's father, provides an example of fairness for Jethro. He chooses not to seek revenge on his daughter's killer, and he keeps a level head about his situation during the war. He has a heart attack, which prompts Jethro's assumption of responsibility in the family. Matt finally relents on his prohibition to let Jenny and Shadrach marry, signing his consent when the two are in Washington DC.
- Eb Carron - Jethro's cousin. Eb is one of the deserters in the war. He leaves the war because it is awful, and there is no hope of winning. He returns to the farm, and Jethro keeps his presence a secret, sneaking him food and blankets. Eventually he rejoins the war effort because President Lincoln declares amnesty for all deserters who return to their posts.
Jethro Creighton, the protagonist, is young and idealistic when the Civil War begins. At first he thinks the war will be neat, full of marching soldiers and demonstrative patriotism. He learns the realities of war soon enough as he watches his three brothers, his cousin, and his teacher go off to fight. One of his brothers, Bill, chooses to fight for the South in a decision that plagues him for a long time. Jethro and his family follow the progress of the war through the newspapers, but it is hard to tell exactly what is happening. Each day the paper is full of praise or criticism for one of the Union generals, and Jethro has trouble sorting out what is actually going on.
One day Jethro's parents ask him to take the team of horses fifteen miles into town to get supplies. Jethro, excited to prove his responsibility, goes to town, makes his purchases, and then talks to some men at the store. One of the men asks Jethro about Bill and gets angry at the prospect of Bill's betrayal. Jethro stands by Bill, and, later, the editor of the town paper, Ross Milton, takes Jethro to lunch to apologize. Milton and Jethro begin a friendship that lasts throughout the book.
On the way home, Jethro is stopped by Mr. Burdow, the father of the boy who killed Jethro's sister, Mary. Mr. Burdow rides with Jethro for a while, and initially Jethro is scared, but Mr. Burdow explains that he thinks one of the men from the store is waiting for Jethro down the road. They encounter the man, and Mr. Burdow is able to prevent him from hurting Jethro. Jethro makes it home and tells his family about the encounter.
The men from the store begin to haunt the Creightons, eventually burning down their barn and putting oil in their well. The Creightons become sleepless and scared that the men will take further retribution. One day, a boy who is on leave from the war for an injury comes to the Creightons to tell them that their son Tom is dead. While the Creightons mourn, Ross Milton writes a letter in the paper to the men that have been tormenting them, saying that regardless of Bill's decisions the Creightons have sacrificed and lost enough. The attacks stop.
Not long after, Matt, Jethro's father, has a heart attack that renders him unable to work the field. Jenny and Jethro assume that responsibility together. Meanwhile, the war goes back and forth, with reports indicating no clear victors overall. The only concrete information they glean from the paper is the atrocious death toll.
One day while working the fields, Jethro hears a sound in the woods. He investigates and finds his cousin Eb, who has deserted the war. Eb says that he could not continue fighting—the conditions were horrible, and the soldiers did not believe they could win the war. Jethro, unsure about what to do, sneaks food and blankets to Eb but does not tell the rest of the family, who are subject to penalties for housing a deserter. He writes to President Lincoln to ask for advice, and Lincoln responds by telling Jethro that he, too, has been plagued with that problem and has decided to grant amnesty to the deserters who return to their post by a certain time.
Word comes that Shadrach, Jethro's teacher, has been critically injured during a battle, and Jenny and Ross Milton leave for Washington D.C. so that Jenny can see Shadrach for one last time. Eventually, she is able to nurse Shadrach back to health, and Matt gives his consent for the two to marry.
Meanwhile, the Union army plunders the South, as General Sherman leads troops north from Savannah, ransacking and devastating farms and homesteads along the way. He soon joins forces with Grant, and they are able to cut off supplies to the Confederate Army. The Confederate Army surrenders.
Just when it seems that, with the war over, life is going to return to a state of security, President Lincoln is assassinated. His murder leaves Jethro bereft, and nothing is able to soothe him. Shadrach returns and tells Jethro that Jethro is going to move in with him and Jenny so that Jethro can continue his studies.
The barn is a symbol of two things: of the judgmental and spiteful nature of some of the men in the county and of the ability to rebuild. Men who want to punish the Creightons for Bill's involvement with the "rebs" burn down the barn as a symbol of their hatred. They believe that Bill and the Creightons betrayed the Union, so they in turn take it upon themselves to betray the Creightons. The Creightons, with the help of friends and neighbors, rebuild the barn, demonstrating resilience and determination. While it is not the same, much as life after the war is not the same as life before it, they do the best they can.
The Bible Ledger
The Creightons keep a Bible :)
Drinking coffee symbolizes maturity. In the beginning of the book, Jethro never drinks coffee. The first time he has some is before his trip into Newton—a trip that reflects his status as an adult. Drinking coffee represents the passing from boy to man. Coffee is bittersweet, as well. Ellen gets violently ill when she does not have her coffee. It is an expensive, but necessary, habit. Jethro initially looks forward to being able to drink coffee, but the effects it has on his mother make it seem more negative. Coffee is a symbol of the pains of growing older and of the often bittersweet aspects of aging.