It is July 18, 1861 near Winchester, Virginia. The Civil War has begun, and Confederate Lieutenant John Pelham, formerly of the West Point Class of 1861, is about to confronthis former classmates in the First Battle of Bull Run.
The confident Pelham bears little resemblance to the seventeen-year-old who journeyed alone five years earlier from Jacksonville, Alabama, to West Point, New York, to enter the UnitedStates Military Academy. As the class begins its final year, Pelham meets Clara Bolton, a Philadelphian belle who captures his heart. In the months that follow, Pelham and his classmates witness the unraveling of the Unionand the birth of the Confederacy, against the political backdrop of slavery and states' rights, the Democratic and Republican Parties, the fire-eaters of the South and the abolitionists of the North.