Storm clouds are approaching Culpeper County, Virginia, in early January 1861. The troublesome Fogarty brothers have been raising havoc across the countryside, and when the local lawman, Will Brannon, returns from another futile attempt to track them down, he finds the townspeople of Culpeper abuzz. South Carolina has seceded from the Union, and rumor has it more states will follow, perhaps even Virginia.
The volatile political situation has captured the imaginations of most of the young men in town, and Will Brannon and his brothers are no exceptions. But there is a farm to run and a widowed mother and sister to care for as well.
Brannons have been farming the same land near Culpeper for more than thirty years. Although the father has passed on, his widow, Abigail, still oversees day-to-day operations with her children. Will, her eldest, has the additional responsibility of county sheriff. Mac is an avid horseman. Titus is something of a marksman. Henry is a charmer. And Cordelia manages the household. A fourth son, Corey, has already left home to seek his fortune in the west.
Despite the political climate, the Brannons and their neighbors continue to live as they have always lived. Trouble for the Brannons, however, rears its head when a wealthy planter focuses his attention on them to dissuade young Titus from taking an interest in his daughter.
In the meantime, the Fogarty brothers strike again, and when Will encounters one of the Fogartys in town, the Brannon family and farm quickly become targets for their wrath. When Henry, the youngest, is wounded, Abigail disowns her eldest, and Will surrenders his badge and prepares to go west.
But shots have been fired at Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, and the new Yankee president has called for 75,000 men to quash "the rebellion." In response to a possible invasion, Virginia secedes and calls on her own sons to defend the sacred soil from Northern aggression.
Will enlists, but so too do the Fogartys. All know that men die in battle - and these deaths are never investigated.
Manassas is the first book in a series, spanning the Civil War and describing its effects on one Southern family. The Brannon brothers answer the call to arms, and the family finds itself struggling with dilemmas it never had considered.