Southern Illinois, 1861-1865
Time to dust off those maps of the United States. The Creightons live in Jasper County, Illinois, right on the cusp of the South—so close, in fact, that Matt would guess that "eighty percent of the folks in this part of the country count Missouri or Kaintuck or Tennessee as somehow bein' their own" (2.11). That's his way of saying that residents of southern Illinois also have deep roots in other neighboring states. And just so you know, Missouri and Kentucky historically stay Union while Tennessee turns Confederate, thereby further complicating attitudes about the war in the Creightons' community.
And attitudes are the dividing factor in the war—not state lines. The term copperhead (which is hurled at the Creightons a few times) is a derogatory term for people who lived in the north but wanted to call a truce with the south. And while our story takes places between 1861 and 1865, political emotions were brewing long before that. Sarcastic little Jethro is right in thinking that "this year of 1863 is a fine, carefree time for eleven-year-old boys" (9.115)… by which he really means that it is so not a great time to be a kid. Or anyone for that matter.
Although battles take place all over the country, Jethro remains at home working the farm, and as such, is clearly removed from the action of war. Actually he's removed from a lot. Even a trip into Newton to do some errands is an entire day's journey round-trip. You know what the remote nature of the Creightons' farm doesn't remove Jethro from though? President Lincoln. While physically far away from the President, Jethro considers the President to be different than other politicians as he "had plowed fields in Illinois" and "thought of the problems men came up against" (9.140). Just like Jethro, Lincoln is a good ol' Illinois boy.
One benefit to housing the Creighton family in Union territory is that ultimately they're on the winning team. Great, right? Well maybe not so much. Despite being on the victorious side of the war, our main characters still have to endure some pretty crummy events, and the Civil War is depicted as their most brutal antagonist. That the Creightons suffer so much despite being on the winning side of the war really hammers home Hunt's anti-war sentiments.
Here's the other thing about their northern location: the Creightons are white. While they would most certainly suffer and struggle if they lived in the South—after all, the South was on the losing side—they wouldn't be nearly as sympathetic if surrounded by people who are enslaved. It's one thing to have your barn burned down, but it really pales in comparison to a life lived in forced servitude and devoid of basic human freedoms. Because Hunt's commitment is to writing an anti-war narrative—as opposed to a specifically anti-slavery one—the North is the best place to set this book.