Shad is probably one of the smartest guys in Jasper County, and it's a good thing since he's the local schoolteacher. He's got all sorts of higher education experience and "book learning" (4.66) under his belt, but when he's not molding young minds, he lends Matt a hand on the farm. He's basically like an extra son hanging around the house—at least Ellen looks after him like he is.
At twenty years old, Shad tries to keep his feelings for fourteen-year-old Jenny in check, especially after a "special talk" with her father, but you just can't stop true love. (A twenty-year-old and a fourteen-year-old? Yeah, times were different back then.) When Shad is wounded in Gettysburg, Matt and Ellen allow Jenny to go visit him in Washington, D.C., and she essentially saves his life with the power of her love. Lucky Shad, right? The two lovebirds finally get the Creightons' blessing and approval to get married and they live happily ever… oh wait, the war is still going on. Well, they live. That should be good enough.
Jethro thinks Shad is spectacular and admires how smart he is, and in return Shad treats Jethro like his special friend. During one particular chillfest together, Shad helps young Jethro understand the war and why certain battles and locations are important—information and perspective that stick with Jethro long after Shad's left to join the army.
But nothing makes Jethro as excited as when Shad comes home to surprise him. Sure there is still a lot of residual doom and gloom due to the war, but when Jethro sees Shad for the first time since he left to fight, they share in a big ol' man hug. Guess distance really does make the heart grow fonder. Either that, or Shad is just too awesome for words. We'd place money on the latter.
Shad has got a pretty good head on his pretty little shoulders and he's certainly a reasonable man. While Tom is shocked that Fort Sumter surrendered, Shad simply explains that the Union army had no choice (2.54)—for Shad, that's all there is to it. He isn't simplistic by any stretch, though, and even in battle Shad is observant of the attitudes of his fellow soldiers and takes it upon himself to do some psychoanalyzing of General McClellan, writing to the Creightons, "he is afraid of something—of sending the men who love him to their death" (8.36). Quite the profound commentator and keen observer, our Shad is.
Unfortunately we see the same unfiltered reflection when Shad considers the likelihood (or rather, unlikelihood) of his own homecoming. In one letter to Jenny, Shad straight-up tells her that he's probably going to die. As depressing and discouraging as that statement seems, Shad does provide good reasoning to backup his claims, citing the "massive waste of life" (10.6) he has witnessed. Despite being wrong about the whole dying deal, Shad unquestionably thinks things through and uses his noggin, which makes him a reliable presence amidst the chaos of war.